Friday, April 26, 2013

Crossing New Mexico

Last Sunday, we left Homolovi Ruins State Park and headed east into New Mexico. We spent one night in Gallup at USA RV Park. It is a good place to stay for a night or two, especially when you want 50-amp hookups. Monday it was on toward Santa Fe. We have stayed in two different commercial parks there, neither of which we liked. This time we tried Cochiti Lake Corps of Engineers campground a few miles southwest of the city. We really enjoyed the park. It wasn't very full and we had a really nice site.

There is a pretty no-wake lake nearby and we had a good view of it from our RV.

We saw one unusual RV in the campground. I expected some young hippie-types, but this morning I found the occupant was a gray-haired senior woman and her dog. Who would have thought?

The visitor center had a really good map explaining where the water in the Rio Grande River comes from and what causes flooding downstream. Cochiti Dam was built after Albuquerque suffered severe flooding in the 1950s. We wished we had understood more of the river's origins before our time as interpreters at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge along the Rio Grande in Texas last year.

We really liked that campground and will probably stay there again, either to visit Santa Fe or as an overnight stop between Denver and Mesa. But there isn't much to do there unless you boat or visit Tent Rocks National Monument, which we do not intend to do. (See previous post.)

We did drive into Santa Fe for a very good Mexican lunch at the LaFonda Hotel on the plaza. The hotel has interesting painted glass panels around the restaurant and other locations near the lobby.

There are murals on several walls.

This is what our burrito plates looked like before we attacked them. John had the beef and I had the chicken filling.

We were able to walk up to the mezzanine level and see the restaurant from above. As you can see, it was very busy at noon Thursday.

The trip to Santa Fe and good food helped get us back in harmony with our world.

Today we left there and drove to Raton where we found another great campground. We are staying at the NRA Whittington Center which has two full-hook-up capgrounds. The sites are level and very large. We have a great view of the pinon-juniper landscape here and we have been able to watch a small herd of mule deer. There is almost no one here right now. It is a great place to stop, just 10 miles from Raton.

Tomorrow we are headed north, back to Colorado after nearly 7 months in Arizona and New Mexico.

No Control

Sometimes we have little or no control over what happens or what we do. Every April 15, we have to file and pay our income taxes or face fines or even jail. If we want to fly on an airplane, we have no choice but to go through a metal detector and perhaps be searched. On a much more serious level, sometimes we face cancer or a heart attack or stroke and have no choice but to undergo medical treatment.

Wednesday, we faced a situation where we felt we had no control. It ended up costing a couple hours out of our day and untold frustration and some embarrassment. It is times like this when I realize just how important it is to me to be in control. That is almost always the issue when I have conflicts with the people in my life or issues with the circumstances life presents.

Two years ago we spent several days in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and visited Bandelier National Monument. We saw some information about Tent Rocks NM and wanted to check it out this time, while staying at the Cochiti Lake COE Campground, about 15 miles from Tent Rocks. We drove there Wednesday morning. Just before the monument entrance, we saw a Cochiti Pueblo graveyard. Because of our experience owning a funeral home, we often visit cemeteries examine the monuments and markers and take photos.

As we drove past, I took 2 pictures with my iPhone; then, I saw a sign that said, “No Photographs.” I turned off the camera. Moments later were stopped at the guard house. An attendant appeared and we gave him our Annual Pass. Our attention was quickly diverted by a knock on my passenger side window. It was a man who motioned for me to open my window. When I did he said he saw me take pictures of the cemetery and he would have to confiscate my iPhone. What! You have to be kidding. Those were my thoughts, not my words. I explained that as soon as I saw the “no photos” sign, I stopped taking pictures. He asked if I had deleted them. I said no, but I would be happy to do so right then. He said there were 3 signs saying no photographs and he would have to seize the camera and take it to the “Cochiti Pueblo Governor, who would decide if I could have it back or not. As it turned out, there was a funeral that day and he wouldn’t be able to give the iPhone to the governor until at least 2 in the afternoon.

I have learned that, though the squeaky wheel gets the grease, an uproar often makes the situation worse. So, we tried to reason with the man. John asked the man for identification and he produced a badge. If we had been on property governed by the United States and New Mexico, no one could seize our camera that way. But we were on an Indian reservation and they have their own laws. The man would not consider any alternative, he demanded our iPhone. We surrendered the phone after he gave us his name.

We felt we had no control. We couldn’t even appeal to the laws of our country. Although I felt like spitting nails, we quietly asked for directions to the governor’s office. Although not in any way nasty, the encounter had been decidedly unpleasant.

