Thursday, May 31, 2012


May 29th, Tim's Birthday! Happy birthday Tim.. So Tim did what he wanted for the day which was to try a few different fishing places. We started with Tim getting his fishing license at a local sporting goods store and we continued on to Estes Lake.  The lake is  man made and is located right next to a golf course. It has a 10 kilometer walkway/bike trail around it. For part of the way it winds along the Fall River which was Tim's second stop for fishing.

On the golf course were at least a dozen young elk. They stood around, laid down, and ate the grass until someone hit a golf ball near them. When the golfer arrived to hit his ball, they just moved on down the green.

While Tim fished, I walked the path to Riverwalk which runs along the river aand behind the shops and restaurants along the on Elk Horn Avenue downtown.  The downtown was revitalized after it was flooded out in 1982 by the Lawn Lake flood. A dam built in 1903 let go and the floodwaters descended upon the town. Two campers in the Park died while trying to save their camping equipment even after being warned not to do it.

The day was wonderful with bright blue skies, billowy white clouds and just a touch of a breeze. With the low 70 temperature, it was perfect.

No fish caught at this lake or river, so we headed downstream where Tim did some fly fishing. Again to no avail, but he had a lot of fun trying!

Estes Park is a charming little town which we really enjoyed. We had dinner in town and headed home. Relaxing, down day.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


On Memorial Day, May 28th, we left Leadville and headed to the Rocky Mountain National Park. Our route took us through several National Forests and some high elevations. And we thought getting to Leadville with a struggling engine was a lot!

The first pass we encountered was Freemont Pass, elevation 11,320 feet and then up through the San Isabel National Forest. We traveled through the White River National Forest and passed the Copper Mountain Ski Area. We actually entered the Rocky Mountain National Park around 11:30am, but we were on the west side so that we had to travel through Milner Pass with an elevation of 10, 758 and travel the very curvy Route 34 to the Moraine Campground. Lots of switch backs, hills and curves with steep drop offs.  Tim was happy to spot wildlife at the Beaver Ponds.. 2 elk just grazing by the side of the road. We even crossed the Continental Divide again!

The scenery was wonderful... snow capped mountains all around. I snapped a few pictures through the windshield to show the snow on the side of the road and the steep grade of the roads. We were very happy to arrive here around 2:30pm, set up camp and relax. We'll be here for 7 days..plenty of time to explore, hike, and perhaps even veg out for a day! 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


We left Mesa Verde on May 26th heading for Leadville, which is the highest incorporated city in the USA. It has an elevation of 10,152 feet. It is surrounded by Sawatch Mountain Range on the west and Mosquito Range on the east. Some of their highest peaks are 14,433 and 14,421.

 As we traveled through the San Juan National Forest, we spotted a brown bear cub on the side of  the road. It was too quick to retreat for us to get a snapshot of it. Too bad. We passed through Wolf Creek Pass with an elevation of 10,550 feet. This was the highest elevation we had come upon to date and we could just hear the engine slurping up the gas! Honestly, it was like the "little engine that could" as we climbed the hills at 25 miles per hour with the engine straining all the way in second and third gears.

We crossed the Continental Divide at 10,873 feet elevation. On one side of the  Divide, the water flows east to the Atlantic Ocean and on the other side, it flows west to the Pacific.  There were snow peaked mountains all around and you could definitely feel the chill in the air.
Straddling the Continental Divide

We crossed through the Rio Grande National Forest riding along the Rio Grande and the San Isabel National Forest where we experienced very high winds. By the time we reached Leadville, it was down to 48 degrees and with the wind chill it felt more like 32 degrees. We stayed at an RV park called Sugar Loafin' which was at the base of the mountains with snow covered peaks. Beautiful views! That night it dropped to 26 degrees and the water pipes outside to the hose froze. As a kicker, our electric heater didn't work as well as it should and the gas heater worked in fits and starts. Tim had to keep going outside to the gas heater vent to get it started over and over again.  I, of course, hid under the down comforter!

The following day, we toured the area including Touquoise Lake, the "downtown" of Leadville, the Heritage Museum and started a tour on our own of the famous gold and silver mines that put Leadville on the map in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It was interesting to learn about the rise and fall of the "bonanza king" of  Horace Tabor and his second wife Baby Doe. The scandal of thier love triangle cost him a senate seat. They spent $10,000 a month on frivolous things and he went from one of the richest  men in the nation to hauling slag at $3 per day and Baby Doe ended up as a penniless widow who lived out her life in a supply shed in Leadville in what was previously the Matchless Mine.  There is only one working mine now which reopened after a 25 year hiatus. It mines molybdenum which is silvery grey metal that is used to strengthen steel,as a fertilizer, and in oils and lubricants.
Tourquoise Lake

In the afternoon we took a 2 and 1/2 hour train (Leadville Colorado and Southern Railroad) ride up the mountain to view the valley and a place called Climax which is the location of the molybdenum mine. We also saw panoramic views of the mountains, the valley below and the  headwaters of the Arkansas River. It was a bit chilly, but we were bundled up and worth the trip. It didn't snow until we were back at the RV! That night the temperature was down to only 38 and the electric heater was able to keep up so Tim got to have a good nights rest.

