Final Morning in Palm Springs and on to Joshua Tree

Sunday morning we had time for another excursion through the windmill farms near us before moving on to Joshua Tree National Park. This time we drove along an access road next to I-10, and up and down several other access roads to get closer still Last night’s “storm” dropped little rain, but did serve to clear up the atmosphere, leaving use with a wonderfully fresh desert scene. Some nice work came out of these past 2 days.Joshua Tree National Park
Skull Rock Hike
Our reserved site at the Jumbo Rocks campground was waiting for us when we got there around noon. Jumbo Rocks is all reservation now, and with the advent of “rolling spring breaks” – which means from the beginning of March into April, the park is full of recovering students – it is nearly always full. We were lucky to get 3 days in one site, but will have to move to another site for our 4th day. We would have stayed longer in this area, but could not get any other sites. We will move to the Cottonwood campground after our stay here and decide if we want to stay longer in that area. This easy walk offers some of the best views of rock formations in one compact little hike. Of course, that means it is VERY popular with everyone. As is usual though, once we we got past the main attraction – Skull Rock – the trail emptied out and we were walking virtually alone. Almost impossible to photograph the rock without people in the picture, but it does serve to add context. Nice setting for wedding pictures I guess.
Barker Dam Hike
Monday morning we were out early to hike the Barker Dam trail. Another easy loop, but this one offers a small historical reservoir that usually has wonderful reflections of the surrounding rock. Half of the trail was closed for renovation so the hike turned into an “out-and-back’ style walk. No matter, it was still a nice walk. Mirror-like reflections in the very low reservoir created some nice opportunities for images. I was kind of surprised there was any water at all. After the walk, we took the Bighorn Pass dirt road back to camp so we could photograph some of the very health and large Joshua Trees found in this area. They are endlessly unusual, but finding the right composition is a challenge.

Ryan RanchIn the afternoon, we were out at Ryan Ranch for more walking. This is another former homestead and offers an old adobe ruin and more rock piles to photograph. In a previous year, there were lots of arranged rock sculptures that visitors created. We couldn’t locate any this time. The park service removed them – a casualty of non-authorized visitor activity. Keys View
It was late afternoon by the time we finished roaming the ranch, so we drove up to Key’s View to finish the day. After yesterday’s winds and light storm the blew through, I thought the air over the Coachella/Palm Springs area might be close to clear. Not so much. While this was one of the first times I remember being able to actually see Palm Springs from here, it was far from clear.Still, I could also see the Salton Sea from up here as well. Perhaps the morning hours would be better for visibility. The sun is backlighting the haze, making it seem worse. Down below the main overlook railing is a twisted juniper tree next to a rock.I first photographed this tree 35 or so years ago. It always surprising to see it still there. The roots are now exposed from erosion but it clings to it’s perch. We watched the doings of those around us, watched the changing light for a time before retiring for the day.

Lost Horse Mine Through a series of unfortunate events, we hiked the 6.4 mile Lost Horse Mine Loop trail this morning instead of the 4.2 out-and -back Lost Horse Mine Trail. We discovered the problem about 2 mile in, so we just kept on the loop trail. The extra 2+ miles was easy walking on a mostly returned-to-nature truck route to the mine. It is a gradual but steady rise about 600 ft along the base of eroding hills. Lots of Joshua Trees to keep us interested. High light clouds moved in as the day wore on. At one point I looked up and noticed a refracted ring of light around the sun. Of course I immediately started looking around for something to put it above, or to put something in the middle of. Joshua Trees worked well.

After some further up and down hiking, we came out to some nice views of the surrounding desert. The views got better as we got closer to Lost Horse Mine (named, it is said, when a prospector found gold while looking for a lost horse).
Near the mine itself, a burn area left most of the existing yucca blackened shrivels of their former selves. Most of the juniper trees here were cut cut down many years ago for fuel. The mine itself is of little visual interest to me, but I did enjoy the scenery. Split Rock HikeOn Wednesday morning we walked the 2 mile Split Rick hike. Lots more of  the great monzogranite formations to photograph on this trail. It is an easy hike with just a few hundred feet in elevation gain. After a cloudy breezy day yesterday, today is brilliant blue with some clouds to keep the skis interesting. Tulip Rock is one of the stranger looking formations. More anthropomorphizing: Owl eating pray. Snake head rock. This unlikely shadow was created by a yucca tree growing just out of the image. After finishing our morning outing, we returned to camp so we could move to another space for one more day. We could only get 3 days in a row at the current site, but were able to add another day at a different site while reserving earlier, We had wanted to do an afternoon hike, but the wind came up strong and convinced us that a driving rather than hike was called for. We drove the Geology Tour back road for several miles. Giant clouds rushed across the horizon as did we in the face of the wind. Difficult to photograph and walk in. We packed it in for the day. Hoping for better weather tomorrow for a final morning hike before moving on.

