National Parks and Monuments, New Mexico, Santa Fe

Bandelier National Monument

As much as I’d like to show some photos of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, which was our first stop on Thursday morning, somehow there are no photos. My camera was dead and I know that Sandy and Cherie were clicking away. Hmmmm. Spirits interfering? Anyway, the camera worked outside the museum. As you might expect, seeing so many of her paintings in one place was very inspiring, and it made me want to reread the biography of her that I read several years ago.

Cherie dropped us off to get our rental car after this and said goodbye. We immediately drove out to Bandelier National Monument. If you haven’t been there in recent years, access has changed during the main tourist season. You park about 20 minutes away and a shuttle bus takes you down to the Visitor’s Center in the canyon. Nice ride, and allows you the leisure to view the walls of the canyon which are riddled with holes.

Once there, Sandy was finally able to do a hike up to see petroglyphs. I was not feeling well either. This particular trail was paved and easily accessible, with lots of benches along the way to stop, rest, and observe. Opportunities were there to climb ladders up into some of the cliff dwellings in some areas. We chose not to do those. Our walk back took us along the creek at the bottom of the canyon.

If you go to my photos on Flickr and open them on a large screen, you will likely see many petroglyphs. As we stood there looking at these walls, we kept finding more. The holes in straight lines indicate where the lodgepoles supported the roof of the rooms that were built in front of the cliff. Some holes were hollowed out and worked into rooms inside the rock. The walls of these pueblos were usually covered in plaster. The pictograph below was found behind some plaster and preserved against the elements.

Then we headed up high, high, high on the High Road to Taos, where our AirBNB apartment awaited us in Truchas. We were tired but we had to eat. So down the mountain roads we went to the Ranchos de Chimayo Restaurante, an award winning, friendly, and surprisingly inexpensive place with lots of charm. It was our 32nd wedding anniversary. Hard to imagine sometimes. We learned a lesson about drinking alcohol at high altitude – it packs a much larger punch.

It was chilly and the wind whistled around the house. Lorey had built a fire in the woodstove to warm the apartment. I could have easily holed up in this cozy place full of books and art and beautiful textiles and read for three days.

Chaco Culture National Park, National Parks and Monuments, New Mexico, UNESCO World Heritage sites

Chaco Culture National Historical Park

We got on the road early on Monday morning and headed for Chaco Culture National Historical Park, which is way down a washboard rutted dirt road surrounded by desert and the Navajo Nation. It is well worth the trip, but be prepared for sun and bring food if you need a meal because it is a long way to the nearest restaurant.

This is a UNESCO World Heritage site as well as a National Park. It was a major trade and ceremonial center for the Puebloan peoples who visited and lived here. Cherie and I headed up the cliff trail near the Visitor Center. Sandy was having altitude adjustment problems and sat below in the shadow of a ruin to take in the sights and photograph us from below. (By the way, this vertical foray kicked off my vertigo and I had to be very careful on the way around!)

Then we joined a ranger to explore and learn about the Pueblo Bonito, which was once a four-story structure. Actually, I guess it still is. The bottom two floors were filled back in after excavation to keep it stablized. So what you are looking at in these photos are the two upper floors!

There were more petroglyphs near the hole in the cliff that the ranger said lined up on the north/south axis with another across the canyon, but they were difficult to photograph in the sun. I noticed online that there were really great petroglyphs down a long trail where we had neither the time or energy to hike. Too bad. I love ancient art and the mysterious symbols. Maybe I will get to go there again one day.

Because it is so remote, this is an International Dark Sky Park. Wouldn’t it be great to camp here and look at the stars! May seems like a good time to visit because it wasn’t very crowded when we were there. Of course, it was a Monday, so not many families were there. Mostly a lot of seniors or near seniors with trekking poles, like us.

Then Cherie, heroic driver, drove us to Santa Fe through country that looked like Hollywood western movie territory. I could imagine cowboys and outlaws riding through the sage. We stayed at Santa Fe Sage Inn. It was a very nice hotel for the price, and they had a great hot buffet breakfast. We pretty much hit the bed and rested for the next day.

Aztec Ruins National Monument, National Parks and Monuments, New Mexico

Aztec Ruins National Monument

We stopped at Aztec Ruins National Monument on the afternoon of Sunday, May 12. This is an easily accessible, compact, 900 year old pueblo great house site. You can explore it in an hour with no climbing or hiking. Despite the name, this is NOT an Aztec site. It is one of the communities that branched out from the Chaco Canyon center. Because of this close connection, it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

That night we stayed in a Super 8 in Bloomfield, New Mexico that was surprisingly nice! We ate Texas style BBQ and tacos across the street at Serious Texas BBQ. North Carolinians can be quite snooty about BBQ. I’ve never been a big fan, which makes me a heretic here, but I’m not fond of vinegary food. I ate a brisket BBQ taco and peach cobbler with ice cream. Delicious.

