Day 14 – Valles Caldera

Image from the Los Alamos Nature Center

May 5, 2017

This part of New Mexico has some pretty spectacular views and geology due to the eruptions at Valles Caldera about 1.6 and 1.25 million years ago.  Both of these eruptions ejected about 300 cubic kilometers of magma across the surrounding area. The tuff at Bandelier National Monument formed from these two eruptions.

Image from the Los Alamos Nature Center

The volcanos were both emptied by these eruptions. The second one formed the Valles Caldera. Initially there was a lake in the center of the caldera. 

But between a number of peaks that have emerged in and around the caldera and the San Diego Canyon, the caldera now consists of a series of small peaks and grassy valleys.

Image from the Los Alamos Nature Center

Most of the caldera is now part of the Valles Caldera National Monument.

NM 4 follows along the southern side of the caldera. You get some beautiful views.

We stopped at Valles Caldera National Monument, but the facilities are very limited and only allow daytime visits.

We did follow the Cerro La Jara hike that goes around a small peak near the Visitor Center. It turns out that it had points of interested that talked about the area, but we didn’t find that out until we were out on the hike at a sign labelled 2. Even though I had talked with the Ranger, she didn’t mention or offer a guide.

We left to find camping nearby, but after checking out the area, we decided to head down to Kasha Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. It, too, was formed from the Valles Caldera eruption. It is just much further south. To get there,  we took National Forest Road 289 (Dome Road) through Santa Clara National Forest. 

We didn’t find out until later that the road was designated “4-wheel drive road. Impassable at southern end. Closed in winter.” It was an interesting drive with views of the geologic results of the volcanic eruptions. There had been a large forest fire that had burned a significant portion of the trees.

The road did end in what was basically a stream, but it wasn’t really muddy and we had enough clearance to get through it.

We camped at Cochiti Lake, a COE site. It was a little odd for a recreation area. There was a lot of fencing around it. We passed a large area with picnic tables, but of the vintage that I can’t imagine it gets used very often.

To get into the campground, you have to stop at an office that seemed more like a security facility than a campground. The woman at the office assigned us a campsite without giving us any options after we told her what we drove. 

We wound up in the older campground area which seemed to have been built around the same time as the picnic area. It was really exposed at the top of a hill. Fortunately, we had long enough hose and electric lines to be able to plug in. 

It was really hot, especially compared to being up at altitude. And it was really exposed. 
So we had a quiet evening. But, since no alcohol was allowed at the campground, we didn’t do much walking around. Plus, it had been a long day. 

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Day 13 – Bandelier National Monument 

May 4, 2017

After our great hikes yesterday, we wanted to get in a couple more.
We did the Falls Trail in the morning. It follows the Frijoles Creek downstream to reach the upper waterfall. 

The creek flows into the Rio Grande not long after the Falls.

The trail used to go all the way to the Rio Grande, but the Frijoles Creek had a really huge flood several years ago. Much of the trail past the Upper Falls washed away.

We passed a dozen kids playing in the creek with a teacher supervising. They were also hiking to the Falls, so we hurried our pace to try to keep ahead of them.

The children showed up about 10 minutes after we did. We decided to spend some time hanging out to let the children get ahead of us on the way back.
We took the old trail down to the Lower Falls. It required quite a bit of scrambling in places, but the trail wasn’t too bad overall.

Jon checked out the trail down to the Rio Grande, but it seemed completely wiped out. After poking around a bit, we headed back.  

No sign of the children. To get to the falls, the trail is all downhill, so returning was over 500 feet of climbing. At least the geology is pretty interesting.

After a rest at the camper, we went out on the motorcycle to get to the Tsankawi Village Trail on the other side of the Bandelier National Monument. To get to it, we drove out through White Rock before arriving at the trailhead.

There were a number of cars there. It had already gotten pretty warm. The trail is only 1.5 miles long, but there is a significant amount of up and scrambling required. 

There are also a couple of ladders to climb up.

The views from the top of the mesa are incredible. 