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Bakersfield and Palm Springs

And just like that, we find ourselves on the road again. We had an uneventful get-away day and were looking at San Francisco in the rear view mirror by 11 am. We stopped in Merced to visit an ailing friend for a few hours before moving on to our evening destination. It being spring-like in the valley, we were quite entertained all the way to Fresno by so many orchards in full bloom.

Because I wanted to photograph the oilfields  in Bakersfield, we decided to overnight there. It was quite hazy from so many warm days without rain, and my hopes were not high for a clear scene in the morning. It was hazy come morning as well. In addition, clouds had moved in overnight softening the light even further. The quality of light, though very soft, was quite different from my last visit – and very nice. Some extra color had been added – red boxcars. I concentrated on making new panoramic images. This format seems to convey the area more effectively.

The Kern River. Bakersfield, CA. 2018

I  ventured into the oilfield after an hour or so of walking the edge of the bluff. While there are several public roads that run right through the oilfield, it was mostly workers flying up and down the roads in their big Fords and Chevy’s. I stopped in a few spots to make images, but it was not the contemplative experience I usually crave. It’s just a matter of getting used to being in a place I don’t really belong. A guy with a camera stands out around here. I made a few pretty effective images, but can see returning agin for a bit more here.

On to Joshua Tree National Park

Lazy Daze Trance. Barstow, CA. 2018

Or so I thought. Getting a late start out of Bakersfield meant a lot more driving than we wanted to do. We would get in late to Joshua Tree and we still had some chores to deal with before entering the park. We changed course and overnighted in Barstow. Even still, by the time we got to Joshua Tree on Thursday, all the campgrounds were full. We chose to take a chance with no reservations, but this time we couldn’t work it out. We made reservations for 4 days starting Sunday and decided to head the 40 miles to Palm Springs until then.

Palm SpringsWe found Caliente Springs RV Resort in Palm Desert. A pretty nice place at $58 a night, but we were in no mood or position to quibble. Due to a big tennis event, everything else was booked. There is a nice view of the mountain where I want to go if weather permits (not looking good), but the windmill farms all through the area are what attract me most. In the morning we were out early and prowling the grids of windmills. We have a couple of hours of fairly calm, clear conditions before the winds start wipping up the dust and pollution from L.A. starts pushing through. The mountain peak was obscured all day. The tram going up there still runs, but I wanted the view down to photograph from. More intense weather is moving in tonight, so going up there probably won’t happen this time – we’ve got to be back in Joshua Tree on Sunday. Still was a good day with some strong images coming out of it.

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Fall 2017 Roadtrip

I find myself finally getting to the bulk of image files I made during our fall excursion through California. This 6 week trip was shorter than our usual 2 month trips. I had to shorten it a bit to prepare for Review Santa Fe for which I was honored to receive a complementary invitation to the Portfolio Reviews in late October. Soon after, I needed to be at a reception for my first solo show with my project, Life on Wheels: The New American Nomads, at LaVerne University in So Cal.

So this trip was going to be a swing through the central valley of California to Sequoia National Park and then over the sierra’s to tour up the eastern side of the mountains. I won’t be writing much in this post. It is more of an effort to get the work online.

Sequoia National Park
On our first hike in the park, we took a leisurely hike through one of the main groves of giant sequoia’s. Within minutes of reaching the grove, I noticed a commotion from a lower area of the grove. As I moved over there, I caught a glimpse of a good sized black bear. He was pretty far off, but quickly headed our way. The area was crowed with visitors and the tall fences protecting the grove gave everyone a sense of security. He was on the other side. He got closer and closer. Most people backed off, but other did not. When he got to the fence, he was under it in seconds, he never really charged anyone, but there was some pretty quick movements – by him and the visitors – once he was under. But he just slipped through the other fence and went on his way.The rest of the walk was uneventful but very pleasant. There is a peacefulness in forests that give them the feel of a cathedral or some place deserving of reverence. I just wander and look to what attracts my attention.