At the tribal headquarters, we learned the governor was at the funeral. His secretary told us she would call us when the governor returned from the funeral. We told her the seized cell phone was the only one we had with us. She responded saying the governor may not return for two to three hours. Our response was to sit in her office and wait for the governor no matter how long it took. About 20-30 minutes later, another reservation police officer (the chief?) appeared in the secretary’s office. Naturally he wanted to know why two old Anglos were quietly sitting in the governor’s reception area. We explained to him the same thing we told the secretary. His response was to invite us to go to the free lunch at the community center while we waited. We politely declined.

Our presence, two old white people sitting in the tribal office, was a subtle form of pressure, or at least discomfort to those there. The Post Office is next door to the governor’s office, and residents of the Pueblo kept walking into the governor’s office. Every one of them greeted us with a smile and a friendly “hello”. They were friendly people...each probably wondering who we were.

About 1 ½ hours after our arrival, the governor returned from the funeral. When he encountered us he had obviously already been informed of the situation. He simply told us he was sending someone to pick up the cell phone from the officer who had seized it. In another few minutes, a woman came in and informed us she were retrieve the phone and return in a few minutes.

Someone going through everything on my phone felt like a real violation—search and seizure without a warrant. She returned shortly, said she had deleted the two photos and cautioned us that photography was no allowed anywhere on the reservation.

So we left. Needless to say, we didn’t visit Tent Rocks NM, which is located within the reservation. We wanted out of there. It didn’t feel safe. And I guess when I don’t feel safe; I know I am not in control.

The Daily Office gospel for Wednesday from Luke said, “if anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat, to not withhold even your shirt likewise.” Those words reverberated through our thoughts as we were sitting in that reception area. Our situation…our emotions…our response was framed in the passage we had both read before we found ourselves in this situation.

I am afraid that surrender of control was something we both really struggled with Wednesday. Thursday, we drove to Santa Fe and rewarded ourselves with a lunch at the La Fonda Hotel , but that is part of another post.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Homolovi Ruins

During the 1300s, a nomadic people known to archaeologists as the Anasazi lived and farmed along the Little Colorado River for several hundred years. Ruins of their pueblo communities remain north of present-day I-40 in Arizona and are preserved at Homolovi Ruins State Park. The people who lived here moved on by 1400 and traveled north to live with the ancestors of the Hopi. The Hopi people were interested in preserving these sites and supported the creation in 1986 of the state park, which opened in 1993.

During our stay at the park, we explored the two pueblo sites that are open to the public, Homolovi I and Homolovi II. The first archaeologist to explore these ruins was J. Walter Fewkes, who later headed the Smithsonian. Fewkes also did early work at Casa Grande Ruins in southern Arizona, which is now a National Monument. We volunteered there for three winters.

This is one of the repaired walls at Homolovi I. This pueblo was occupied by about 1700 people and was 2 and 3 stories high.

This illustration shows how that pueblo might have looked.

There are pottery shards all over the sites. Usually, by the time the public is admitted, all artifacts like that have been removed. At the state park, we were told we could pick them up and photograph them, but not take them away. Visitors have picked up the pottery pieces and laid them out in clusters.

This is the Little Colorado River, where these settlers raised corn, bean, squash and cotton.

We also explored Homolovi II. This is a drawing of the pueblo that was there.

This site has more reconstruction and so there is more to see. Here are two views of some of the rooms.

There is also an excavated kiva at this site. The people grew cotton and wove it into cloth for trade. The kivas had anchors for the cotton looms.

We had a great sunset one evening at the state park.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Takin' It Easy

Winslow is a small town in northern Arizona. US 66 went right through the town and now it sits on the edge of I-40.

We enjoyed exploring the town this week. Of course, this town is most well-known for the Eagle's song, "Taking It Easy, Standin' on the Corner in Winslow, Arizona." To be honest, I had never heard the sound until a couple of years ago when Barbara posted about Winslow. By the 70s, I was raising two boys, not listening to popular music. But, we couldn't miss out on seeing what made so many people come to this small town. They even made a park in the town, with a statue of a guitar player. We had to wait in line so John could take my picture there.

From that corner, we walked down the street a few blocks to the La Posada Hotel.

The hotel opened in 1930, one of the last Harvey House hotels along the Santa Fe Railroad. It was designed by Mary Coulter, who also designed the El Tovar Hotel, Hermit's Rest and Desert Tower at the Grand Canyon. The hotel is really neat. If I came here without my RV, I would like to stay there. Here are some views from the interior.