This area was inhabited by the Ancestral Tewa Pueblo who are related to the San Ildefonso Pueblo. Tsankawi was located at the top of the mesa and consisted of 275 ground floor rooms. This area was occupied during the 1400s.

The top of the mesa had stone wall construction. 
Most of the visible remnants are the bases of some of the stone walls.  

To continue on the loop trail, you take some pretty steep bits down. 

The geology is the same as the rest of Bandelier National Monument. The mesa consists of the same soft, vocanic tuff. 

If you continue along the trail, you go by areas with the obvious signs of habitation. 

There are great numbers of cavates, both ones people lived in and ones that were used for storage. 

There are foot and handholds cut into the rock in places. 

There are some really nice petroglyphs, too.

The walls are criss-crossed with worn trails, but most of those are from more modern visitors. 

The site is definitely worth seeing. Like the Falls and Loop trails, there is a guidebook to this site. 
We stopped by a grocery on our way back to the campground. It was nice to pick up a few things to add to dinner. 

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Day 12 – Bandelier National Monument 

May 3, 2017

We took the motorcycle to the Bandelier National Monument Visitor Center in the morning.  After spending a little time checking out the exhibits and bookstore, we followed the Main Loop Trail and the additional Alcove House Trail.

The original inhabitants of this area were Ancestral Puebloans. The Frijoles Creek ran through this valley providing a source of water throughout the year. The walls of the canyon are made of primarily of tuff, rock comprised of compacted volcanic ash. 

It is a relatively soft stone with a great number of holes, like Swiss cheese. Because of the relative ease of carving out cavities in the rock, the ancient Puebloans created a small cavates (cave rooms).

These rooms were usually fronted by stone walled constructed rooms. People lived on the walls of the cliffs in addition to the large village, Tyuonyi, along the floor of the canyon.

The loop trail takes you along the excavated site of the valley part of the village. You pass a Kiva, a round ceremonial room dug into the ground. 

Plus the remains of the walls that would have made up the rooms and walls of the village.

The trail continues up to the dwellings along the wall of the canyons. There are lots of very sturdy ladders and steep paths to reach the dwellings.
One house has been reconstructed to show how the rooms might have looked while they were occupied.

There were a lot of other people on the loop trail. 

We spent a while around this area. We’ve been to Mesa Verde and a few other ancient Puebloan cliff dwellings, but the geology of this area makes these unusual. 

After following the Main Loop Trail, we took the Alcove House Trail. It was a beautifully shaded area along the Frijoles Creek. We saw a mule deer grazing next to the creek. 

We also saw an Abert Squirrel jump down from one tree and run up another one. The tufts on their ears make them really adorable. 

The hike over to the Alcove House is mostly flat and easy until you get to the cliff. 

To reach the Alcove, you have to climb up 140 feet on ladders. I made sure to wear gloves because the rungs of the ladders can get really hot. They weren’t too bad while we were there. 

The Alcove was a large space with a reconstructed kiva. 

It was a great view of the valley.

We hung out drinking water and enjoying the view before heading back towards the Visitor Center. 

We talked with the Rangers about other hikes in the area. After some discussion, Jon and I decided to hike up the other side of the canyon to check out an unexcavated site. 

The trail we hiked up to reach the canyon rim consisted of an enormous number of switchbacks. I climb hills at a much slower rate than Jon. I was really surprised to come around one switchback to find Jon literally cooling his heels. I had a chance to rest while he put his shoes back on. 

At the top, we found the remains of Frijolito, an ancient Puebloan village. 

Not much to see but stones where walls once were. There were lots of pieces of broken pottery and obsidian flakes. 

We appreciated seeing them and then returned them to the place we found them. 

We hiked along the rim for an another mile or two. 

We could see the Visitor Center from the top.

We also spotted the ladders up to Alcove House. 

Our hike down from the rim was slow and gradual. I tend to prefer my ups as switchbacks and my downs more gradual. 
It was a good hike. We stopped at the Visitors Center to rehydrate and have a snack before heading back to our campsite. 