The image below is really two tree trunks. The one behind is solid and whole. The trunk in front is a charred half trunk I aligned with the tree behind it. I’m not sure why I like it.

On another day, we hiked the Tokopah Falls trail. Another pleasant hike, up a rocky canyon to a nice little waterfall. There were some nice granite cliffs along the way. After that hike, we visited Moro Rock – an easy walk up granite carved steps to a commanding view of the area. What stood out for me here, were the huge number of dead or dying trees. Seemed like easily 40%. Drought and beetle infestations have hit the southern sierra’s hard. Looking at the amount of potential wildfire fuel these trees represent gives me a very nervous feeling for the longevity of this place.It was still early enough that we could take a late afternoon hike through Crescent Meadow and surrounding forest. More examples of the constant presence of fire and regrowth. Another day found us on the Redwood Creek hiking trail. The light was harsh early on so not a lot of photos were made. I did have a little fun with abstracting flowing water. More really nice meadows to see. On the the way back, I stopped again at this waterfall. The even light and a more refined composition made for a better image this time. Our route to get to the eastern sierra’s from Sequoia National Park was to take us through Bakersfield so we could restock. My other reason for actually wanting to be in Bakersfield was to visit the Oilton oilfield. As part of my new project, Into the Anthropocene, I have been visiting sites where human interventions have permanently changed the ecosystem, contributing to climate change.

For the first phase of the project, Agriculture, I photographed the wheat fields of the Palouse in eastern Washington. Now I wanted to contrast that with less attractive example of similar outcomes – destroyed natural ecosystems. This for the second phase, Energy.

We found an RV Park just a few miles from the site and went out to the site for a late afternoon look. It was a truly disturbing experience – like a step back to an early 19th century world. The rigs spread across the landscape a full 180˚. Behind me, a very nice middle class neighborhood.The next morning, I was out there again. Low overcast had moved in during the night and light showers were predicted for the morning. I only had a short period of just a little sunlight filtering through the clouds, but it was enough for a few really nice exposures. The rest of the day was poor light, but by sunrise the next morning, the storm had cleared and the air was still clear enough for more nice images.

Alabama Hills
After leaving Bakersfield, we drove directly to the Alabama Hills near Lone Pine. I was hoping for some nice fall color in the cottonwoods, but it was still too early at the lower elevations. I also wanted to check out Cottonwood Rd that rises up 2000 ft into the Sierra’s. There are hiking trails up at the end, but I wanted to photograph the dry Owens Lake that lays below it, from the high vantage points along road. Previous trips here, the road was usually closed for the season.

Water, or the lack thereof, is the third part of my 3-part series. This seems the most challenging aspect of the project photographically, but I have a few ideas.We camped as usual in the Alabama Hills BLM area. Our usual site was occupied, so we found one not far from it, but a little further from the cliffs. Nice views all around and it was even warm enough for an evening of night photographs. Cottonwood Rd.
We drove up the mountain mid-morning. The stated goal was to hike, but I really wanted to see the view from the road on the way up.It was pretty bland. Bright sunlight washed out everything below and the less than clear air gave the view a decided yellowish cast. We continued up to the Cottonwood trailhead for another all-up all-down hike on a trail that turned out not to be the cottonwood trail. We’er still trying to figure that one out. The light was no better on the way down.It was clear from yesterday’s drive that the afternoon would be the best chance for good light and images. We set out again around 3:30 and found the angle of light coming in to be much more suitable. Also some high clouds were approaching that might soften the harshness even more.We stopped a several points where the road afforded the best views and watched as the light continually changed. I came back with some really nice abstracts I think will work out very nicely for the project.

Whitney Portal-Lone Pine Lake
While we were here, we wanted to hike the Lone Pine Lake trail that leaves from Whitney Portal, another 2000’ drive up into the mountain. It is another typical sierra hike that goes all up for 1200’ or so. Of course this is just the start for folks going up to the peak. This is a favorite hike we’ve done a few times. We’ve been here when lakeside was covered in snow, and now sun. On the way down from the hike, we stopped for some nice views of rabbit brush and mountain peaks.