We learned a lot of the history of the town and of the many celebrities that visited  there in its heyday, but I don't believe so many will be going there these days!

Monday, May 28, 2012


We arrived at Mesa Verde from Lake Cochiti, New Mexico late in the day on May 22nd. We  immediately went to the Park Visitor Center to book a tour for the following day. We actually toured three cliff dwellings together and Tim toured one on his own as the descent and ascent was much too steep for me.

As background on Mesa Verde, it is a National Park housing 600 cliff dwellings, 4800 archaelogical sites, and the archaeologists estimate communities of about 5,000 on Mesa Verda.These include dwelllings from pithouses dug into the ground atop the Mesa to cliff dwellings built on the side of the cliffs. Pithouses date as far back as 500 AD and the cliff dwellings were populated until around 1280AD. The archaeologists know this from the artifacts they have found as well as the age of the wood used as support beams in their dwellings both above the Mesa and below the cliffs.

The first cliff dwelling was discovered in 1888 by two cowboys looking for cattle. After that, the digs began and the pithouses above and the 600 dwellings on the cliff were unearthed.

On Wednesday, May 23rd, we toured the Cliff Palace which is the largest of the many cliff dwellings that have been excavated in the Park. Our tour began with a gradual but steady decline on iron stairs and a paved surface to the cliff below. The ranger toured us through explaining how the Ancestral Puebloans carried stone by stone from the Mesa top to the cliff to build these dwellings. Another name for them was Anasazi which, in the  Navajo tongue, means "ancient foreigners." When they lived on the Mesa top, they lived in pithouses and they dry farmed corn, squash and beans. They continued to farm from their cliff dwelling. It is felt that they moved from the Mesa top to the cliffs for the water and protection from the elements. It is surmised that circa 1280 there was such a severe drought that they moved south to the Rio Grande Valley. The Hopi and Zuni claim them as their ancestors.

As we toured the ruins, we viewed a ceremonial/family room known as a Kiva. This is where the families and tribe members would gather to have ceremonial services. They had a ventilator for the fire, and a wind screen to protect them and the Kiva from spreading fire to their wooden roof. In the Cliff Palace there were nine Kivas and 150 rooms.  Impressive! In the Kivas there is a small hole in the ground called a Sipapu which to them symbolized their entry from the spirit world to life above the ground.

The ascent to the Mesa top from the Palace was a little more difficult than the descent with a series of wooden ladders through rock crevices straight up. The air being thinner at the 7700 foot elevation, this was more difficult than it sounds.
Descending to and Climbing up from Cliff Palace

In the afternoon, we drove the Chapin Mesa Top Loop and visited the excavated pithouses and took in the views of some of the other cliff dwellings across the canyons.

On Thursday, May 24th, we toured Spruce Tree House. This was actually the first cliff dwelling discovered by two cowboys by the name of Wetherill. They thought the tree that they climbed down to get in was a spruce tree and thus the name of the house. However, the tree is actually a Douglas Fir! This is the third largest of the cliff dwellings and has 114 rooms and 8 Kivas.  It is 216 feet wide and 89 feet deep into the  mountain. This was a self guided tour and again had a paved pathway which was steeper than the Cliff Palace and thus more challening to climb back up.
Spruce Tree House Ruins and Kiva

In the afternoon, Tim toured the Balcony House. They warned us that if you are afraid of heights that you shouldn't do this tour. So I didn't! It involved descending down 75 feet on a metal stairway and inclined trail. Then you go up a 32 foot ladder to the room section only to pass through a narrow rock passageway to the Kivas and the storage areas. It had 40 rooms and 2 Kivas. To exit you had to crawl through a 12 foot long by 18 inch wide tunnel, followed by a 60 foot ladder, then climbing up the open face of the cliff using two 10 foot ladders and a series of stone steps. Thank God I didn't go!
Entering Balcony House Down and Up Ladders

Exiting Balcony House through tunnel (top left) rock openings, ladders, and footholds on the cliff wall.