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Day 11 – Los Alamos to Bandelier National Monument 

May 2, 2017
We left the Santa Fe KOA in the morning and headed towards Los Alamos. It seemed like there were a number of interesting things to do in town. They really have a useful Visitor Guide. 

I would highly recommend picking one up if you are planning to do anything in this area. And there are a lot of things to do.

Los Alamos Visitor Info


We were planning to spend the next couple of nights at Bandelier National Monument. 
We decided to stop at the Los Alamos Nature Center. 

And if you are interested in doing any hikes in Los Alamos, Bandelier National Monument, Valles Caldera National Monument, or anywhere else in the area, I highly recommend the Los Alamos Trails App.

Information about the Los Alamos Trails App
The plant and bird life in the West is can be quite different than in the East, especially in the deserts. The drive through town was quite nice. Once we arrived at the Nature Center, we had someone wanting to know more about of vehicle before we had even gotten out of the Fuso.

The nature center wasn’t quite what I expected, but the people were friendly and the exhibits were well done. 

I appreciated the mammal scat examples. 

We see a lot of animal poops when we are out on hikes. Some species intentionally poop on the trails. 

It was still a little too early for the flower beds outside to be all that helpful yet.

After buying a couple of nature guides and a postcard, we headed out to get our big propane tank filled. Usually we don’t go through a lot of propane, but the heater uses a lot and it had been cold several times already. 
There were no places to fill our tanks in Los Alamos. I called the numbers for two places in different nearby towns. I was told that someone would be available until 5 in Espanola. The other number put me on hold for a long time.
Long story, but the short version was that the guy at the first place wasn’t licenced to dispense it. After a long time on the phone, I found out that Amerigas had a tank at R & E Glass and the owner could dispense it. The best part was that he was only a few miles away. We found the shop. The owner, Lawrence, was able to dispense the propane and Jon & I breathed a little easier. So if you even need to fill a mobile propane tank in this area, I would highly recommend going to R & E Glass. 
1301 North Prince Dr.

Espanola, NM

With full propane tanks, we headed to Bandelier National Monument. 

The National Monument has three camping loops, but the A & B campground loops were basically closed due to work on the restroom & showers plus something involving large concrete pads. 

Loop C wasn’t full, but there weren’t very many open spots either. We picked a spot that backed up to the outside part. We settled in and made plans for the next day. 

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Day 9 pm – Day 11 am Santa Fe, NM

Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis

After Las Vegas, we decided to go to a city that was unlikely to disappoint. So we stopped at the Santa Fe KOA which is outside of Santa Fe. 

Santa Fe KOA Journey

That is true for most RV parks. This one had been here for a long time which made it much nicer than most modern commercial RV parks. There are actually trees between you and your neighbor. 

Our campsite

We were 9 days out,  so it made sense to do a little laundry and get caught up with the mundane tasks. So I did laundry and Jon worked on the books for the garage in NC. It was important but not entertaining. The laundry room was clean almost to the point of OCD clean. It was a little on the expensive side but convenient. 

Jon checks out the Fuso

Jon also did a little trouble-shooting regarding a charging issue to the house batteries. It turns out a bolt had sheared off in the system related to the second alternator. 

Bolt sheared off in the second alternator tensioner

There are always little issues that come up in a system as complicated as this one.  After all, the Fuso combines all the systems of a house with the systems of a automobile plus the added complication of the rigors of movement. Washboard roads are hard on everything and everybody. 

Jon checking the roof

It was a quiet night with a really nice sunset. 

In the morning, Jon went out on the motorcycle to buy parts while I tried to get caught up on the blog post. Jon wound up being successful after two trips, but I was still behind, but I made progress.

Jon is off to buy parts from the Fuso

We spent the afternoon in Santa Fe in the main Plaza. The motorcycle is so much easier to park than the Fuso.

The Plaza was crowded, but the people watching was good and the art in the windows of the shops was spectacular. 

Granted, almost all of the shops were catering to a much more affluent tax bracket than we are in.