The hotel lobby is also a great gift shop, with Indian-made pottery and other artistic items.

Friday, April 19, 2013

10 Years of Retirement

What is retirement? What do we want out of this season of our life? We have climbed a hill outside of Camp Verde, AZ, to explore cavates used by the Sinaqua culture 800 to 1,000 years ago. We have learned about the birds and vegetation of the Rio Grande Valley and given presentations several times a week for three months. I have painted the interior of a couple of state park restrooms and John has cut down lots and lots of Russian olive trees.

We had the opportunity to live and hike in Bryce Canyon National Park for three months. We cleaned trails in the Oregon rain forest and operated a fork lift and back hoe in eastern Oregon. We did trail maintenance in southern Utah and learned all about bath houses in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

We have driven our RV along the St. Lawrence River and eaten food common in the 1700s at an old French fort in northern Nova Scotia. On that trip to the Maritime Provinces of Canada, we watched a demonstration outside the Ontario provincial capital, observed the tidal bore near Truro, New Brunswick, visited Grand Manan Island off New Brunswick, attended a Celtic music concert in Baddeck and crossed paths with another American couple in four different RV parks.

We saw some of the first booms put out to protect the Gulf Coast after the BP oil spill. We’ve been to Charleston and Savannah, Boston, Detroit, New Orleans and New York City. We have taken our RV on ferries through the Alaskan Inside Passage twice, to and from Prince Edward Island and from Nova Scotia to Maine.

We’ve driven to Alaska in our RV twice, seeing caribou and Mt. McKinley and a newborn elk in our front yard and so many salmon running upstream at Valdez that you could almost have walked across the river on them. We have hiked and biked and met new friends. And not spent over 6 months at a time anywhere.

Retirement is often seen today as an opportunity to reinvent one’s self. We have done that. No more 10-12 hour days, 6 days a week at work. We have traveled and volunteered and learned so many new skills. After a lifetime in white collar/professional jobs, we have learned the joys of working with tools and our hands. And we have developed new hobbies.

Ten years ago this month, we both stopped working for pay and retired. John worked as associate priest at the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration in Evergreen, CO, through Easter. I finished up at H & R Block at the end of the tax season. We were 60 years old and John could begin drawing his Church Pension Fund retirement. Our goal was to travel as much as possible. These have been 10 great years and we look forward to the next decade of retirement. We had owned an RV for 15 years, first a pop-up tent trailer, then 5th wheel trailers. That first year of retirement we spent 157 days RVing between Easter and November 6.

We have now spent the night (our criteria for counting a visit to a state) in 45 states and 8
Canadian provinces. In the US, we have only missed Connecticut, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and Hawaii. I doubt we will ever RV in Hawaii.

Before retiring, we had been to Canada once, Mexico once and Europe two times. With plenty of time for travel and an RV in which we loved living, exploring more of the wonderful country was high on our list.

We watched canoeists and kayakers start a 444-mile race on the Yukon River from Whitehorse to Dawson City. We have observed first-hand the hard work of US Border Patrol fighting drugs along the Rio Grande River in Texas. Poppies covered vast hillsides in California when we were there in 2008. We watched up close and personal the wheat harvest in Montana and cauliflower harvest in Texas. We have seen cotton harvested and processed in gin mills; and observed primitive wheat harvest equipment used at the Threshing Bee in Dufur, Oregon. We’ve seen Native American Indians and Alaskan residents harvest salmon using dip nets. We have learned about birds and plants and fought ticks while hiking in Arkansas.

While parked along the Mississippi River in Illinois to do genealogy research on my Longley relatives, and we were surprised to find a couple parked next to our RV had a welcome sign in front of their trailer with the name Longley attached. Within minutes we discovered we were cousins who’d never met. We know we are related and how, thanks to research, and we have met again in Texas and Alaska.

Neither of us was ever interested in Native American history, at least not until we accepted a volunteer position at Casa Grande National Monument that preserves a 3-story caliche building abandoned over 700 years ago. In the process, we learned a lot about early Spanish exploration of our southwest as well as local vegetation and modern Native American music. And we ended up serving as volunteer interpreters

In addition to playing tourist and researching our genealogy, we have spent nearly 6,000 hours volunteering for state and national parks, fish and wildlife agencies and one commercial campground. In our second year of retirement, we spent nearly 5 months on a trip to Alaska in our RV. We discovered we really enjoy living in our small metal box. However, we had to find a way to make it less expensive. We found that lots of agencies will provide a free campsite in return for 15 to 24 hours of work each a week. The next year, we volunteered first at a state park in Texas, then at Bryce Canyon National Park.

