My Travel Map

My Travel Map

27 September 2009

New Mexico

What I was expecting: some adobe buildings, 0% humidity and dry skin, plenty of Mexican and Native American influences, vast desert expanses. What I've discovered: lots of adobe buildings (more than I was expecting!), incredible food, friendly and hard-working people, some pretty widespread poverty and inadequate education, spectacular landscapes from green flood planes to craggy canyons to massive mountains. This is New Mexico, and it is one hell of an interesting state. I've been brought down here for work, living two months here in the high desert between Los Alamos and Santa Fe. I'm definitely looking forward to getting home to Boulder, but I have had some good highlights and experiences here, which I'll share with you now.

Starting in Albuquerque, the largest city in the state, though at just over 500,000 people, it is not large by American city standards. The 845,000 people in the greater metropolitan area comprise around half of the state's population, so needless to say, there are some great big empty spaces here. Albuquerque is old too; it was founded in 1706 by the Spanish as an outpost. The two pictures above were taken in Old Town, which is exactly that..the oldest remaining part of town. This is where we started our Albuquerque exploring, in the Old Town square. There was a band playing and the buildings around made you feel like you had stumbled into the 1800's or something.

Some more old buildings in Old Town. The Basket Shop sells just about everything, from handmade blankets and ponchos to touristy shot glasses and t-shirts. Of course there are local Native American's who have set up shop selling silver and turquoise jewelry and handmade pottery as well. They do some amazing work, especially with the pottery. After Old Town we made our way out to a local restaurant, which is famous for "The Travis". The Travis is an enormous burrito, I'm talking huge here. There were 6 of us that went in there to eat, we ordered the Travis on a Silver Platter...the full Travis, and we couldn't even finish it! This burrito is about two feet in length and maybe 5-6 inches in diameter, stuffed with ground beef and red chile, covered with cheese and more chile, and then topped off with maybe two or three frier-baskets worth of fries. It was enormous, and delicious, and the price wasn't too bad either. We only ended up paying about 5 bux each for a meal that held us over for lunch and dinner.

Hatch chile peppers. This is the key ingredient to the state's incredible cuisine. These peppers are special. The best chiles come from Hatch, NM. It apparently has the perfect climate and soil conditions for them, and you definitely notice the difference. The joke goes that the state question is: "What color?" translating to out-of-staters as: What color chile do you want on your food. The options are green and red, and there are people who swear up and down by one over the other. I've found the green to be spicier, while the red is a bit more robust. All I know is I can't get enough of these things...they are incredible and so flavorful.

So the way it works is when you see one of these rotating roasters (and you see them all over in pretty random places...outside of stores, on corners, side of the street in what seems like the middle of nowhere...all over) you pull the car over and order up at whatever kind of makeshift counter they have running. When we stopped here in Albuquerque, the smallest order we could make was a garbage bag full of medium greens. Now, I can't even begin to describe the smell that engulfs you standing near these's amazing. You can smell the fiery goodness of those peppers as they sizzle and roast in their own juices. When your order is done roasting, you walk off with upwards of 10 pounds of hot, roasted chiles. And what do you do with this many chiles you might ask? Well, use your imagination. We tried some just on their own...which is incredible, but a bit like Russian Roulette in that every once in a while you hit a landmine of a pepper, one that would definitely not qualify as medium in pretty much anyone's book. You can top burgers with them, eat them with chips and salsa, toss them in a variety of recipes. Use your imagination...the flavor is incredible and I haven't failed to be happy with whatever I've added them to so far. Just plane old stewed chiles is the way to go too...this spicy, saucy blend is incredible. I will definitely miss these things back in Colorado.

Albuquerque's strikingly communist-style flag flying outside the balloon museum. Ok flag first, when Maciej and I first saw the flag flying, our first reaction was "why the hell do they have a USSR flag flying in Albuquerque?!? Then we realize that was no hammer and sickle in the top left corner, it was a yellow sparrow, that just happens to really resemble a hammer and sickle. This is apparently the city flag.... I think they are trying to say something. Anyway, the balloon museum. Albuquerque hosts one of the largest hot air balloon festivals in the world every October. Balloonists from the city have also made history throughout the past century by being some of the first to circumnavigate the globe by balloon. The museum is actually really, really well done. I had no idea the history of hot air balloons was so interesting! Did you know they used to have scantily clad women parachute from hot air balloons without harnesses?!?! The parachute "rig" was just connected to a large hoop that the women would hang on to for the descent! This is just one of the countless interesting balloon facts throughout the museum. I'd highly recommend you check it out if you are ever in the area.

The Isotopes. We went to an Isotopes baseball game while we were there. New Mexico has no professional sports teams, so they take this AAA farm team to the LA Dodgers very seriously. The game was entertaining (the Isotopes won) and the park was quite nice. The next morning we ate breakfast at the famous Frontier, a massive 24 hour food joint near the university. The interior is decked out in random artwork, with a particular emphasis on John Wayne art. The food is amazing too. I had the huevos rancheros absolutely smothered in red chile. Delicious!