We just weren’t in the mood for museums and after Las Vegas, New Mexico, we were happy enough just looking at the buildings rather than trying to discover their detailed history. 

Sign on the Palace of the Governors

So here are some photos of the things we saw.

Palace of the Governors

There were a lot of museums, especially art museums.

New Mexico Museum of Art

AIAI Museum of Contemporary Native Arts

Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

And Churches sometimes with its own art. 

The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis is the first photo of this post.

The Entrance to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis

There are two statues to St Francis 

One statue of St. Francis

Statue by the front of Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis

In contrast to all of the “Santa Fe Style” (Pueblo Revival) buildings is the architecture is this church. 

Loretto Chapel

Parking was limited to two hours. That turned out to be the perfect amount of time for us. 

We got back to our campsite in the late afternoon.  Jon finished with the repairs to the Fuso. I dealt with the laundry, dinner and blog. 

We headed out to Bandelier National Monument in the morning. 

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Day 8 – From Snow to Las Vegas! (new mexico)

April 30

This post is about our drive out of the snow after camping in the post office parking lot in Solano, NM.

Plus our visit to Las Vegas, New Mexico later that day.

Las Vegas, NM

We didn’t have any trouble getting out of the parking lot in the morning. The plows had been at it overnight and you could actually see the pavement at times. The most significant thing is that the snow and extreme winds had stopped. 

We drove up to the turn off for the Mills Canyon Rim Campground. We would not have been able to make it to the campground even if we had continued last night. 

So we turned around and headed towards Las Vegas for more urbane adventures. The drive down Hwy 120 to Wagon Mound was really pretty. You decend into a canyon. The further down we were, the less snow we saw.

We headed to Las Vegas, NM. It was described as having great historic buildings. The town was visited by Coronado in 1541 and the Spanish settled the area in the 1790’s. The railway came in and settlers from the East came and built Victorian homes and buildings. So the area has an interesting combination of Spanish and Victorian architecture. There are about 900 listed historical buildings. 

There is a great article by the New York Times.

New York Times article

But it is from 2007. The area has gone downhill significantly since then.

We stopped at the Visitors Center.

Note the snow on top of the bushes and roof. 

The lady was very helpful. I am very glad to have gone there because we picked up the “Historic Trail Guide” pamphlet. It wasn’t what I expected for a guide about the historic Spanish mission and Victorian buildings. 

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Day 8 – SNOW! In New Mexico?

I’ve decided that breaking our blog into overnight sections makes more sense right now.

April 29

After a very windy, rainy and cold night outside, we headed to New Mexico. It started snowing even before we left Texas. It wasn’t a big deal at first, because the ground temperature was still pretty high, so the snow wasn’t sticking. Once we reached New Mexico, it started sticking to the fields and ground. The roads were still clear for a while, but that was changing quickly as we gained altitude.

On the CB, the truckers said that part of I-40 near Albuquerque was closed due to an accident related to the snow. We decided that lower altitudes would be better and most of the middle of New Mexico along I-40 is at high altitude. So we picked Mills Canyon Rim campground in the Kiowa National Grasslands to stop for the night.

Mills Canyon Campground

We stopped in Tucucari for supplies and then headed north on Highway 54 to Logan and then Highway 39 to Roy. 

Even when we were in Tucumcari, a lot of ice was accumulating on the Fuso.

The section of Hwy 39 is the La Frontera del Llano Scenic Byway. So we hoped for a nice view along the way. 

Long story, short…

The snow got thicker, the amount on the road increased and finally visibility was extremely limited. 

By the time we passed through Mosquero, we were very concerned. 

When we finally reached Solano, we decided to stop. There were plow trucks coming through regularly, but the visibility and our lack of familiarity with the roads made it pointless to go on. The highs the next day were supposed to reach the 50’s. We didn’t think we would have a problem after the next morning. The best spot for us to camp was in the parking lot for the Solano Post Office. Since it was Saturday night, we figured that we were good until at least Monday morning, if need be.

