El Malpais on the way to Albuquerque

Tuesday, March 28The threat of more rain drove us out of Bisti for now. Temperatures at night are dropping to the 30’s, so we need to flee for awhile. Our next planned destination was to be Chaco Canyon, but the rain will at least delay, if not cancel that leg. I’ve driven the rig down that 13 miles of washboard, ruts and potholes when it was dry (the first 5 are paved as is the last mile), and while it was indeed a rough, rattling shake of a ride, it was well worth it for us – as long as it’s dry. It’s looking like after Tuesday, no rain is forecast for 10 days or so. We may try on Wednesday.

So we stopped at the Bar S RV park near Grants, NM for the night. At $22 for full hook-ups it will certainly do the trick. Typical gravel park with few trees, but seems to be right next to some sort of corral or stock yard. Only a faint aroma of animal was present.We’d beaten the weather, but it caught up with us soon after. First a little rain, then a gentle hail shower, colder and windy too. Even so close to I-40, there was no highway noise. We were, however, right next to what might have been the busiest stretch of railroad in the state. Fortunately I enjoy the sound of trains rumbling by. I wouldn’t have enjoyed their blowing horns this close, but they refrained.

Sandstone Cliffs
Wednesday, March 29This morning was cold and bright with cotton candy clouds wafting by. Looking out my back window I saw it all through a lovely row of trees marking the boundary of the park. We tended to chores in the morning, and by early afternoon were ready to explore El Malpais National Monument.We chose to take a drive down NM-117 that runs between the vast lava beds of the monument and some wonderful sandstone bluffs. The La Ventana arch can be found along this road, but I most enjoyed photographing at scenic turnout called, “Sandstone Bluffs” a bit before the arch.We had a dramatic sky of wind driven clouds creating a constantly changing landscape. I could use the changing light to modulate how intense I wanted it. At full sun, the rocks became too harsh. As clouds began to edge the sun, the light would soften just long enough before going too dim. If I was ready at the right moment, I could get something a little nicer. I also found nice potholes along the cliffs edge and used those to anchor images. In another area, a jumble of rocks and water made for a nice abstract. Back on 117, we stopped again along a shear cliff of sandstone. The changing light was casting shadows on the wall that kept me busy for a time. The wall also echoed the mooing of cows across the road from us. The time delay was odd. I’d hear the far off moo, then a moment later I’d hear it again behind me, but with a different lower tone. Sort of sounded like a foghorn. When I looked out across the pasture, I realized the far off line of cows had gathered near the fence expectantly. They just stood there looking at me, looking at them. So I had to photograph them. Further on, we reached La Ventana Arch tucked into, and carved out of the cliff face. A short trail leads up to the arch, but we stayed back. It seem better to view from afar. I talked briefly with a guy there who said he had just retired from AP (Associated Press) and was working on his Bucket List. He recommended the Smoky Mountains the last week of September as his favorite place so far. We finished our tour by driving to the trailhead for the Narrow Rim Trail. If the weather holds, we will probably stay longer and hike this 6.6 mile trail tomorrow.

The Narrows Rim Trail
Thursday, March 30We were slow to rise this morning. Temps outside were below freezing again last night and sitting in a cozy motorhome won over going out early. But by 11 am we were out on the trail. It was a beautiful day without a cloud in the sky and warming nicely. Why, we may break 60˚ today!On my AllTrails map, this is a 6.6 mile out and back hike. Over that length, the trail rises about 500 ft. It is a slow gradual rise, quite easy to walk. The first mile or so is very rocky, so having the hiking poles were very helpful to keep from stumbling. The trail is well marked with sometimes elaborate cairns in sometime unusual places, to keep us on track over especially rocky areas. The trail turns to mostly sand after a mile, with rocky portions occurring here and there. Because of the recent rain, the sand was quite firm to walk on. That was nice.The hike itself is terrific. It largely hugs the edge of the cliff, or you can go off-trail a bit to get to the edge in many places. There are wide views at a number of overlooks, but photographically I found it to be sort of a one trick pony. I really only saw one picture to make – and I made it over and over again. Tree in the foreground and long expansive views of lava.At around 2 miles, Mary was hinting in her own adorable way that she might like to end this hike early. It had gotten windy by now – especially near the edge – and wind is no friend of Mary. It’s true the hike was not stimulating our picture making desires, but it was still a very pleasant hike and we wouldn’t be hiking again for possibly a week. I didn’t want to stop yet.

We walked on to the 3.3 mile mark where the trail should have ended and our view of the arch should be in front of us. It wasn’t. My app told me we had another half mile to go. So my only complaint about this app is that the stated trail distances in the descriptions are suspect. A cross check with other trail info is a good idea. Another half mile is not a big deal, especially on a fairly easy trial like this, but Mary was tiring and got worried about tripping on the rocky final portion of the trail going back down.She was tired but still wanted to see the arch view. In another half mile, we came around one last bend in the bluff and found the first view of La Ventana Arch. Amazingly similar to the ground level view yesterday. But I didn’t care. Today it was just about hiking on a beautiful blustery day through a pine forest. We had our lunch at the viewpoint and rested a bit before heading back. It looked like the trail went on further along the bluff, so there were probably more views to be seen. But not this time. I found this to be a fun, easy hike. I wouldn’t do it again for photographing, but I would if I just wanted to hike.More heavy winds for tomorrow and some rain on Friday. A chance for Saturday, Sunday and Monday means Wednesday is still our target for Chaco. We will be meeting friends in Albuquerque for dinner Saturday and make some decisions on where to go until Wednesday. Stay tuned!

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