National Parks: Mesa Verde and Canyonlands Needles

This is our first official vacation together in several years; either I’ve being going somewhere while Dan stays with Jesse, or vice versa. Now, we’ve booked a week off of work, and are exploring the Internet-limited areas of National Parks, as we make our way through Colorodo and Utah.

My last entry left off after our first week in Albuquerque. After less than stellar weather, but most excellent company for the weekend, I caught a flight to San Jose for a week of meetings and design sessions in Mountain View. I also managed to squeeze in my first Giants game (in a suite, no less!) and got to see my favorite Santa Cruz posse briefly for dinner. By the time I caught my flight back to ABQ, I was tired and managed to pick up a nasty cold. But… vacation awaits!

Three years ago we coined the idea of ‘not the National Park tour’, where we’d travel to NP areas, but would spend much of our time in BLM land or National Forest, and then car tour through the NP, which are generally pretty dog-unfriendly. We found we could experience awesome lands (that don’t stop at the park entrance) without the crowds and usually having Jesse off leash in back country. It was time for part two of the adventure.

We got on the road Sat morning and headed to Mesa Verde, CO, which has some incredibly preserved ancient Indian cave dwellings. We were also impressed that a National Park actually had a dog-friendly hiking trail; two, in fact, for a total of about 6 miles of trail! Great fun to be able to explore by foot in the NP, and am grateful to the park for allowing this, as it’s a new development for them. Hope this is a trend.

Today, we are settled in at Needles Outpost in lower Canyonlands in BLM land. It is just outside of the NP boundary, so we are able to hike leash-free on the trails. Needles itself is a beautiful park, and we enjoyed our car tour of the various overlooks. Unfortunately, this NP isn’t quite as dog-friendly as Mesa Verde, but that was more to be expected. I loved my walks over the stone hills and into the lands below, which are all open range – kept my eyes out for cows, in case Jesse got any big ideas about getting a job.

We also discovered a great ‘make your own route’ hike at the end of Indian Creek, recommended by a woman I met. One of those great, “go four miles down the road at the unmarked dirt road, go four miles down the dirt road until you hit creek, park and start hiking” suggestions that ends up being gold. We explored the canyon and then headed up the cliffs. Lucky for me, Jesse and Dan had a good sense of direction to get us back out. So far, it’s been the highlight adventure of the week!

Cave dwellings in Mesa Verde NP

Cave dwellings in Mesa Verde NP

Excited to be flying East to my hunz, dog and vacation!

Excited to be flying East to my hunz, dog and vacation!

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Mesa Verde Cliffs

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I was enchanted by the strip of green velvet grass on the valley floor below

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Indian Creek, you can just see Jesse cooling off, and the mighty Green Bean Flying Machine in the background, taking us to the end of another road in America.

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Cooling off after a big hike through the back canyons. Spectacular!

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Over the hill and around the bend… hiking straight back from the campsite into BLM lands.

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View from our camp spot, Needles Outpost, Canyonlands, UT

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Dan by the waterfall at Indian Creek.

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We’ve dodged a lot of weather on this trip! Getting lucky again as we skirt around this storm.

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Sarcasm or irony?

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Home sweet home at Mesa Verde, CO, where we staying in the NP campground.

Albuquerque, NM, Week 1

We arrived at the campsite that is situated along the Turquoise Trail (scenic byway) in the Sandia Mountain National Forest. Great hiking, though Dan has had more chance to explore the trails than me, as I had to head off on Monday to LA for DrupalCon, a three-day conference. I decided to head back to NM and spend the weekend with Dan rather than head straight out to Mountain View, where I have four days of meetings next week.

It’s nice to get ‘home’ and we had fun exploring the area today, despite unusual weather. By unusual, I mean three (3!!!) hailstorms, downpours of rain that turned clay trails into mudbaths, thunder and lightning, and to top it off, snow. That was today. You’d think we’d have the sense to curl up in the camper and hunker down, but instead we got on so many layers of weather gear that we looked like a couple of snowmen. Jesse had her rain jacket to try and keep her from freezing.

I’m glad that we headed out, as we got to check out the Tinkertown Museum, which TipAdvisor ranks as one of the top 10 small museums in the US. It was created by one man, and it an amazing testament to the creative mind. It was inspiring and overwhelming in it’s vision. One quote that stuck with me was that he built it $1 at a time, and that anyone can do the same, no matter the project. I thought that was great advice. Another great piece of advice, “As you wander keep your sense of wonder.” I was full of wonder today, and the quote resonated, after all of our many miles and places we’ve been. Today, as much as in our first weeks, I’m still awed with this beautiful country.

We headed up highway 14, the Turquoise Trail, to Madrid, which was hosting a Crawdaddy festival, and to Cerrillos Hills State Park for some good hiking. We’d hit the National Forest yesterday for an after-work hike, and I wish I had more time to hit those trails. We are definitely back in NM, with steep mountains and high altitude. It was a little slow going today, and I couldn’t just blame it on the weather 😉

Tomorrow, I fly out to Mountain View. I managed to unpack my bag, do a laundry and repack for my week in CA. On a very happy note, at the end of the week and flight home, we’re heading on vacation for a week+, and will be touring eastern Utah, with the plan to include Mesa Verde NP (OK, in CO, but practically on the four-corners), Canyonlands, Moab, Arches, and sooooo much more. Looking forward to the next adventure!

