Friday, July 25, 2014

El Malpais

Every weekend we are out and about exploring our new area. Right now I am shifting from using a Windows computer to using a Mac and am kind of using both so making blog posts has been a little more difficult. We have visited various hiking trails in the Jemez Mountains, Bandelier National Monument, assorted ruins, trails in the Sandia Mountains. We have gone biking on dirt and on the Rio Grande trails in Albuqueque. Last weekend we went to the El Malpais National Monument - or at least part of it! El Malpais is between Albuquerque and Gallup. It is a little over 2 hours to drive there from Placitas but the drive is interesting as the road heads out, like many roads here, into vast spaces of nothingness! We headed to the east side of the monument to visit the Sandstone Bluffs, La Ventana Arch and Lava Falls areas. We also headed to the Dittert ruins site in the Armijo Canyon. There are lava tubes 17 miles long and ice caves, petroglyphs, craters and over 231,000 acres of land that just can't be seen in multiple days let alone part of one. We tried to focus on this small section of the east side.

We headed to the BLM Ranger Station to get maps and advice. The guy there had all kinds of interesting information about the history of the area. We have found this to be the case with every ranger station. We looked at the exhibits, paired down what we hoped to do, and then headed out to the Sandstone Bluffs. The bluffs actually have a gate they close at dusk (theoretically) and you can drive right up to them. We thought this would be a great fast first stop. We got to the bluffs and were the only people there. We had lunch and started climbing around looking down at the huge lava fields that seemingly went on forever. There had been some recent rain and the tinejas (little rock depressions) were full of water. We looked around and then hatched the plan to climb down the cliffs to the lava field. This was easier said than done since there is no trail, but off we went making our way to the bottom.

Once at the bottom the fields of very hot black exposed-in-the-sun lava suddenly looked way taller than from above. From above everything looked flat. Once you went down and started walking around you realized you were climbing around on what kind of looked and felt like asphalt only sharper.

When we looked back we realized we were now pretty far away from the cliff base, at the bottom of a pretty steep cliff and now had over an hour's worth of climbing to get back up! We picked a route, did the climbing and made it back up. So much for a short little stop!

The next stop was the la Ventana Natural Arch. This is one of New Mexico's largest natural arches that is 135 feet tall. You can't really photograph the whole thing - it is just too big. Standing under it is pretty interesting though looking skyward at a big suspended piece of rock. We spent some time there before heading back to the car.

We had to skip the Narrows Rim Trail since it was hot and 8 miles and we were running out of time. Instead we headed to the Dittert Ruins. These are 1000 year old ruins of a 2 story tall Anasazi community of 30 or so rooms. We really only saw one small part of it. It was not marked so you kind of follow a dirt road to a "parking area" and then look for the arroyo which you cross and wander around looking for ruins. It took us a while even though it was only a little over a mile. Everything kind of blends in with the sun and there was not a trail to it. Meanwhile I got distracted in the arroyo taking photos of cracked mud - interested me more than the ruins photographically. BLM areas are always an interesting "2 track" dirt road adventure and we are amazed we actually end up in places.

Back to the car and then off to Lava Falls. This ended up being an interesting but hot several mile walk on the youngest lava in the area. Plants were trying to take hold and the lava had interesting swirls and folds. Walking in hot totally exposed sun on black stuff was kind of tiring but not too bad. On the way back the light was really great and trees cast long shadows on the rock walls. The light changes everything here making things that appear washed out in the strong daylight turn brilliant reds and pinks and peachy pastels in morning or evening. New Mexico is a really beautiful place!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Taos and Beyond

A few weeks back we went to visit the Pueblo of Taos. This National Monument was added to the World Heritage List in 1992. It is the first living world heritage spot because it is home to the country's oldest continuously inhabited Pueblo Community. The Pueblo has been occupied since around 1000 and 1450 A.D. There are still 150 or so descendants living in the pueblo which has no running water, electricity or other modern facilities. Captain Hernando Alvarado was part of the Coronado expedition in 1540 and that marked the first meeting of the Spanish and Tiwa Indians who had lived in the area for centuries. Spain declared it a Spanish Village and conflicts over religion broke up what was for a while a peaceful coexistence. In 1680 there was a Pueblo revolt that expelled the Spanish from New Mexico. Churches were burned down, people killed and a lot of other bad stuff. We were here simply to see the Pueblo and area which also has New Mexico's highest peak - Wheeler Peak at 13,161 feet. Our first stop was as we entered town. San Fransicso de Asis Church had just been remudded and we were told to go check it out by the visitor's center on the highway approaching town. The church was spotless and interesting. No photos allowed inside but just the outside alone had interesting enough views to keep me occupied for a while!

The drive was probably a couple hours and Jeff was hungry so we decided to eat near the church which was really situated in a parking lot with not much else around. We sat down in a lovely little place, outside in the courtyard, and had a very good lunch. With full tummies we headed off toward town. After a false start we realized we were in the town and not the Pueblo. The Pueblo was mission number one so we regrouped and headed further up the road bypassing all the galleries and restaurants and fun places. We parked and then waited for the tour. The tour was pretty crappy and if you hadn't read about the Pueblo or culture you certainly would not have learned anything. That was disappointing but the place itself was really neat and very photogenic! The cemetery (1619) was interesting since all the crosses were situated around the ruins of one of the original churches. We were not allowed to roam free around the graves and did not ask to do that. We went to the San Geronimo Church which has got to be one of the most photographed places ever - it was built in 1850 and despite being the youngest thing in the village it was still interesting. It is a Catholic Church and about 3/4 of today's Taos population share in some of the Catholic beliefs. Everyone practices native rituals in real life. Kivas were off limits. Many of the Pueblo buildings have become spots for people to sell their traditional pottery or jewelry from or food and drinks (no alcohol). I roamed around looking for things to photograph. The mountains and the Pueblo and the church and clouds and just about everything had a weird scale to it. Buildings looked small against the mountains and sky. Everything was clean and only a handful of dogs were laying around. There were not many people roaming around either.

