Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Chama home of the Combres and Toltec Railroad

May 21- 25, 2015:

Two engines on the lead uphill

It’s roughly 100 miles from the Orilla Verde campsite to Heron Lake State Park mostly on route 64 west.  It was one extreme road climbing up into the snow belt of Carson National Forest to 10,500 foot elevation.  It was a tough climb for the “Hawk”, but the scenery was stunning, the green meadows with the fast flowing streams surrounded by the lush spring green of the Aspens and white pockets of snow.  On three occasions deer ran across the road in front of me to keep me on edge.  

Our destination, Heron Lake State Park is the 2nd largest lake in New Mexico, but at present it seems to be only a quarter filled.  The marina there is actually closed.  It is a “quiet” lake as motor boats can only run at trolling speed and it is a popular fishing spot with record sized Trout and Salmon, so they say ?  There are several campgrounds here, but only a couple for RV’s over 24 feet in length.  We are in the Blanco campground which has spacious campsites with water and electric, a convenient dump station and a hot shower. 

Heron Lake from the Dam

The rain has followed us here, at 6 PM we have thunder, hail and then heavy rain.  Once again I have mud on my shoes !  It has rained every day this week at some point and has been windy and cool, almost cold at times.

I took a hike between rain showers along the Rio Chama River which has an impressive canyon near Lake Huron.

Foot bridge over the river

It's a beautiful river

Twinkles has been on injured reserve for the past week with leg and knee pain and on bed rest today after aggravating the injury yesterday going up the upper RV step.  If this does not heal soon we will be making an unscheduled medical emergency stop shortly.  

I am off exploring the area sights such as the Heron Lake Dam, the nearby towns of Tierra Amarillo, Los Ojos and Chama.  

In this gypsy RV lifestyle you often come upon stuff that wasn’t in the history books when I went to school.  In particular I’ve become aware of the Spanish Land Grants.  In the days of Spanish rule parcels of land were granted to influential individuals or communal groups of people. These land grants once covered vast areas of New Mexico and in this area it was the Tierra Amarillo Land Grant.  As this area went from Spanish to Mexican and then US control, the diplomatic treaties honored the former Spanish land grants.  Initially the land was considered of no value, but as the land became valuable with western expansion the forces of capitalism entered.  Grantees were taken advantage of and driven off their property by often illegal means.  Of course, I would add that the Spanish did not exactly get this land by honorable means either.  It was by all accounts a huge mess, especially when the old Spanish land records stored in Santa Fe were discarded.  Anyhow, the small town of Tierra Amarillo made national news when an armed revolutionary group stormed the Rio Arriba County Courthouse with the intention of taking their land back.  Of course, this coup failed and riding through this poor small town with it’s many old crumbling adobe buildings, compared to the wealthy looking gated ranches nearby, I can understand the frustration that triggered this revolt in the turbulent days of 1967.  

Rio Arribe County Courthouse

Old building with faded references to the revolt

Los Ojos is another old Spanish settlement in a beautiful green valley.  It has a vibrant cottage industry going called Tierra Wools. This area once had about a million grazing sheep and still has a considerable sheep population.  Tierra Wools manufactures top quality wool products using local wool using traditional hand looms at their shop.  They also hold training workshops for keeping these skill alive.  

The church remains the center of Los Os

Front of the Tierra Wools shop

View of quaint Los Ojos from nearby hillside

Chama’s major attraction is the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad which was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2012. The railroad was started in 1880 by the Denver and Rio Grande as the San Juan extension.  It ceased operation in 1969 but the equipment and buildings were saved by the states of New Mexico and Colorado. It presently runs daily tourist excursion trips from Chama, New Mexico to Antonito, Colorado.  It is the longest and highest operating narrow gauge steam railroad in the US reaching heights of 10,015 feet at the Cumbres Pass.

Mural on the visitors center

Downtown Chama

View coming into Chama
I get my weekly live music fix on Saturday night at the High Country Restaurant and Saloon listening to a band called Gleewood.  The High Country is definitely the happening spot in Chama with a nice saloon area attached to a restaurant and liquor store. Glenwood seems to have quite a local following and there was a musician with them from Stockholm, Sweden who has a band called Secret Circus.  Initially, I didn’t think the band was so hot, but as the night wore on and they started to “rock it up” a bit more,  they started sounding better and better, or maybe it was the alcohol ?  Anyhow it was a packed bar and an enthusiastic crowd which tends to motivate a bands performance and it was a fun evening. 

The High Country Restaurant and Saloon
Gleewood band

Twinkles and I returned on Sunday for dinner which was excellent and stayed to hear a local favorite musician play for a while afterwards in the Saloon. 

The scenery here is a huge change from the southwestern desert areas we have been in for the past 6 months.  We are in this huge green valley with the snow capped mountains looming in the distance.  These valleys are beautiful with raging small streams flowing through lush green pastures bordered by stately cottonwood trees.  The hillsides are covered with pine and fir trees along with intermittent stands of aspen. The skies are full of huge clouds and when the sun is out the colors are mystical. 

