Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Kasha-Katuwe - Tent Rocks National Monument

Each time we’ve driven to Santa Fe, as we’ve sailed past the sign for Tent Rocks we've thought that looks like an interesting place to visit.   We finally made it, following I25 north we exited at 259 after that followed the signs on SR 22.
In the traditional Kersan language Kasha-Katuwe means “white cliffs”.   Over 6 million years ago, pumice, ash and tuff deposits over 1,000 ft deep fell as the Jemez volcanic field erupted.   Over eons wind and rain have created the spectacular hoodoos in the canyons and arroyos.
Francisco Vasquez de Coronado came this way as did Juan de Oñate, settlers followed and the land was claimed for Spain.   In 1680 the Cochiti people joined the Pueblo revolt and drove the Spanish back to Texas.   But by 1870 the railway arrived bringing with it, loggers, miners and others looking to enjoy New Mexico’s rich natural resources.
When we visited it was a great day for hiking day and we decided we’d do the Slot Canyon Trail first followed by the Cave Loop Trail.
For the first ½ mile both trails follow the same route as you enter the Slot Canyon, a sign warns you against entering if there’s any sign of bad weather.   Really good advice!
The trail is sandy, gravel type stuff and is quite wide to start with 

but it soon narrows as you reach the slot.   There is just enough room for one person, but luckily there are places where you can pause for others to pass. 

Unless the sun is directly above you it’s quite dark and cool in the slot as the walls rise high above.   In a couple of places I had to climb over rocks that had obviously fallen out of the canyon walls, creating intriguing holes. 

The final section of the trail climbs 634 feet more or less straight up steep gravelly switchbacks.   At the top I came face to face with a rock ledge, I’m not very tall so I really do mean face to face.   Luckily at the bottom of the ledge there was a pile of rocks to stand on. 

With a little help from DB I managed to scramble up, albeit on my knees and reach the top and the end of the trail.   From the end of the trail we could easily see over to Santa Fe and the Sangre de Christos Mountains, as well as the Jemez and Sandia Mountains.

The trail returns the same way, giving you different views of the spectacular hoodoos and I have to say climbing down the ledge was just as difficult as it was climbing up.

After coming out of the slot we followed the Cave Loop trail back to the car park.   This trail is totally different it’s much wider and leads past a man-made cave carved out of the soft rock.  The roof of the cave is black from ancient fires, archaeologists call this sort of cave a caveate.

We also took the 5 mile drive along BLM 1011 to the Veterans Memorial Scenic Overlook, sadly as we got out of the truck, the ranger arrived and told us we had 10 minutes and then he was driving back and would be locking the gate, so we didn’t get to do the 1 mile loop trail.   But again, even though it had got a little cloudy the views were fabulous.

Have fun, we are!

Along the Jemez Mountain Trail, National Scenic Byway - Part 2

A couple of days later we decided to carry on along the Jemez Mountain trail, this time as we left Bernalillo behind it was lovely sunny day.
This time our first stop was Jemez Falls, we had the place to ourselves.   The short ¼ mile trail to the falls winds under tall pines along an easy trail covered in large soft pine needles.   The needles reminded me of those used by the Apache to make baskets.
You can hear the falls and see the safety rail as you get closer to the end of the trail.   Here there is no actual ‘trail’ you just follow were countless people have walked over the years to get to the edge.   It’s very pretty and must be pretty spectacular during the monsoon season.

Valles Caldera National Preserve was our next stop, I didn’t think the preserve actually opened until the end of May, but highway 4 is a stunning drive that takes you across the wide open grasslands before continuing onto Los Alamos.   We didn’t expect the preserve to be open, but what we hadn’t realised was that the Preserve open at the weekend.   How lucky was that?   We turned onto the drive and followed the 2 mile dirt road to the visitor centre.  Traces of snow still lay on the ground at the side of the road and it was pretty chilly.

The caldera is a collapsed super volcano created 1.25 million years ago. Magma began to refill empty magma chambers causing lots of smaller eruptions which created rounded domes along a ring fracture.   At its highest point, Redondo Peak rose to over 11,000 ft making it one of the clearest examples of a ‘resurgent’ caldera.

While it’s generally considered dormant, about 5 miles beneath the surface is magma that some vulcanologists think could be ‘stirring’.   I hope they’re wrong as 5 miles doesn’t sound much between us and all that hot stuff! 

The area became public land in 2000 and encompasses nearly 90,000 acres of high elevation grasslands, forest, wetlands and shrub land.   It also contains the headwaters for the East Fork of the Jemez River and San Antonio Creek.

Sadly we arrived at the wrong time to take any of the tours, but this beautiful place is definitely on our ‘to return to’ list.

As we’d spent so long here, we didn’t make it to Los Alamos, instead we retraced our route and took a short, very short, hike along the East Fork of the Jemez River.   

Driving back into the tiny town of La Cueva we took the road to Fenton Lake State Park.   It’s very pretty and while we enjoyed our visit, I don’t think it’s somewhere we’d return to, as there is still a heck of a lot out there we’ve yet to discover.

Have fun, we are!

Monday, 25 August 2014

Along the Jemez Mountain Trail, National Scenic Byway

Sunshine and cloud fought for supremacy (it took a while, but sunshine eventually won) as we left Bernalillo behind in our rear view mirror.   When we reached San Ysidro we left the heavy traffic on four lane highway 550 behind as we turned onto highway 4, the quieter Jemez Mountain Trail.  