Great advice from the Tinkertown Museum!

Great advice from the Tinkertown Museum!

Along the trail on today's hike, during a brief break in the weather. Look, blue sky!

Along the trail on today’s hike, during a brief break in the weather. Look, blue sky!

Love these abandoned wagons that we found along a trail by the campsite. You can see the muddy clay that I ended up hiking through this morning.

Love these abandoned wagons that we found along a trail by the campsite. You can see the muddy clay that I ended up hiking through this morning.

Another abandoned car. This still has old 60's paper along the table edge.

Another abandoned car. This still has old 60’s paper along the table edge. What is the story behind these cars? How did they end up here? So curious!

Valley of Fires, NM

Lava. Lots of black lava, for a good 45 miles. The park includes a two mile trail that goes through the lava fields, and from there you can hike out onto the flows, which sounds a lot easier than it is. After about 50 yards of rugged, ankle-twisting on glass-sharp lava, that trail looks pretty good!

We met some really nice people, including a vet who gave us all kinds of good advice for Jesse, and a couple who had the same old Toyota RV as our putt-putt and who sent Jesse off with a very cool, schwirly, glowy dog-ball, and the fabulous Ms. Betty. I also chatted with a man who had seen a mountain lion mama and her two cubs in the campground, not once but twice (validated by the camp host), and I’m happy to report that all I found was the track. Phew!

The wind was howling for the entire week, and it was hard to sit outside. My face is so wind-chapped just from hiking! The surrounding towns are really interesting, and we had a chance to visit White Oaks, which was a ghost town, but now has 15 permanent residents, including the delightful Barry and Dawnna, who we met up with twice. Lincoln is famous for Billy the Kid’s last jailing and subsequent escape, where he killed two deputies. We saw the grave of one of the deputies in White Oaks, which is a good 40 miles away. Carazizzo, just a few miles up the road from the campground, has a great gallery and art scene, and we really enjoyed wandering the streets and investigating the galleries.

More pictures to come, as they come off the big camera. All in all, a really enjoyable week before heading to Albuquerque, where just like last year, I arrive and then promptly fly out the next morning – this time to LA and then the following week to Mountain View.

Jesse traversing the lava like a pro.

Jesse traversing the lava like a pro.

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Selfie on the rocks

The mighty Beastie looking up from the trail.

The mighty Beastie looking up from the trail.

Mountain lion track in the mud after rains.

Mountain lion track in the mud after rains. (I think, this one is from my own tracking skills, but I did get shown the tracks earlier in the week). Feel free to confirm or deny 😉

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Nice… little deer enjoying the tender leaves until getting chased out by molten lava. This rivals the Ronald McDonald spaceship mural from Roswell for pure weirdness.









Return to New Mexico

Back again in my beloved desert, I feel like I can breathe deep again. After so many years away from the east, my body forgot how to deal with humidity. We’ve camped in over 60 locations at this point, and here, at Bottomless Lakes SP, I am amongst my favorites. It is an oasis in the desert, with a series of eight lakes that are really giant sinkholes, feeding the waters of the Pecos river through the gypsum until the rock gives way. I am steps away from paddle boarding in this clear lake surrounded by the red rock cliffs that are ever-changing in the New Mexico light. An outflow creek passes by our campsite that pushes about 5000 gallons of water per day into the wetlands. That’s right, wetlands in the desert! There are all kinds of ducks, geese and other birds, rabbits jumping past, and raccoons. Happily, so far, I haven’t seen any snakes (though am still skittish after almost stepping on a rattler while in Texas, but that’s another story). Could this get any better? Well, there is Roswell just 20 miles away, where we got to explore the International UFO museum (and research center). This area is so dog-friendly, Jesse was even allowed in the museum! She wasn’t over-impressed with aliens, though, and probably would have preferred to walk the streets of the town. We can finally walk off-leash again, so she’s a happy camper.

We’ll head south from here for a bit, then off to Albuquerque, which will close the loop on this trip. A year ago last week we were in Santa Fe. Hard to believe we’ve been on the road so long, and yet it feels like it’s gone by in a flash. I’m glad to have this blog to look back at all the different places we’ve been, faces we’ve seen, and roads that we’ve wandered.

"All along the watchtower..." love this tower and all the detail in it.

“All along the watchtower…” love this tower and all the detail in it.

A canopy of trees provide shade along the hot trail.

A canopy of trees provide shade along the hot trail.

Desert blooms

Desert blooms

Jesse lounging on the beach at Lea Lake. She's really taken to the paddleboarding here with me.

Jesse lounging on the beach at Lea Lake. She’s really taken to the paddleboarding here with me.

Self-portrait in the desert at moonrise.

Self-portrait in the desert at moonrise.

There is the creek running by the camper.

There is the creek running by the camper.

 

 

There are lots of great murals in Roswell, but this this took the cake. So this explains where Ronald McDonald comes from!

… All others park on the street.

Dan and Jesse heading into the museum (and UFO research center!)

Dan and Jesse heading into the museum (and UFO research center!)

here are lots of great murals in Roswell, but this this took the cake. So this explains where Ronald McDonald comes from!

There are lots of great murals in Roswell, but this this took the cake. So this explains where Ronald McDonald comes from!