The classic horse scene

View from the road

You can’t come to Chama and not do the Combres and Toltec steam train so on Labor day I did exactly that.  I took the the 64 mile trip from Chama, NM to Antonito, CO by train and then the bus back to Chama. The weather held better than expected with only a few  short periods of rain, sleet and snow, but mostly a mix of sun and clouds.  The scenery is spectacular and this operation is extremely well managed and efficient.  On the trip out of Chama there were hundreds of rail fans along the roadways and crossings with cameras, video and audio equipment, quite entertaining !  The train makes a lunch stop at Osier where they provide a veritable feast of a lunch.  I had the Turkey which was like a Thanksgiving dinner, real roasted Turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing with gravy, green beans, rolls, soup, salad bar, several beverages and a desert table. There was a docent on the train who was exceptional with train facts, western history, geology, landscape and other entertaining facts and stories.  A most impressive rail journey by any standards.

The train station

On the open gondola car

We went back and forth between Colorado and New Mexico
several times

Beautiful Aspen groves along the route

Riding on the open vestibule

Sign on rear of car

Lots of maintenance on this line, old ties are everywhere

Number 463 getting a rest at Osier

Next stop is Durango, Colorado;

Twinkles and Slick

Friday, May 22, 2015

Taos and the Rio Grande

May 13 - 20, 2015:

The Rio Grande River Gorge

It was a frustrating travel day for me, as I didn’t do my usual road trip preparation.  As a result I was kind of lost for a good part of the journey.  The destination, Orilla Verde BLM Recreation Area has an address of route 570, Pilar, New Mexico which wouldn’t come up on the GPS and was hardly showing on a New Mexico road map.  So I have a lousy map, no GPS and then I lose the phone signal and am confused a bit about the name of this BLM area as it seems now to be called the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument.  This is a sort of wake up call as I have been getting very complacent about finding my way, sometimes just plugging in the GPS and going doesn’t work.

Anyhow, it all worked out fine as Twinkles who drove the Jeep solo ahead had a campsite all picked out by the time I arrived. The Pilar campground of the Orilla Verde BLM Recreation area is part of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument since it’s creation in 2013.  There are two campgrounds for RV’s and five other tent sites within the Monument along the Rio Grande River.  These BLM campgrounds are a bargain with a water and electric for $7.50 a night with the senior park pass.  The drawback here is no phone signal or WiFi.

The campsite was very nice

The Rio Grande River is a wild and scenic protected river and is very popular for fishing and white water rafting.  The river flows fast here with lots of white water stretches and has cut a huge gorge that is about 1,200 feet wide and 600 feet deep. They also have many hiking and biking trails in the area.

A scenic calm part of the Rio Grande River near the campground

I happened upon the “Slide Trail” adjacent to a beautiful undeveloped campsite.  The trail originally had been a road, after the rock slide it then became a hiking trail.  It follows the Rio Pueblo de Taos which is a fast flowing stream full of rapids that empties into the Rio Grande River.  It is also has a huge canyon and is very scenic with the trail climbing steadily uphill all the way from the Rio Grande River to the canyon rim.

The Rio Pueblo de Taos is turbulent all the way
I did wonder how the truck ended up in the river gorge ?

I also hiked a short section of the West Rim Trail that overlooks the Rio Grande Canyon, I made a hasty retreat as a storm was approaching.  This is a 9 mile trail that parallels the Rio Grande to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.

Beautiful Primrose flowers on the trail

The La Vista Verde Trail went half way down into the gorge to a great overlook over the Rio Grande River and past a few Indian petroglyphs along the way.

Overlook view
Indian Petroglyphs

Taos is about 17 miles from the campground.  It is another old Spanish settlement like Santa Fe that was very prominent in the history of the southwest.  Taos had a very turbulent, confusing history with much conflict between the Spanish, the native indians, the military, the mexicans, the anglo-Europeans and even civil war action.  These days are much simpler, it’s now just a mecca for tourists searching for southwest art, jewelry, fine dining and cultural activities.

Mural on side of a Taos building

Historic paintings old city hall building
View of the Taos plaza area
View of the plaza from our lunch spot

The oldest attraction in Taos is the Taos Pueblo which has been continuously inhabited by the native indians for over 1,000 years.  These indians have quite remarkably survived the Spanish, the Mexicans and the European invaders (the US) remaining in this same spot all these years.  It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and much of it is open to visitors.  It remains virtually unchanged with no electricity, no running water and the original Adobe being maintained mostly by traditional methods.

The Pueblo has a world class view
The Mission on the reservation

The outside ovens called hornos originated from the Spanish, and
are still used by the indians today. Originally there were no lower
entry doors, you entered the Pueblo at the roof using the ladder.
If under attack, the ladders were pulled up.

The San Francisco Asis Mission which is one of the most beautiful and photographed churches in the southwest.

San Francisco Asis Mission

Another attraction is the Hacienda de los Martinez Museum.  The Hacienda was built back in the Spanish period in 1804. It originally had four rooms but over time was expanded to 21 rooms and was a major trading center of it’s day.  A very impressive structure with 2 foot thick adobe walls and two central courtyards.  It remained in the hands of direct family descendants until the mid 1930’s, then fell into ruin, was reconstructed in the 1960’s and was acquired as a museum in 1972.