Bishop Area
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest
We did a long drive into the White Mountains to hike a couple of the trails through the Bristlecone Pine forest high amongst the peaks. Getting up there took a while and it was late morning before we actually got going. The harsh light streaming through the forest caused me to focus more on wood details this time along the trail.

We finished the Methuselah Grove trail and felt like we had time to drive over the long dirt road to the Patriarch Grove for a short hike there. Really nice high altitude meadows along the way. I’m glad I came out to check it out, but it was a long rough ride out. We had some great clouds creating some interesting compositions. Later on the way back to camp as we came out of the mountains, we were treated to some spectacular sunset skies.

South & Treasure Lake
Cold and windy along South lake until we got into the mountain a bit. Still cold, but without the wind it was very pleasant hiking on a rocky trail. Lots of nice color around the lake itself, and in the shadows where the creeks tend to be, ice! Treasure Lake – another 1000’ higher was colder still, but not much color. It was enjoyable hike especially this time of year. We just saw a couple of other hiking groups all day.

A Drive along Highway 168 looking for color.
We found some nice areas of aspen on this drive.

 Lee Vining and Mono Basin
We arrived at Lee Vining on October 6. Shock of shocks! Our favorite BLM campsite above the banks of Mono Lake has been closed. We were forced to take refuge in the last open BLM campground in Lee Vining Canyon. Asking about our lost site at the visitor center, they gave us some vague excuse of someone getting too close to the brush with their motorhome and igniting it. Looking around the site when we returned to photograph the moonrise, we saw no evidence of that. Oh well, it is a danger around here.

Dunderberg Meadow Road
Still looking for fall color, we drove up highway 395 to Dunderberg Meadow Road. It is a very drivable dirt track that usually provides nice stands of turning aspen and cottonwood. It wasn’t terribly inspiring this time through.

McGee Creek
One of our best hikes in the Mono Basin area was up the McGee Creek trail. Great vistas, nice stands of cottonwood and aspen, and a beautiful day.

Lee Vining Canyon
The color really wasn’t happening in the canyon, but I did have some fun with water images.

Walker Lake Hike
Another favorite hike down to Walker Lake. Wonderful reflections in the lake, soft grasses along the shore and even spawning fish in the stream!

The next roadtrip will be starting on March 5. Blog entries to follow!

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Chaco Culture National Park

Sunday, April 9We’d learned earlier in the week when Mary called to inquire about the road to Chaco that we could now make reservations for the campground. This was news to us since the last time we were here 8 years ago. When we went to the website though, we found we could only book a hodgepodge of sites to span the 5 days we wanted to be there. We were happy to get them though. Easter? I later learned from our enforcement Ranger that it’s usually like this now.

We’d also learned from the park service that the road had recently been graded because so many folks had gotten stuck or slid off. RV friends Galye and Jim, of Life’s Little Adventures, also emailed to tell us friends of theirs had just come back from Chaco and reported the last 5 miles had been graded and was in great shape. We were feeling like it was going to work out well.And it did. After an easy 100 mile drive to the turnoff, we disconnected the vehicles to avoid spraying the Raw with gravel as we towed. The first 5 miles were paved and in good shape. The road turns to hard-pack gravel for the next 8 miles and is county maintained so it was also in great shape. The road becomes dirt with some gravel after this and includes some hills that would be wicked in a rain, but bone dry today. All pretty smooth due to the grading. I sometimes drove 30-35 mph, but most often it was more like 25 and sometimes slower at particularly rough washboard. I could have gone faster sometimes, but occasionally a small group of potholes would appear requiring a quick slowdown. We also had to cross a wash at one point. That section is paved but large signs warn to not cross when water is flowing. Once across the wash and up through the hills, we hit the paved road at the park boundary.  Easy.Getting our campsite should only have been so easy. Our reservations were waiting when we got to the visitor center, and we were soon set-up in site 15 for our first night. Tomorrow we jump across the camp road for 3 nights, then down the row for another night. When the ranger came around, we discovered a no nonsense enforcement division guy in – bulletproof vest and sidearm – who was directing where people should go. Mary began explaining our situation in a way that I simply could not follow. By his look, I thought he might tell us to take a hike, but whatever she said to him, he thought a minute and said, “Look, site 17 is first-come-first-serve site and is open all week. Why don’t you take that one and I’ll re-open your other sites. Gee thanks!