Shifting gears now. At the feet of the Sangre de Cristos in Northern New Mexico sits a famous old Native American pueblo (village): Taos Pueblo. Here visitors can come and wander around a living and working Native American community, who still live in the same style buildings as they have for hundreds of years and still pull their drinking water from the creek that runs through the pueblo. It's an incredible sight.

The little adobe domes in front of the buildings are cooking stoves. I loved the colors too...the blues in the doors just contrast so well with the adobe. Historically, they didn't have doors; people used to enter their homes through holes in the roof, which is why you'll see a lot of ladders around.

This is the main bulk of the pueblo and its huge. It reminds me of a hive of sorts...incredible.

Mmmmm, chiles.

The Pueblo church. Many of the locals are Christian, though a lot have a blended religion that incorporates a lot of their ancestral teachings.

The Rio Grande gorge near Taos. The gorge is so narrow, and the planes around it so flat that you don't even realize this massive rift in the earth is there until your practically falling into it. I also had no idea that the Rio Grande starts in Southern Colorado, in the San Juan mountains, before twisting its way all the way down through the massive state of New Mexico, going by Taos, Los Alamos, near Santa Fe, and right through the heart of Albuquerque before heading further south to define the border between Texas and Mexico.

Bandolier National Monument. The green canyon floors and honeycombed canyon walls in the area around the Pajarito Plateau, on which Los Alamos sits, was once home to a bustling Native American population. At Bandolier, you can check out the ruins of their settlements in the Frijoles Canyon. The pock-marked canyon walls are the result of this entire area once being part of a super-volcano, which now is referred to as the Jemez Mountains and the Valle Caldera. It's pretty impressive and the signs of old volcanic activity are all around...from the wile rock formations to places in the Caldera where the ground is glistening from all the obsidian. Pretty cool area.

Looking down at the main, round settlement ground from the old places along the canyon wall. This is definitely rattlesnake territory. I decided to do the 13 mile canyon rim trail, which takes one up on the far mesa seen here for just about seven miles west before dropping into the canyon itself to come 6 miles back through that to where you started. On my climb up the canyon, I nearly stepped on the first rattlesnake without even knowing it was there. My foot landed about eight inches away from it, which set it off nicely. When that rattle started from BEHIND me, I jumped and screamed like a small girl. The snake stayed coiled and rattling for a few moments while I shook in terror and shock from the safe distance to which I had leaped. Then it got out of there and disappeared under a big rock while I was still trying to process what had just happened and how close I had come to being bitten by the most dangerous snake in North America. I continued on in terror...realizing suddenly how much of a death trap this backcountry trail was...with its little narrow trail through dead leaves and fallen trees, massive rocks, and knee high scrub grass, all of which could be housing the next snake just ready to take a snap at me. I came across the second, much larger rattlesnake laying across the trail about 15 feet in front of me. At this point, I was well into the hike...about as far from help as I could be, so I'm thankful that I saw this snake from a far. It was huge. I'd guess about 4-4.5 feet long and about as thick as my forearm! It had no interest in moving either. It knew I was there but was obviously not worried. Since we were in a rock chute of sorts, I couldn't go around it. So I yelled, stamped my feet, and then finally resorted to tossing rocks at the ground near it. The rocks finally annoyed it and it slithered up out of the chute, which made me have to pass it within about 3 feet of my face. That was probably the most terrifying hike I've ever gone on. Supposedly seeing a snake is rare...but so far I've seen four here, two of which were diamondbacks, so I'm betting it's not that rare.

One of the old Native dwellings.

This wall once housed a long house. You can see the square shaped spots on the wall that used to be peoples homes. The round indents held the support beams.

Petroglyphs too.

The Kiva at the cliff dwelling. The Kiva was used for religious practices, basically their old version of a church.

The Upper Frijoles falls....beautiful and much higher than I was expecting. The Frijoles creek, which is responsible for the canyon, flows down to the Rio Grande (below). The hike down to the Rio Grande is a great one...though once again pretty terrifying when you start thinking about snakes.

I've been treated to some incredible sunsets here too.

Finally, Santa Fe...the oldest state capital in the country.

Burro Alley, now home to a French restaurant...Santa Fe is a quirky little city. It has an enormous artist population and a ton of wealthy retirees. This brings all sorts of cultural and yuppie influences with it. Overall, though, it is a cool little city to walk around, especially if you like art or architecture. They also have lots of public works of art, like the little Burro statue here.

The Lensic Theater...good example of the interesting architecture around town. Another great thing is that they have a city ordinance restricting the height of buildings and maintaining the old adobe styles.

The Cathedral.

A random hotel...lots of adobe buildings here in Santa Fe.

More public art.