Following this adventure, Tim was ready to continue the day and we hiked the Knife Edge Trail which led out of our campground area to the edge of the cliff overlooking Montezuma Valley.  We stopped often along the trail as the self guided brochure instructed us at the numbered signposts as to the vegetation and archaelogical high points. When the sign said STOP..we did.
Hiking the Knife Edge Trail
The sign reads STOP! End of Trail where it drops off the cliff!

All of this was on one side of the Park. There was another side to explore and so we stayed an extra day and signed up for a Tram tour on the Wetherill Mesa to Long House which is the second largest cliff dwelling in the Park area wise with 150 rooms and 21 Kivas and an unusually large central plaza. On the walls of this dwelling, we saw rock art symbols and hand prints on the wall.  The only way to view this dwelling was on this Tram tour. Again, there was a steep descent and ladders to climb into the rooms and the ascent was along the same entrance trail..steep with many switchbacs. While all the roads in the Park were challenging because of the cliff edges and the switchbacks, the one to Wetherill was exceptionally so. To give you an idea we drove 200 miles over 3 days to visit all of these dwellings and sights within the Park.
Descending to Long House, the ruins and an imprint of a hand on the cave wall.

While on Wetherill Mesa we also toured the above ground pithouses and villages which have been excavated. And in the afternoon, we toured similar places on the Chapin Mesa side of the Park at Far View.

We stopped at Park Point overlook which was at 8500 feet elevation. You can see all four states from here..Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Arizona.  We also saw the Knife Edge trail end that we hiked to the previous day.

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the Mesa Verde National Park and would encourage other to visit there and learn more about the Ancestral people that populated the southwest long before Columbus discovered America for the Europeans. We thank Paula and Dale Smith, who toured the west 3 years ago, for enlightening us as to its magnificence. Otherwise, we might have missed it.

Monday, May 21, 2012

From South Carolina to New Mexico

On a bright and sunny May 10, 2012, we left Sun City with the canoe on the roof of the Fit, our tow car, and our two bikes on the back of it. From there until we hit Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, we drove on an average of 250 to 300 miles a day. With driving at 55 mph, we were on the road about 6 hours a day. We stayed in State parks along the way: John Tanner in Georgia, Caney Lakes in Louisiana, Lake Mineral Wells in Texas, Lake Colorado City in Texas, and Brantley Lakes in New Mexico. Even though we were near the lakes every evening, the canoe never came off the car. Usually, by the time we arrived at the parks, it was late afternoon and almost time for dinner. But the views were wonderful and the campsites large and well cared for. The weather along the way has been wonderful.. 70s to 80s during the day and cool at night. We saw oil wells in Texas and New Mexico and our first sighting of a Roadrunner..much smaller than we thought it woule be.

We had several issues with the RV which also slowed our travels a bit. First, the gas heater wouldn't work so we stopped at one dealer in Lousianna and sure enough when they tried it, it came on with no problem. However, it still wouldn't work that evening. So, we then stopped at an RV dealer in Texas. Lo and behold.. a mud dobber (bee) nest almost the size of a tennis ball was inside next to the burner.   While we were at the RV dealer in Texas, we had them put in a new solenoid in our Living Room/Kitchen slide out as it kept creeping in and the old solenoid was leaking. With those two items being remedied we moved on to New Mexico.

We arrived at Carlsbad Caverns around 1pm on May 15th. Carlsbad Caverns was discovered by a 16 year old boy around 1898 by the name of Jim White.  He was a ranch hand at a local ranch and every evening he would see bats fly out of the hills and he who wondered where they were all coming from. Upon exploring the hills, he found a cave and decided to descend and see for himself what was below. Over time, he discovered 17 of the hundreds of caves that make up the Carlsbad Caverns realm. Just him with a rope and a candle! He talked about these caverns to anyone who would listen for years. In 1915, he took a photographer down a rope ladder so that he could document what he had been talking about. The pictures caused a stir and the he started touring people through the caves. The pictures ended up in the New York Times and somehow landed on President Coolidge's desk. It was then  in 1923 that the park was named a National Monument.  We took a tour that afternoon of what they call the "Big Room"  which is aptly named. It is the size of four football fields and immensely high with absolutely gorgeous stalagmites and stalactites. There is a paved walking path and hand rails that keep you on the well marked paths. It is also artistically lit so that you can see the beauty of it without washing it out. We booked 2 guided tours for the next day, the 16th. One for the "King's Palace" in the morning and a "Lantern Tour" for the afternoon. They did not disappoint. The Rangers did a wonderful job explaining the formation and pointing out various landmarks used in the early days so they could find their way out of the dark recesses of the caverns. I'm sure you've heard the phrase, " It was so dark I couldn't see my hand in front of my face." Well, when they turned the lights off to demonstrate exactly that, it was a bit intimidating.