Town is not a description I would use to describe Solano. It is a post office and collection of homes and farms. But, because there was a great place to park. We were relieved to stop. We even had a tiny bit of cellular signal, a real bonus. Thank goodness we changed over to Verizon. In the East, not an issue, but out West, especially in lightly populated areas, Verizon is the best.

About an hour after we pulled in, a U-haul pulling an SUV also pulled into the parking lot behind us. There was a car following it. After a series of door openings and closings, the driver left the U-haul behind and rode off in his friend’s vehicle. We had a quiet evening otherwise.

The next morning, we were woke up a little late and were able to get out easily. 

The plows had been at it and the snow had stopped, so everything looked better. 

There was still a lot of snow on the roads. We headed up to the turn off for the campground. It would have been a challenge getting into it today, much less last night. The highway only had about one car width of road clear.

We took a good road down into a different canyon and had very nice views. After unsuccessfully doing outdoor activities, we decided to visit a few towns to see what they had to offer.

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Day 7 – Oklahoma to Texas 

April 28

We left our campsite and stopped at Prairie Dog Town, an area set aside for Prairie Dogs in Wichita Mountain National Wildlife Refuge. 

The prairie dogs were almost friendly. I’ve never seen them so habituated to humans. 

Jon was eating a morning snack and he had one come up under the fence to almost beg for food. 

Obviously, most people don’t resist. The one that came so close was female and may have been nursing pups. So I got a few really up close photos of them.

It was really wonderful to see pups and a large number of prairie dogs out and about. They did signal warnings a couple of times, but there were always a few left out.

When we drove in, we noticed a bison in the pasture behind the prairie dog area. It turns out there were actually two bison on two separate fields. One on them was close to the path along the side of the prairie dog area, so Jon and I took it hoping to get a better view of the bison. 


We absolutely did. We stayed on the path for most of the time, but then we walked a little closer. 

We completely understand that bison are not tame and are much bigger and faster than we are. We didn’t get too close. 

I did really appreciate the new camera with a telephoto lens. I was able to get some really close up photos. 

After this excitement, we headed west. We were hoping to make it through Texas today. The weather report called for a winter storm warning tonight. Not something you expect in Texas at the end of April. We finally decided to stop in Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge to camp. 

Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge

Muleshoe is known for its bird life. Sand hill cranes stop here during their migration. We weren’t there at that time of year, but we did see a Ferruginous Hawk rise up from the road and fly off. It was impressive.

The Muleshoe campground was very nice. There were spaces for six spots. Some had picnic tables or fire rings. There were vault toilets, but no potable water. 

There was already another vehicle at the camping area. It was a Sportsmobile. After getting parked so that we were optimally lined up with the expected storm, we went over to say hi. 

It turns out that they had only recently taken possession of the van and this was a five week inaugural trip for it. They were from Oregon and had brought their very large black German Shepherd. We talked to them for a while and warned them about the oncoming storm. Jon suggested that they might want to realign their vehicle, but they weren’t interested in moving at this point.
Jon and I walked up to the main office to sign in. After a very short distance from our camper, the wind really started kicking up. And it was very cold. We signed in and took a brief look at the displays before heading back. 

It had gotten really cold and the wind was incredible. I am very glad we had a four-seasons camper and so appreciative of Jon’s forethought about the direction of our camper. 

Lemon-ginger chicken with jalapeno sugar snaps and French fried shallots with a nice white wine.

We didn’t leave the camper until morning.

I am thankful that our camper is well insulated with double paned windows, has heat, and a bathroom and kitchen inside. Those features are not always needed, but when they are, I am grateful. 

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Wild Turkeys at Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge 

From April 27 – 28

We saw a number of wild turkeys at Doris Campground in the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge. 

Because a took a large number of photos of the turkeys, I decided to split them off into their own post.

All these photos are from our turkey sightings on April 27 & 28.