Our first stop was Jemez Pueblo, where we stopped at the Walatowa Visitor Centre.
The museum about the history and culture of the Jemez people was very interesting and informative.  

Leaving the pueblo and visitor centre we followed highway 4, until we came to highway 485 leading to the Gilman Tunnels.

The narrow road follows the Guadalupe River and is all that remains of a railway line constructed in the 1920’s to haul logs out of the forest.   The scenery was stunning and needless to say when we reached the tunnels I had to check the echo!

After the last tunnel the road turns to dirt and eventually arrives at Fenton Lake State Park.   We thought of driving that way, but as we weren’t sure of the condition of the road and none of the visitors we met at the tunnels had ever driven any further, we decided against it and headed back to highway 4. 

Driving this way turned out to be a very good idea as we had a lovely lunch, (hot chocolate to die for, deliciously tart Key Lime Pie, not to mention DB’s scrumptious raspberry tart) at the Highway 4 Café and Bakery in the small town of Jemez Springs.

The Jemez State Monument was our next stop.   The Monument contains the remains of the ancient pueblo of the Jemez people ‘Giusewa’
We almost had the place to ourselves as we followed the winding trail through the ruins.

Our next stop was Soda Dam, hot springs flowing into the Jemez river give off a distinct smell of sulphur and ‘rotten eggs’.   Over the centuries the water from the hot springs has formed a weird looking dam across the river.    It’s very pretty but quite slippery, so as it’s pretty darn hard if you fall we passed on that.
It was getting late in the day by the time we reached Battleship Rock picnic area.   A couple of hikes lead out through the forest one of which is about two miles long and leads to Macauley Warm Springs, one to remember if we ever come this way again in the future.

Although there was plenty more to see along the trail, we decided this would be our turn around point for the day and we headed back to Bernalillo.
Have fun, we are!

Monday, 4 August 2014

Coronado Historic Park followed by a visit to a great little brewery!

In 1540 Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, along with 500 soldiers and 2,000 Indian allies from New Spain, entered the Rio Grande valley.   Coronado was searching for the fabled Seven Cities of Gold.   He didn’t find any gold but he did find villages full of native farmers.
The people spoke the Tiwa language and Kuaua (which means Evergreen) was the northernmost village.  It’s thought the village was settled in 1325 and when Coronado arrived about 1,200 people lived there.  

During excavations in the 1930’s a square kiva was discovered in the plaza. The kiva contained some beautiful murals which are known as some of the finest examples of pre-columbian art ever found in the US. When the murals were excavated it was discovered that there were some 17 or 18 layers of plaster and each layer of plaster was decorated with paintings.

We took a tour of the kiva with the docent, while we’ve seen and been in quite a few kivas they’ve always been round kivas, never square.   The paintings inside (no photographs allowed) are similar to the originals.   While he didn’t know, the docent thought that as the scenes depicted in the paintings, showed things like corn, planting and harvesting, they represented a year, spring, summer, autumn and winter.   He also told us that the black painted figure was a clown.   Not a funny ha, ha sort of clown, but an enforcer type clown who carried a bull whip and scared the life out of you. 
In a special display room by the visitor centre we admired the original paintings, (no photographs allowed) they’re very faded and some were marked by crow bars where they were yanked out of the walls. 

It was very windy and we followed a short trail along the Rio Grande. The views of the Sandia Mountains were excellent and looking north we could just about see the snow-capped Sangre De Cristo Mountains.

We enjoyed our visit to this small but very interesting historic park.
Once we got back we parked the truck and walked the short way to the Kaktus Brewing Company, which is literally right next door to the Bernalillo KOA.  

As we walked in we thought for a minute that all the tables were taken. When we looked again, we realised that the chair backs were painted to look like people.   As ‘Breaking Bad’ hasn’t reached the UK yet we had no idea who this was meant to be until we were told.   We tried our first Frito Pie, I didn’t know what to expect and while it was very nice, I’m not sure it’s something I’d have again.   Most importantly though, the beer was pretty good!

Have fun, we are!

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Madrid, New Mexico

After our trip up the Sandia Mountains we decided to continue following the Turquoise Trail as far as Madrid.
Founded sometime during the mid-1800’s, Madrid was a coal mining town. Because of the geology both hard and soft coal was mined, this was unique as there were only two other mines in the world where this happened. I must admit I thought coal was coal and had no idea it could be hard or soft.
The shafts were very deep going as far down as 2,500 ft.   During its heyday the town supplied coal to the Santa Fe Railroad, local consumers and the US Government.   When coal declined Madrid became a ghost town.

These days Madrid is known for its galleries and arts and crafts stores, it also has an original soda fountain as well as an original tavern.

The road through town is quite narrow and we had trouble parking the truck so it didn't stick out into the road.   If we’d gone in the middle of summer (we were there in April) I'm not sure where we would've been able to park. 

We had coffee at Jezebels, the Soda Fountain, after that we walked along to the tavern and mooched around the stores.    There were some lovely things and some gorgeous lamps.

By this time it was getting late and places were closing up, so we headed back to Bernalillo. 

Have fun, we are!