Their reservation system is pretty messed up here. It was never clear which sites were first-come sites (which are not reservable). When we asked about extending another day through Friday, they said not until Friday because it is non-reservable. We tested this online and could not reserve the site. But in the office they said there was a chance someone could reserve the site (the 48 hr rule) and they wouldn’t know it, so couldn’t let us extend until Friday. But it isn’t a reservable site. As a friend of mine says, “And so it goes…”

It was late afternoon now and the increasing wind was blowing dust around. We were happy to hang in camp for the rest of the day.

Monday, April, 10
Pueblo Alto TrailIt looks like we are in for an extended period of good weather. It will be cold the first few mornings, but is supposed to warm to mid to upper 70’s each day. This morning was really cold. 36˚ inside the rig, probably high 20’s outside. We planned to rise at dawn for our hike today, but the cold kept us under the covers until we could wrap our minds around it.

We were on the trail by 10 am. It had warmed up considerably in that time. So much so, I wish we’d gotten started earlier. Aside from warming, the light was hash already. High clouds help soften things somewhat, but now it is more of just a hike, not a photo walk.

The trail starts with a nice walk around the back of the Kin Kletso ruins. We will return here another day to explore. It quickly turns up into a cleft in the towering mesa behind us. This is a steep, rocky path barely wide enough in some places to squeeze through. It is also the way the ancients got up and down the mesa. It is odd walking the same primitive path people used over 1,200 years ago. The elevation gain for the entire loop is around 350’. Half of it is going up this cleft to the mesa top. Once on top, we followed the well cairned trail along the slickrock rim to views overlooking Pueblos Una Vida, Chetro Ketl and Pueblo Bonito. Also along the way, trail signs point out interesting features such as fossilized shrimp burrows, seashells, pecked basins, Chacoan steps and more. We came to a view of Pueblo Bonito, at which point the trail veered away from the rim and began a gradual rise up to the highest part of the mesa, and it is here we found the Pueblo Alto Complex of ruins. Just as we arrived at New Alto, I noticed a few other folks on the trail behind us. It soon became maybe 30 German students on an outing. They soon overwhelmed us in the ruin we were in, so we moved to Pueblo Alto maybe 100 yards away They were right behind us again. Since it was near lunch, we walked back to New Alto, and spent time exploring the ruins more thoroughly, finding pottery shards, interesting walls, and finally a shady spot for for lunch. Only they didn’t move very far. They stopped at the other ruin for a lesson which lasted just longer than our lunch and I could see them getting ready to move on just after we passed them. They were on our heels again so we had to stop again and let them pass. We saw almost no other people on the trail all day till the end. The big draw for us on this trail is how easy it is to find pottery shards around the ruins. It is all catch and release of course. One does not take ancient artifacts from archeological sites. We looked in the washes around the sites and before long before we’d each found some nice examples. After we looked touched and photographed them, they went back on the ground.The trail continues on to views of mortarless stone terraces and stairways laid down by the ancients. We soon reached the William Henry Jackson stairs – named for the USGS photographer who discovered them in 1877. Looking from across the canyon, it is nearly inconceivable that people would use these “steps” for access to the mesa top. But there are other areas just as impressive. The Chacoans created straight wide “roads” across the landscape – nearly invisible now – leading to Chaco. When the road came to a drop off along an edge of the mesa, instead of going around and picking it up on the other rim, they built huge extensive stairs and ramps so the straight path would continue. So curious. We continued around the edge of the mesa to a different stone crack, just as narrow as the first, in order to get down off this higher section of mesa. It was much warmer now as we marched our way back around the last part of the loop. Then it was down the original crack in the wall and back to camp. Another fun hike – and a few decent pictures.