Nothing special on the outside, but like a medieval castle on the inside

The most famous former residents of Taos is the legendary Kit Carson.  He was an amazing figure in the history of the west who was once revered, but in recent times has come under attack for tactics used to defeat and move Apache and Navajo Indians to the reservations. It seems to me that he was a man caught in the middle between various cultures, as in his life he had two indian wives, one Mexican wife and had adopted indian children.  His house in Taos where he lived in latter years with his Mexican wife and children has been restored thanks to the Taos Masons Club, of which he was a member, and is now a museum.  

The house where he spent his final years

There are many great scenic drives in the area.  Route 570 along the Rio Grande River into the Rio Grande de Norte National Monument takes you to the Taos junction bridge and then up a steep gravel road to the rim of the Rio Grande River Gorge.  Once on the top, a huge open range appears with snow capped mountains in the distance.  You eventually come to route 68 and then in a few miles south to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.  There were many vendors set up on the apron of the bridge selling craft items.  The bridge was constructed in 1965 and is the seventh highest bridge in the US being 565 feet above the river.  It has a walkway across which has become controversial as it has become a favorite spot for suicides.  In the middle of the bridge on each side there is a crisis hot line call station to deter the suicidal types.

Side view of the bridge

A crisis hotline just in case you get suicidal thoughts

All roads going to Taos are scenic, but route 518, known as the “High Road” is the most popular.  This road climbs up into the mountains and into the Carson National Forest and ski country traveling through several old historic towns and many beautiful mountain vistas.

Nice view

I want to buy this place

If you tire of all the outdoor and historical stuff, the downtown is full of interesting shops of all kinds, mostly southwest arts and crafts, art galleries, museums and many good restaurants. 

I found the place for music or pool on Tuesday evenings at the Taos Mesa Brewery a few miles outside of Taos on the Mesa top.  Tuesday night is blues night with a very good local band and a 9 ball pool tournament with some very good players.

Blues and the sound of billiard balls do go together

The weather has thrown everything at us this week, near freezing temperatures, bright sun, dark clouds, heavy rain, hail, thunder, and even snow at the higher elevations.  It has rained at some point almost every day, thought this was a dry climate ?

Next stop is Heron Lake State Park near Chama, New Mexico;
Twinkles and Slick

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Santa Fe, New Mexico

May 11 - 13, 2015;

We took a short hop from Las Vegas to Santa Fe, New Mexico on route 25 south skirting the Sangre de Cristo foothills.  We set up at the Rancheros de Santa Fe Campground on the south east side of Santa Fe on old route 66.  The campground is kind of built on a hillside nestled amidst the trees with rather rough roads to maneuver around, kind of a RV drivers test.  However, it is nice to be in the trees again and it is convenient  to downtown Santa Fe. 

We met our friend, Lilia, our winter neighbor at Desert Trails in Tucson for dinner at a local restaurant, Harry’s Roadhouse.  Harry’s is very popular for good reason, it was excellent !  Lilia has moved into an apartment here where she will spend the other half of her year.  We are only planning to stay here a few days as we have spent considerable time here in the past.

Harry's Roadhouse

Santa Fe is a special place in a class by itself in many ways.  Santa Fe is the oldest state capital in the country going back to days of Spanish rule.  It also has about the highest concentration of southwest art, jewelry and dining anywhere.  The downtown square area is sort of exhausting, so many shops, so much stuff we want, but can’t buy.  We did the usual thing, we walked around the square looking at window displays, went in a few shops and people watched.  Oh, the southwest architecture is pretty good here too !  

Fantastic old theater building

New Mexico Roadrunner

Downtown view on the square

Looking down San Francisco street to the cathedral

The Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi

Beautiful serpent details against blue sky

I call it the sands of time mural 

Santa Fe Southern Railway, I'm wondering if the CNJ 1158
could be a former Central of New Jersey railroad car  number ?

We visited the Art Museum but were actually not that impressed, there wasn’t much on display.  They must get comments about this as they had a sign explaining how many art works they actually have and that only 3% are on display at any one time.  The building itself is another work of art and the Colors of the southwest  exhibit was excellent, but I could do without the abstract modern stuff.

interior courtyard at the Museum of Art was beautiful

Colors of the Southwest exhibit was very good
These bright colors were revolutionary in their day

Another use of vibrant color

We had a lunch at probably our favorite Santa Fe spot, the Cowgirl BBQ, it’s as good as we remembered.

The Cowgirl sign

On Tuesday night, I checked out the music at the Cowgirl, which was good but too quiet and uninspiring.  I moved on to a new venue for me, the El Farol where they were having a blues jam.  This Canyon Road Blues Band jam session has been a Tuesday night event at the El Farol every week for the past eight years.  The place is small inside, intimate as they say, it was packed with people, the band was great, people were dancing and having much fun !

These guys rock !

This is the end of the Santa Fe trail but it’s been a good ride.

Monument at trails end

Next stop is somewhere near Taos, New Mexico;
Twinkles and Slick