We first saw the wild turkeys in an uninhabited campground loop. There were five Tom turkeys and about three hen turkeys pretending to ignore the males. The exact number of females was hard to determine. The males stayed in one big group promenading in their best mating postures. The females were often in high grass making them hard to spot unless they raised their heads. 

When we settled into our campsite, we saw the turkeys cross the road and come over to our campground loop. The females were in the lead grazing on whatever looked appealing. The males followed behind looking as dignified and pompous as possible.

A female turkey. Note her really long legs.

We watched them enter the camping area and seemed completely unafraid of humans. 

Jon and I walked over to get a better view. I took a lot of photos. 

Later in the day, once we had gotten back from our hike, two male turkeys in their normal attire came over to our campsite to forage. The males look so much smaller when they aren’t all poofed up. 

And they look kind of like they are wearing a skirt when they are in the in between stages.

All of the turkeys in the US are in the same genus and species (Meleagris gallopavo). This includes the turkeys which have been domesticated. The white domesticated turkeys have been bred with such large breasts that they can no longer breed naturally. See Dirty Jobs if you want a hands on demonstration. 
Wild turkeys almost became endangered in the 1960s due to excessive hunting. Restrictions were put in place and efforts to relocate turkeys were a huge success. There are now large numbers of wild turkeys. 

Most turkeys in the US are derived from the Mexican Turkeys that the Spanish settlers brought back to Europe. They were then brought back to the new world with English settlers. Some of those turkeys escaped and became wild again. So between the native turkeys and escaped turkeys, there are a number of different subspecies of wild turkeys.

Wild Turkey Subspecies

For the most part, the easiest way to tell them apart is by the banding in their tails and their location. 

On the eastern part of the US, the turkeys generally have a rufous colored band (a reddish-brown color) at the tips of their tails. Merriam’s wild turkeys are found in the western parts of the US (between New Mexico up to Wyoming and Oregon). Their distinguishing feature is the cream colored tip of their tail feathers.

The turkeys at this campground were the Rio Grande subspecies. The Rio Grande turkeys are found in the southern more central and western states like Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Utah. They have longer legs, a tan to cream tip their tails, and are more generally lighter brown with a copper and green iridescence to their feathers. They are also supposed to be gregarious, and these were certainly that.

Those features are hard to tell when they are in the shade.
Once we saw a few males in the sun, it was much more obvious. 

The turkeys really made this place special. I hope you enjoy the photos.

The Wikipedia entry was very helpful. 

Wikipedia Wild Turkey Entry

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Day 6 pm – Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge 

April 27 afternoon

After a brief stop for supplies, we headed to Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge. 

We headed for the campgrounds and it took a bit to figure out the loops and campsites. 

We saw turkeys in the first loop we drove through. No campers, just a cluster of male turkeys and a few females.

We wanted to be down by the lake, but there were limited sites with power. So we wound up in D loop which had nice flat spots with power and a little space between the campsites. It was in a scrub oak forest among the many trees. 

It had gotten pretty warm, so I appreciated the trees to shade the camper. 

Hopefully being a little further from the lake, we wouldn’t have any issues with bugs.

We spent a little time talking with a nice couple in big, classic American SUV. And then the wild turkeys came over. I grabbed my camera and we all followed them. There were five males and three hens. It was fascinating. 

Once we had enough photos and our guests left, we walked up to the entrance to pay for our site. 
By the way, when going to state and federal sites, it helps to have a checkbook. Most of the time you have to deposit it in correct amount, so unless you have exact change, you may be stuck overpaying.

We planned on taking the Little Brushy Trail after the stop at the Entrance Station. 

We reached a really beautiful section on some rocks with a great view of the lake, turtles and lots of wildflowers. 

We spotted really dark clouds on the horizon. 

After reaching a dam and beautiful canyon, we decided to head back to our campsite before it started to pour.

We reached our vehicle without any problem. We hung out for a while and the storm passed over without dropping any rain. 

We had a nice quiet rest of the day. We saw more of the turkeys and some deer. The human neighbors weren’t particularly friendly. Everyone seemed to do their own thing. 

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