Pueblos Una Vida and Chetro Ketl
Tuesday, April 11
We were both pretty worn out from yesterdays hike, so today became a mostly hang out kind of day. A good opportunity to catch up on blogs and try to get an internet connection. So far, when the wind is right, we can sometime download mail on the phones, but getting anything out is nearly impossible.Later in the afternoon, we walked the short Una Vida Pueblo hike. This one starts just behind the visitor center and finishes about 3/4 mile down along the mesa base. Una Vida is a small mostly un-excavated ruin where I found a few nice pictographs on a panel above the ruin. Just a short leg stretcher. Later tonight, a ranger led moonlight walk through the largest ruin, Bonito, should prove interesting since afternoon clouds have covered the sky. We showed up early for the walk, so we walked out to Pueblo Chetro Ketl to look around. This is another very large set of ruins. It was apparently continuously under construction for 300 years – the span of time the pueblo people lived here. The light was flat so I just experimented with compositions until it was time to meet up for the walk. At least 50 people showed up. Actually Mary and I made 52. We missed the signup cutoff by seconds, but after chatting a while with the ranger, he stopped us on the way out and said to just show up and he’d let us come along. Nice guy.We were all soon escorted to the central plaza of the pueblo where the ranger talked about sun and moon influences on the earth. Once it was good and dark, we moved into the pueblo itself. By now the full moon had begun to break through the clouds and stars were appearing in great numbers. It was cool to have stars as our ceiling while our ranger related stories of architecture in one room, while in another he told old of how the sun, moon and stars came into being.

While I brought my camera, it was too difficult trying to photograph in the dark amongst 50 people without a tripod. It would just detract from the ranger stories, so I just listened and enjoyed the experience.

Pueblo Bonito at Dawn
Wednesday, April 12It is a bit of a challenge getting into the park for early light. The gates to the loop road to all the pueblos is unlocked at dawn and locked at sunset. One still must in and walk to the ruins, so first light is not really possible. But we got in as early as we could and headed for Pueblo Bonito straight away.I couldn’t decide which version I liked best.I usually like to use the early warm light to highlight aspects of the walls of the ruins, but this morning I walked directly to the plaza. Each time we come here, more of the ruin is roped off and not accessible. This time, my favorite window/wall combination was beyond the ropes and I couldn’t get to the spot I wanted.I made due by looking for other compositions. So much of what I shoot here are images I’ve shot before, so this forced me to look elsewhere. I moved around the plaza, then backtracked to the beginning and entered the ruins looking for window/wall images. Probably nothing new, but it is fun looking and composing. Back outside again, I moved through the plaza to the long back wall of the ruin. I met up with Mary near “Threatening Rock”, the huge chunk of rock that fell over onto a corner of the ruin in 1941. Previously, Navajo who moved into the area felt so threatened by this rock, the tried propping it up with timbers on one side and wedged in a medicine stick on the other.We walked a petroglyph trail over to Chetro Ketl again to see how it looked in morning light. Photographically, our day was done. We’d planned an afternoon walk near the mesa in the campground, but it got so windy that neither one of us wanted to face the blowing sand. We just hung in camp.

Pueblo Penasco Blanco
Thursday, April 13We had hoped Chaco would be somewhat exempt from crowds for Easter week. It has been busier than we expected, but overall, not too bad. Of course, we did have a group of at least 40 kids show up late yesterday at the group campground. I figured that they would probably be on every trail in the park, so in a effort to avoid them as best I could, I chose to hike the longest trail – a 7.2 hike out and back to Pueblo Penasco Blanco and some pretty special pictographs of a super nova (maybe) and a sunburst.

Mary didn’t want to walk on that long a hike, so she chose the South Mesa trail that is about half as long. She drove me to the trailhead out past Pueblo Bonito and agreed to meet me back here later in the afternoon. I’ve hiked this trail before. It is quite flat most of the way and only rises where it leads up onto the mesa top to reach the ruins. It is maybe a 200 ft rise and pretty easy walking.Early on, the trail passes another ruin and several areas of pictographs. The pictographs here are a mixed bag. Some ancient designs, overlaid sometimes with Navajo versions, and still later with even more modern scratchings. It is usually easy to tell what group did which pictograph. The most accomplished are the oldest. Sometimes, subject matter tells you who did it. A horse pecked into the rock tell us it was probably Navajo – Pueblo people didn’t have horses or any beasts of burden. An even more detailed horse nearby speaks of a more modern hand. Eventually the trail crosses the canyon and then a wash. Very little water in it just now so there was no worry of crossing. Where the trail meets the mesa is the location of the pictographs. As i said earlier, these are quite unique and officials don’t really know what exactly they represent. High up on an underside of sandstone block, there is a large handprint, a sun and moon. Just below these is what might be a supernova. Nowhere else do these images exist. A pretty cool sight and well worth it to me to come here.I wanted to see the ruin as well. The last hike out here, we turned back after the pictographs, but I had plenty of energy to hike the last .8 mile to the ruin. As I was walking up the mesa trail, I looked off back over the canyon to see a group of maybe 20 kids hiking toward the paintings. Oh, great. I hurried the rest of the way to Pueblo Penasco Blanco and worked quickly for a while hoping to finish before they overran me. Eventually I slowed down enough to realize they weren’t coming up here. They stayed at the pictographs. I stopped then for lunch and just enjoyed the quiet for a good long while. I found several interesting doorways and windows, and even some bleached elk antlers. On the way back down the trail, I stopped again to see the rock paintings in different light. Earlier, the sun washed out the super nova pictograph on the bottom, so I photographed it again and caught it a bit better. I was running a little late so after that I just put my head down and zoomed back with just a few stops to rephotograph some spots. I met Mary at the trailhead and we finished our day reviewing work we had done on our separate hikes. We have one final day in Chaco before we begin our way back to San Francisco. I should have one final post before putting the blog to bed for a spell.

