Monday, April 18, 2016

Three Weeks in New Mexico

It's now mid-April and over a week since we left New Mexico.  I haven't posted much about those three wonderful weeks in the "Land of Enchantment" - maybe because it was just that - enchanting. Or maybe I was just lazy, or maybe there was just too much to write about. Considering that we're now heading North and West to new adventures there is little chance that I will ever get around to detailing our weeks in New Mexico but what I can do is summarize what we learned there.

So here they are, the top 10 things we learned about New Mexico (in no particular order)
Not included in the list but this is the
best commuter rail ever-
The Rail Runner

  1. New Mexico has a state decoration and it is the Chili Rasta. There are everywhere and they are big.  Santa Fe has the longest ones measuring in at 5 feet.  And just to be clear - these are hanging everywhere, all over the state.  And they are real. Hatch, New Mexico is the chili growing capital of the world. If you want to see lots and lots of chili's and thousands of chili rastas drive through Hatch. You don't even have to stop, just drive down the main street and  you will see more in those three minutes than in the rest of your entire life.
  2. The state parks are awesome. We stayed in five different ones. They were all different but all well run, with good trails, and outdoor stuff, as well as nice facilities. This is no secret. New Mexican's love their state parks...especially at Easter when they all descend for egg hunts.
    City of Rocks State Park.
    Lots and lots of rocks. Lots of Egg hiding spots
  3. New Mexican's are not fond of Texans.  It all stated in 1841 when the president of Texas invaded and laid claim to the state and continues to this day when Texans show up at the state parks in droves and mix their Easter eggs in amongst the local's. 
  4. Columbus, New Mexico (website features a chili rasta) is code for cheap, good Mexican optometry which can be obtained right across the border from Palomas, Mexico.
  5. Towns name and other words are often pronounced in un-expected ways. Everyone will tell  you that New Mexico is a blend of (at least) three major cultures, Spanish, Native American and Anglo. This makes for a culturally diverse and interesting state. It also so made it so that I stopped attempting to pronounce the names of most towns and geographic features until after a local had already done so. (and still managed to flub a few)
  6. According to the Forest Service Rangers, while there are black bears in the area one doesn't
    S.D. scoping out the Mountain Lions for me
    need to worry about them.  You should however carry the bear spray in case you meet up with a mountain lion. Oh, and stay together, they tend not to attack if there is more than one person. 
  7. When the weather forecast, or a local says that the wind is going to blow and it's springtime prepare for the wind to really blow. They're not talking a light spring breeze. They're talking about sustained winds of 40-50 knots with gusts in the 60s. Oh, and this being desert, there will be lots of dust in that wind so prepare to not be able to see more than five feet in front of you and to spend the following day(s) cleaning dirt out every remote corned of your car, truck or camper. If, on the other hand you have something in need of a good sandblasting - just bolt it down and your problems are solved!
  8. Flashlights are illegal in New Mexico. (Well not really, but they should be) The night sky, anywhere in the state is awesome!!!  We spent nights along the Rio Grande near Taos and a few more at Bandelier National Monument and every night just stood outside and looked and looked at the sky.
    Typical Descent! This one into the Rio Grande
  9. Any road may, at any time suddenly turn from a flat wide paved surface into a narrow, winding, dirt free fall into a river canyon.  There are three major wild and scenic rivers in New Mexico and several smaller streams, tributaries, washes, etc. Since the predominate land is sedimentary, anytime, and any place that water flows tens to form deep, steep valleys and canyons.  The roads follow the contours so it's important when plotting the day's drive, especially when towing an RV to careful note the terrain and any sudden, or even small switchbacks that may appear on a road. 
  10. Santa Fe is The Best Capital City ever.  Truly representative of the state, which as I point out in the next point, is awesome!
  11. And last but not  (and yes that's more than 10)--- it's just awesome!! I love New Mexico. The place and the people are unassumingly lovely. Diverse, interesting and open.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Hee-la Not Gee-la

Looking up at the Gila Cliff Dwellings
(This post applies to the week of March 23-29. I'm way behind!)

In Tucson, we met up with an old friend from Maine.  We visited the Desert Museum together.  As we were looking at the reptiles, the guy standing next to us smiled benevolently as Dave, Linda and I discussed the Gila monster display at the Desert Museum.

"Where are you folks from?" He finally asked, plainly amused by something we said.

When we told him we were from the East Coast he responded, "It's Hee-la, not Gee-la."

Yes, it was the kindness of that stranger that saved me from mispronouncing not only the name of an

amazing reptile, but also the name of a national monument, a national forest and New Mexico's last wild and scenic river. And that was a very good thing as we spent an entire week exploring those very Gila (Hee-la) things.

CDT Sign!
We set up base camp on the Mesa Campground, in the Gila National Forest. For the first time in over five months we were in trees! Ponderosa pines, Mexican Blue Oaks and Juniper. It was open, high desert forest, but it was lovely. The Gila National Forest covers over 3.3 million acres, of mountains (over 6000 ft) in Southeastern New Mexico. The Gila Cliff Dwelling National Monument, Gila River and Gila Wilderness are all contained within the Forest.

The first day, in a new location is generally a scouting day. After setting up camp we drove North alongside the Gila River, to the Gila Cliff Dwellings. It's a long winding route but well worth the drive. The builders only lived in the cliffs for approximately 30 years but while there they took the time to make some really great little rooms and buildings. The Dwellings are located a little over half-way up the side of a narrow slot canyon off the Gila River. If location was as important then as it is today, I think a place on the River would have been preferable.

And in fact, that's probably where the cliff dwellers moved next. On the way home we stopped at some other roadside exhibits that explained riverside habitation.  

These days living along the Gila River is more difficult.  The Gila River is one of New Mexico's Wild and Scenic Rivers. New Mexico, in fact has five wild and scenic rivers. The fact that the state is also mostly desert and contains the lowest percentage of water held in lakes (all man-made) also means that all of those rivers are under constant pressure of being damned. Unbelievably the biggest motivation for damming seems to be recreation. The Gila is no exception. A number of folks and politicians seem to feel lakes are more fun that rivers. In my opinion they certainly are not fun, natural, wild or beautiful. There is a special beauty of extremes that comes from a river flowing through high canyon walls and desert.
Old Horse Corral

In the following days we took several hikes, not along the River, but into the Gila Wilderness.  The trails followed small streams into lovely, intimate canyons. One of those was on the CDT, or Continental Divide Trail.

Add caption
Starting out from the trailhead the path led North across the wide river valley before entering the narrow valley of the stream's outflow. After two miles of hiking along the meandering stream bed, checking out the many birds and exploring the the remains of a primitive horse corral, the canyon narrowed further. The stream now ran along the bottom of a narrow slot, the trail carved along the only dry(ish) land beside and above it. When the canyon narrowed so much that there wasn't room for the trail, the path turned north west and rose steeply out of the canyon. Within 400 yards we were up and climbing through high range again. Grasses, junipers, pinion pine and cactus doted the hillside.

At the peak, looking out over the Gila Forest, Wilderness and River I couldn't help but thank the stranger from the museum for helping me 'know' the area just a little bit better....and wonder if he ever went to Massachusetts if he'd be able to  correctly pronounce 'Gloucester', or 'Haverhill' for that matter.