Clouds had been moving in and it started to rain a little. We hopped into the car to head up to the Earthship Biotecture area. It was a few minutes before 5 already and they were just closing up. Thankfully we didn't have to pay for the tour there - there wasn't much there...a few neat buildings and interesting ideas behind them but really just modern day hippies in a commune (nothing wrong with that!). Jeff already knows all about solar and stuff so not much to learn there. The couple buildings we could see where pretty neat and space ship looking!

Now the clouds were REALLY rolling in, it was after 5 and we had a long drive back. We still had one more stop - the Rio Grande Gorge and its bridge. This bridge took us by surprise. We didn't have it on our original day trip plan but the visitor's center recommended it. It is a steel deck arch bridge 650 feet above the Rio Grande river. It is the seventh highest bridge in the United States an 82nd highest in the world. It was built it in two years (1963-1965). The span is 1,280 feet. Mainly it is just a giant bridge that pops up in the middle of nowhere with a kick ass view of the river below! We stopped, got out, and roamed around back and forth looking down and then out to avoid getting dizzy! It was a long way down. I laid on my stomach to photograph just to stay steady. Then we took a trail along the upper edge of the gorge so see the views from there. We spent quite a bit of time there. Then we headed down a dirt road in to the gorge to see it from below. People were rafting and kayaking on the river. We drove along the river until we popped back out at the visitor's center.

The drive back was very beautiful and we will definitely go back to explore the town of Taos and maybe do some camping or snowshoeing. There is really too much to do in the time we had and we are finding that is the case more often than not around here. That is a good thing though!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Cave Adventure

The last weekend of June was set for a trip to Cave Torgac. As usual (for a cave trip) it was difficult to get directions to the cave and Jeff worked extra hard to try to coordinate this end of things. I tried to pull together all our stuff and figure out what you need to go camping in the desert. We also had heard that the cave was around 40 degrees so we didn't know what to bring/wear since we were mapping. I packed way too much stuff - tent, sleeping bags, stove, coffee, oatmeal, dinner options, junk (stuff for s'mores). Also a camp shovel and empty bottles for cave peeing etc. We had to leave around 6:30 am so we could rendezvous with the trip leader at a known spot before heading out on "2 track roads" for some 30 miles. This was around 4 hours of driving. The trip leader had a car concern and stopped which made her a little late and we were a little late as well. Anyway, we got to the spot and she wasn't there. No cell phone reception. No pen or pencil to write a note. Nothing. After waiting 40 minutes (I just LOVE waiting) I told Jeff we should just go. I noticed flagging tape so we followed it through the landscape for miles and miles. Down the "two track" we went and came across the three other cars. Everyone else was there, suited up and ready to go in. I hate being rushed but we rushed and got ready. One complication was that my backpack of clothes was left inside the house in the mad rush to get refrigerated things in the car. Oh well. I had neoprene pants and could use Jeff's fleece and had my knee and elbow pads.
The next obstacle was the gate. This cave is closed and gated. 6 people a month are allowed in during summer months by permit only and BLM was there to get us rolling. Unfortunately the combo to the lock didn't work. A drummel was produced - ha! No way it would cut through the lock. Jeff somehow cracked the code so we were ready to go in. By now it was 11:30 or so. Long story short we had two teams that started at different entrances and began the work of mapping, sketching and inventorying the cave (which of course had been mapped, sketched and inventoried many times before). On day one Jeff and I were on different teams. I quickly got the nickname of "ferret" because I was the explorer when I wasn't inventorying which was a lot of the time since it was all collapse with guano (looked like tiny mouse droppings to me - not the huge piles we are used to seeing)and nothing spectacular. After a while we saw nice gypsum chandeliers and stalagmites and -tites.

We came across a couple dessicated bats. This cave is closed because bats use it to hibernate in in the winter months. We saw one live bat the entire trip - lonely little bat flying around. Puerto Rico had lots and lots of bats. We continued on and spent around 8 hours in the cave and got out with about 20 minutes of daylight left. The mad dash to get set up and eat was on...didn't deal with s'mores and just wanted to get sleep for the next day, The best part of the trip was that night. I don't think we have EVER seen so many stars EVER! We were out in the middle of NOWHERE with only a super faded glow from Roswell maybe? The Milky Way emerged and crept up higher and we could see lots of stars and satellites. Really cool. We slept with the tent top open so we could gaze some more. In the morning the sun rose on the far off horizon, we got breakfast and got ready to head out or in I guess I should say. This time Jeff and I were on the same team since we planned to leave early (after 6 hours of surveying) so we could get home at a reasonable hour. We went back to the spot I had been in with Jerry and Mary. The "pretty" part of the cave with the gypsum trays. We continued on and made our way to the formation room after exploring some upper areas.

So...not exciting like Puerto Rico (but we knew it wouldn't be) but worth doing. I don't know if I will be wanting to do this a lot but it was nice to see something different. It was COLD inside and HOT outside. Also going from blackness to super bright was a little bizarre. I immediately thought of the mole people in MadMax. The neatest thing about the trip for me was the rodeo getting there (crazy "roads" in the middle of NOWHERE) and the nighttime stars. We can camp a lot closer to home but there is the lure of being really out there that is appealing. We need some foam, camp chairs and more time to enjoy the camping part. Caving will never be the same!