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Santa Fe and Ghost Ranch

Wednesday, Thursday, April 5 – 6A beautiful sunny morning greeted us, and we made an easy drive up to Santa Fe. We picked the Santa Fe Trailer RV Park and Over 55 Community as our base. It is just off a busy Cerrillos Rd, but set back enough so that road noise was minimal. The RV portion of the park is sort of the entrance to the Community portion, so it was well kept with a few trees and grassy areas and decent laundry. Much better that the Park across the street which was basically a parking lot with hook-ups.

We are waiting out some upcoming weather so we can travel to Chaco Culture National Park. We’re being over cautious I know, but it only take one good cloudburst to muddy the road beyond drivability. We still have some wiggle room before we return home, so a couple days here fit in well. Besides, we haven’t been to the Coyote Cafe for dinner since, well, the last time we visited. We drove the 4 miles to the old downtown square, strolled about a bit until our reservations were ready and had a wonderful dinner.Thursday morning we were back to town for breakfast at the Plaza Cafe, right on the square. Great food all day long, but breakfast is my favorite. I love the interior of this place as well – especially enjoying the broken plate display above the counter. Mary wanted to visit the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum just a few blocks from the plaza, so we strolled over, hoping to digest a bit as we went.The museum is a nice way to introduce oneself to Georgia’s work and get a feel for the landscape she painted. They have quite a deep collection – from earliest student work to some of her last. I see new works each time we visit, and a new museum phone app related deeper aspects to think about. Afterwards, we walked around town to do some gift shopping before heading back to camp.

Ghost Ranch
Friday, April 7Before moving to her hacienda in Abiquiu, O’Keeffe lived and painted at nearby Ghost Ranch for a time. The entire area is rich in beautiful landscape to explore, and with a couple more days before we can get into Chaco, this is a good time to visit.The drive to Ghost Ranch was another easy 65 miles from Santa Fe and we were soon set-up with a rather primitive full hook-up site for $40/night. We located a couple of hikes we wanted to do while here, and in the afternoon, we set out for a walk on Matrimonial Mesa. The trail starts just along the entrance road at a rundown log cabin that was a movie set for City Slickers. We walked through grasslands for a time as the trail wound up and down along the edge of the mesa. From here Georgia’s Pedernal could be seen. In fact, it can been seen from just about everywhere on the property. No wonder is appears in so many of her works. As we worked our way up the trail, we came into more areas of colored sandstone and badlands. I am always surprised at the varied color combinations. So different everywhere I go. The wind was coming up again as it seems to to every afternoon, so we turned around. We could have made a big loop out of this trail, but it would have meant walking back a couple of miles along the much less interesting road.Back in the car, we toured around the grounds a bit, trying to get a feel for the layout and found a yurt and a number of interesting other buildings, before calling it a day.