During our retirement, John has been able to continue functioning as an Episcopal priest in the two communities we have spent the most time, Mesa and Coolidge in Arizona. We also have found some great congregations to worship with in other communities where we volunteered. I have been able to continue using my writing skills, first developed in journalism school, by keeping a blog of our activities for seven years, so far.

We love our nomadic RV life. Our son Eric made a stained glass window for us that reads, “home.” Our home is wherever we park it and we hang that above the dining room table to remind us and tell others we are always at home. We love the freedom. We love the chance to explore this wonderful continent.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Movin' On

We left the Grand Canyon today, driving as far as Winslow, Arizona. The trip was uneventful. It has been months and months since we parked in such an open spot. We are at Homolovi Ruins State Park. It almost seems we can see forever out both sides of the RV. No RVs, either direction.

We will enjoy all this space for four nights. We also enjoyed filling the fuel tank with diesel at $3.65 a gallon. In the past week, we have paid $4.49 and $3.99. This is great.

What wasn't great was encountering three snow showers today--on the road and while we were setting up. But at least the wind wasn't so bad that I-40 was closed like yesterday. glad we didn't want to drive east into New Mexico on I-10 today. That highway was closed due to wind.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

It Truly is Grand

This is our third visit to the Grand Canyon in Arizona. We first came to the South Rim in 1990 on our way to California with our older son, Doug. We visited the North Rim 17 years later. And this time we are spending four nights at the South Rim. As a man from New York said, while we were sitting outside the El Tovar Hotel and looking at the canyon, "How many times can you say 'wow?'"

We arrived before noon Saturday. Each day we have walked along the rim, taking picture after picture. In fact, right now I have 360 photos on my computer from the day of our train trip and the time here since we arrived on Saturday. And that is after I eliminated the really poor ones! It is truly amazing here. Even though we have been here before, we both feel we are appreciating it more now. Is it because of our age or have we traveled enough we are finally learning how to really appreciate what we see?

Grand Canyon National Park is huge. The rim trail is about 13 miles long. We have walked something like 22 to 23 miles during the four days we have explored the park (we both wear pedometers every day). It is certainly a good place to get exercise. There is also an extensive shuttle bus system that helps visitors to get around. We have used it at times, in addition to all the walking we have done.

The crowds visiting the Grand Canyon are large and the summer season is just beginning. We are glad we aren't here during the summer. As we have seen at a lot of other national parks, many of the visitors are from other countries. When we volunteered at Bryce Canyon, we learned that 40% of the people were international visitors. Many of the visitors are young Europeans and families from the Far East.

We had planned to leave the Grand Canyon today. However, there is a high wind warning through 7 pm, and that is no time to be driving an RV down the highway. We are grateful Trailer Village, the concessionaire-run full-hookup campground inside the park, wasn't full for tonight and we can stay in our site another night. We haven't seen any snow, at least not yet. This wind is part of the same storm system that is bringing all the snow and cold east of here.

There is a a viewpoint on the South Kaibab Trail about .9 miles down below the canyon rim that is called the Ooh Aah Point. We had considered hiking down there, or maybe going a little way down the Bright Angel Trail. Those are the two main trails that lead down to the Colorado River. We knew we weren't up to hiking all the way down and back up. However, with the high winds yesterday and today, we ruled that out.

But it isn't necessary to go below the rim to have an ooh aah view. Here are a few more stunning views of the Grand Canyon.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Trains, Trains, Trains

Staying at Railside RV Ranch in Williams is great for train buffs. Not only does the Grand Canyon train pass by twice each day, there are also extra train cars stored nearby and the wye, where trains are turned around, is used each evening to turn the Grand Canyon Train around for the coming day.

These are shots of the train cars stored next to the RV park.

We didn't take pictures of the train on the wye, but this shows the train we saw each evening.

To top off these train sightings, one afternoon the steam engine that is used occasionally to pull the Grand Canyon Train was run up and down track next to the park. The shops where train cars are worked on is located just a little distance down the track. The Grand Canyon Trail is very proud of its green steam engine, which is fired by used cooking oil. We don't know what they were doing with the engine that day but several people were on top and they ran the engine up and down the track several times.

It is also possible to view BNSF freight trains on another track several blocks away. Obviously, this is a great place for train buffs.