Next stop: Chaco Culture National Park

Fossil Butte National Monument, Idaho, Idaho-Wyoming trip, National Parks and Monuments, Utah, Wyoming

Fossil Butte National Monument, and going home

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There seemed to be historical markers about the Oregon Trail or California Trail or Mormon pioneers everywhere we went. I like the way Idaho paints its historical markers. Our metal ones might hold up to all kinds of abuse (and we saw one marker in Idaho that had been destroyed by a wildfire) but the metal ones with just type are so boring compared to Idaho’s artful markers.

We crossed back over the state line to see Fossil Butte National Monument, near Kemmerer, Wyoming. The visitor’s center was extremely interesting, with a timeline that led from the beginning of geological history up to the present, beginning as you drove up the road. The spatial aspect of it was mind-blowing. I am fascinated with geology but if I studied it for long my head would explode. Seriously. The fossils within were excellent too. A nice follow-up to our trips to four other fossil-related National Monuments in the last five years.

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We didn’t spend long here. We needed food and we had turned our thoughts to returning home. A side trip to Kemmerer filled our bellies at a sweet little diner on the main drag and then Sandy wanted to take the quickest way to Salt Lake City, so instead of the scenic route, we took Interstate 80, where the speed limit was 80 and every big truck in the area was zooming through. The wind was up and I can say that this was my least favorite part of the trip. I had a death grip on the wheel while Sandy napped, and then he awoke to watch me drive a long fast descent into Utah. There was a time when a drive like this would not have been possible for me due to panic attacks. I am a flatlander from the swamps of coastal Carolina. But I’ve gotten a lot of experience driving in the past ten years so I did not relinquish the wheel. I would not choose this route again if possible.

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We ate at a chain restaurant because no independent restaurants nearby were open on a Sunday night, and stayed at a chain hotel. Early in the morning, we returned the rental car. We drove around Salt Lake City airport three times – what a confusing place! Our plane stopped on the runway and returned to the gate because of an engine problem. One man insisted on getting off the plane. I think he was scared. But the engine was repaired and we made it to Phoenix in time to catch our connection. Southwest delayed its flights to give us a little more time, which was nice.

Flying into Raleigh Durham Airport, we didn’t know what to expect. Our car smelled dank, but it was fine. The pilot had said that the storm had moved to our west, but the drive home wasn’t bad. My friend had cooked us dinner. We had a great time, but we were glad to be home and see our kitties.

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Now where will we go next?

Grand Teton National Park, Idaho, Idaho-Wyoming trip, Montana, National Parks and Monuments, National Wildlife Refuges, Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park

Saturday: Yellowstone to Soda Springs, Idaho

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

^^^The inlaid wooden map that gives the Map Room in Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel its name. The Carolinas were very much on my mind.

Saturday was another day of perfect weather. We left Mammoth Hot Springs Terrace behind and drove north to Gardiner, Montana, for coffee and breakfast at the Two Bit Saloon and to fill the gas tank, since Montana gas was cheaper. Then we drove south on the same road we had been on the day before, except we kept going at Yellowstone Falls through the Hayden Valley. Trumpeter swans swam in the river below us.

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

We stopped at the general store at Yellowstone Lake for coffee, ice cream, and a hot dog. This is a HUGE lake. A lot of this area is still coming back from the big fires several years ago. We decided we didn’t have time to see Grand Prismatic Spring and the West Thumb Geyser Basin. Too bad, but that’s a reason to come back. 🙂

Yellowstone National Park

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A quick stop at Lewis Falls and down John D. Rockefeller Memorial Highway through Grand Teton National Park again. This time I saw the beginning of a wildfire in a canyon that turned major after we left. I think it is called the Roosevelt Fire. We listened to KHOL community radio from Jackson Hole and a New Wave program that was great for the drive.

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We stopped at the National Wildlife Art Museum to see the sculptures and I bought a beautiful coffee mug with an aspen design in the gift shop there.

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We drove through Jackson and south on Hwy 89, along the Snake River Canyon where we had rafted on Tuesday. Near Etna, we decided to take Hwy 34, a back road through the Caribou-Targhee National Forest and past Gray’s Lake National Wildlife Refuge. I’m so glad that we did because it was absolutely lovely. It also was a part of the Oregon Trail, as many of these older roads seem to be.

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In Soda Springs, Idaho, we were hungry and tired. We ate at a restaurant that I won’t name, because I don’t recommend it, and settled down in our room at the Caribou Lodge, an older hotel/lodge that was very inexpensive and comfortable and clean and had friendly staff. I recommend it if you don’t need air conditioning. I find these old hotels charming and I wish that more of them had survived here on the East Coast.