The Lantern Tour was very different from the other two that we took. For this one, we went to the Natural Opening in the rock and started to descend on a 20 degree slope. Once we hit the dark, we lit our lanterns and for the rest of the 820 foot descent that was all the light we had. This walk was hard on the knees trying to hold back and not slip on the moist surface. Those hand rails really came in handy! This tour gave you a small idea of how this young man roamed through the caves for years before  it became the National Monument that it is today.

 That evening, we returned at sunset to see the bats fly out of that same Natural Opening that we entered through that very afternoon. The bats come and go through this opening, but they go to a side cave where visitors are not welcome during the day. At sunset, they fly out in groups thousands at a time and they will return there at sunrise. Amazing sight to see.

The Caverns are a "must see" for anyone going through New Mexico.

On May 17th, we headed to Albuquerque. However, we had another RV stop to make before we made it to our destination. The gas heater was not working again and both of our fog lights on the Fit were broken by rocks spitting up from the road. We found a dealer in Albuquerque who took us right away. They took the heater apart and found more mud and small rocks next to the fan. They cleaned it out and it seemed to do the trick since it is now working beautifully. We also had them put on a big panel on the tow bar in front of the lights so we wouldn't be doing that all summer. We now look like we are towing an armored vehicle! Tim found one light at a dealer and is trying to find another one now. Hopefully, once he does, that will be the end of our RV issues.
We finished at the dealer at 5pm just in time for rush hour through Albuquerque to my cousin Ann's house. We stayed in Ann and Keith's yard plugged in for two nights. What a wonderful a time we had. Visiting and catching up with them and their children was great. Waking to the sound of their rooster and hearing the goats bleating during the day really made you feel you were out in the country when, in fact, we were in the outskirts of the city. Tim and I explored Old Town in the afternoon and soaked in the local charm. We all went to the patio wine tasting at their son Michael's restaurant called "Vernons." This is a very unique place. It has a VIP lounge where people pay monthly to be allowed into this lounge. The theme is a speakeasy and you need a password to enter it. It has Al Capone pictures and history all around you. The artist is an art student at the University and works at the restaurant as well. Wonderful work. Between the setting, the wine tasting, the appetizers, the company, and the great singing voice of a young lady,  the evening was lovely. A great visit!

We visited with Ann and Keith again in the  morning of the 19th and then hooked up the car, said our goodbyes and we were on our way. This time the distance wasn't that far. We camped at Cochiti Lake Corp Campground about 50 miles north of Albuquerque. From here we toured Santa Fe and Taos. Sante Fe being just a half an hour away and Taos being an all day trip.

From our camp site, we look down onto the lake and have views of the mountains all around us. the hills are mostly brown with sporadic green vegetation.. the high desert at over 5000 feet. When we arrived here and started to put out the bedroom slide, we heard a crunch and found that the slide stop had broken off. Fortunately, Tim the Toolman was able to fix the broken off bolts with a drill tap extractor and a trip to Lowes in Santa Fe for new bolts.

Our day trip to Taos in the car brought exceptional mountain views. We took the "High Road" that the fellow in the visitor center recommended. Wonderful choice over the more traveled highway. The most memorable place we visited was the Santuario de Chimayo church. This is a place where visitors can take a handful of dirt from the "pocito" (well) believed to have been blessed with miraculous qualities. Thousands of pilgrims have come here to be healed. There are crutches and casts left behind. There is also a small chapel dedicated to Saint Nino where the walls are lined with infant shoes and pictures of children to be prayed for. The walls in the prayer room at the church were also lined with photos of people to be prayed for including one whole wall of military folks.
The church itself is such a tourist stop that the mass was being held outside with the views of the mountains and a beautiful breeze. Communion was given out not only by the priest but also a fellow in a Harley Davidson  T-shirt, a long grey beard, sunglasses and biker boots! As we traveled further  north, we had panoramic views of snow capped mountains and deep valleys. It took us a little longer going this route, but it was well worth it. Once in Taos, we had lunch and toured the art galleries and shops and finished our tour with the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. Spectacular sight. We did take the more traveled road home.
Today is a down day for us... gives us time to relax, write the blog, and canoe in the lake before we head out again tomorrow for Mesa Verde in Colorado.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

We left this morning for our National Park tour with our first stop in John Tanner State Park west of Atlanta, GA almost into Alabama. This is our first post onto the site so we are testing it out to see how we do it! We'll post again once we get to Carlsbad Caverns.

Sunday, May 6, 2012


It seems that it has taken us forever to decide what to bring for clothing, gear, and food for this trip. We know we will end up with too many clothes! We'll be loading up the RV in the next few days and will be heading out on May 10th on a 5 day journey to Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. This will be our first major stop along the way.