A mural coated garage/shed along Canyon Road, which is just chock full of art galleries. There is also an awesome little teahouse down there, which makes great chai and sangria. I made an awesome afternoon around here, hanging out at the teahouse and doing some reading and then wandering from gallery to gallery taking in all the art. Incredible little place and some very interesting people around.

26 September 2009

Around Colorado... Summer '09

Colorado. I really, really love this state! The following post is about some of the more exciting things we did in Colorado over this past summer. I'll start with the Great Sand Dunes National Park. Yes, Colorado has sand dunes...great ones. See the pictures above and below if you don't believe me. Above you have a 13er (on the right) and a couple 14ers (background on the left) and then some several hundred foot high dunes on the left. Below shows the dunes and the view out over the massive, flat San Luis Valley.

So you might find yourself asking, how did these dunes (the tallest in North America) end up in Colorado, which is not a desert state? The answer is clear when you consider the geography. The huge, flat San Luis Valley (check out the terrain feature on Google maps to get an idea of what I'm talking about) lies between the San Juan mountains to the southwest and the Sangre de Cristo mountains that make a massive spine running north-south to the immediate east (all the mountains seen in these pictures). The prevailing winds blow east and slightly what happens is small particles of sand are picked up in the San Juan's and blow freely across the broad flat valley. The winds, however, don't have enough force to carry the sands up and over the barrier formed by the Sangre de Cristos, so the sands begin to pile up. The dunes have formed in a kink in the Sangre's, which acts as a collection point. Give a few million years of sand pile-up and badda-boom badda-bing, sand dunes. Picture taken by Missy (MLK)

They are a truly incredible sight...they are huge, at hundreds of feet in height and covering thousands of acres. Then you have the mountain backdrop, making for an incredibly dramatic landscape. (MLK)

The dunes are fun to play on too...just expect to be finding sand in different places for about the next week or so (or indefinitely in your camping gear). This is me taking a nice spread-eagle leap off the top of one of the steep-sided dunes...I highly recommend this. (MLK)

As you can see from this sign...the dunes shift regularly. (MLK)

Like I said...huge! (MLK)

Bailey and I enjoying the view. The others from our group are on top of High Dune in the distance. (MLK)

We had an afternoon thunderstorm our first day there, but then the sky cleared beautifully and gave us the most incredible light on the dunes for sunset. Maciej kept saying how we should show people the pictures and tell them we took a trip to Northern Africa. (MLK)

The next day, we drove north in the valley to the small town of Crestone, right at the foot of the mountains. We were using the trail here to access a high-alpine lake and 2 fourteeners.

The Willow Creek's quite steep climbing around 4000 feet in just over 4 miles...and with heavy packs on, that can get exhausting. It is a beautiful hike though.

Columbines! (MLK)

Looking back at where we came from...Crestone is the faint town on the valley floor in the center (above and slight to the right of the big green clearing). As I said...steep hike.

This bighorn sheep hung around us for quite some time.

Willow Lake with it's waterfall. This was a spectacular area up here, though it was infested with other backpackers.

We had another brilliant show for sunset.

OK, these pictures are now from a different weekend. Having a Sangre de Cristo theme this summer, in large part because I was down in New Mexico, we decided to go climb Mt. Lindsey, a 14er. This is a picture of the valley we used for access and the massive Blanca Peak glowing in the sunrise light.

Mt. Lindsey's false summit. Missy and I ended up hanging back at around 13,000 feet. She was happy to have made it that far and didn't want to mess with the intimidating looking Mt. Lindsey.

In the distance here you can see the peaks near where we were at Willow Lake: Kit Carson and Challenger Point, as well as the Crestones. This was taken near the top of the Iron Nipple, a 13er near Mt. Lindsey. I took a nice scramble up this mostly because I wanted to say I had climbed the Iron Nipple, which is just a hilarious name! This is some nice exposure though...a tumble here would have landed me about a thousand feet below.

The point of the Iron Nipple summit.

Blanca massif from the Iron Nipple. Blanca is enormous and was a very holy mountain to the Native Americans living in the area.

From yet another weekend excursion: main street of Cripple Creek, CO. An old mining town which has now embraced the casino business. It's an interesting place, especially considering it was once going to be the capital of the state (and it is at 8,000 something feet!).

Three of the casinos in Cripple Creek. They have done a great job preserving the old western-expansion era buildings. The town has an awesome feel to you've stumbled into the old west (except for the cars).

11-Mile Reservoir, revisited. Missy and I love it here, so we decided to come back (the same weekend we went to Cripple Creek). Once again, we lucked out with the lighting at sunset.

We also took a nice hike around part of the reservoir this time...venturing significantly further than we had before. This area is incredible.

The camping was alright, though we had a pretty nasty storm...

and I managed to snag a shot of lightening, without even messing with the exposure time! After a really terrifying experience with lightening in the mountains earlier in the summer, I dragged Missy and Bailey back to the car for shelter while the storm blew over. From the safety of the car, we were treated to an incredible show! I figure that the closest strike was within about a quarter mile or so...pretty incredible showing of nature's power!