Ghost Ranch – Chimney Rock Hike
Saturday, April 8Another beautiful morning got us up and out by 8 am for our planned 3 mile out-and-back hike. The trailhead was a short distance from the campground through some of the compound buildings, so we left the car behind and walked it. With an elevation gain of 675’ over 1.5 miles, the trail is a steady gradual rise, then steeper toward the end.We were soon walking up the first of the hills, and the landscape opened up immediately to wide vistas of colorful rock. In the distance, we could see Chimney Rock, our destination is the tip of the mesa. As the trail wound in and out of the hills, we would get new, closer views as we went. The trail got steeper and more rocky the higher we got. It moved into, and scooted up the side of canyon that sported hoodoo’s and some nice coloration. Near the top, the trail was even more rocky but still not hard to traverse. Once on top of the formation, it leveled off somewhat, but the wind was much stronger. Near the shear drop off edges, it was fierce. I had to go to a knee and hold my hat to keep steady to make pictures. Where the trail ends, wonderful views of Chimney Rock begin – if you can bear getting close enough to the edge to lean over. Even if not, the views from the rim all around the valley below are wide and with a clear sky, the colors of the ridges and hills and cliffs kept me busy. We lunched at a spot out of the wind and just took in this wonderful landscape. Now later in the afternoon, we made our way back down the trail enjoying the lower angled light and high clouds as they combined to change the scene before us. Tomorrow all looks good for Chaco.

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Return to Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

Monday, April 3
We arrived in Albuquerque on Friday ahead of yet another spring storm. This one promised cold rain, wind, and snow at slightly higher elevations than Albuquerque. Mary’s longtime school friends, Cynthia and Jerry have a wonderful home in the hills near here and we were able to get together Saturday night for a fun evening of food drink and conversation.Sunday we made the move 20 miles north to Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. The COE campground near the monument is a gem. Situated along the shore of Cochiti Lake, the camping fee is $20/night for water/electric, and a dump. The last time here four years ago, I wrote in my blog that we paid only $5/night with the Senior Pass, but this time we could find no mention of honoring passes and the camping fee was double last visits $10. The campground was far from full, but all the perimeter sites overlooking the lake and hills were taken. We still found a nice site with a good view of the lake and sky. We set up and enjoyed a cool evening sunset.Still worth the price – this will be a good place to wait out Tuesday’s cold, wet weather before moving up to Santa Fe. We still plan on trying the road to Chaco, but now will wait till Friday or Saturday. One last weather maker coming in on Tuesday is the cause. Beyond Tuesday, there seems to be 10 day period of no rain. It might be our chance.Morning was bright and beautiful, but cold. We huddled inside for a couple of hours. Being just 4 miles from the Tent Rocks trail we wanted to hike, meant we were still on the trail by 10 am. Earlier might have been better. This is one of the most heavily trafficked trails I’ve walked and there was steady streams of groups at a time, making photographing a little more difficult. It’s not just that people get in the way, it’s also me getting in their way. The slot canyon areas are very narrow in places, meaning one person at a time can walk through. Just one person can create a back-up. So picture making was hurried at times. I’m not going to recount the hike again here. Instead, go to my earlier trail description for that account. It’s virtually the same walk, but I’ve posted all new images here. I did find it interesting how my recollection of the place differed from my last visit. Instead of the warm-tone pale browns and buff colored volcanic ash, I remembered the formations being much lighter, almost white in color without much variation. Moving through the slots was as enjoyable as ever. Light was constantly changing with the increasing cloud cover and I managed to work around the groups coming and going along the trail.
I was taken once again with the wonderfully curving strata of the layers of ash. As the canyon opened up, wider views opened and new formations came into view.
The steepest section of trail winds through the most unusual of formations. From this higher vantage, the real beauty of the surroundings hills can be appreciated. I had to stop often to look. Instead of following the trail out onto a plateau, as virtually everyone else was doing, We branched off just before the highpoint and walked out to a different arm of the plateau. We had lunch here and enjoyed the lovely view. From this vantage, I could look down into the canyon to photograph the incredible walls.We spent an hour or so moving around the area, watching the light change as even more clouds began moving over us. We enjoyed the spot a little longer before making our way back down the cliff and through the slots. Once out of the canyon, we decided to take the Cave loop trail that runs along the plateau’s base. The cave was not real exciting, but views of surrounding areas was worthwhile.
We eventually came to another section of ash formations before we completed the hike. The wind was increasing and dust beginning to blow, so we did too.
Back in camp, we watched as heavy clouds increased. Waking around 2 am, I could hear light rain falling on the roof. It was supposed to stop by 2 pm Tuesday, but it lasted most of the day. Sometimes light rain, sometimes snow. We decided to stay put one more night.

Tomorrow we move up to Santa Fe.

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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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