Thursday, December 21, 2017

Fort Bowie

Adobe remnants of Fort Bowie
November 24, 2017
Today found us driving back east following the route we took toward Chiricahua a few days ago. Our original plan had been to visit Fort Bowie that same day but we lingered at the magnificent rocks for too long.
Fort Bowie is a remote National Historic Site. The access point on Apache Pass Rd is a trail head with a 1 ¾ mile walking trail to the Visitor Center.

Remains of the Fort Bowie Hospital.
We took a wrong turn through some rough dirt roads and ended up at the Ranger Station, but had a shorter trek.
Apache Pass where Fort Bowie sits had long been a traveling route between the Mountain Ranges. The pass was the flattest route and also had a source of fresh water in Antelope Spring. Spanish explorers walked this road. The Butterfield stage line traversed this pass to deliver the mail. There was no military presence here until 1862 with the building of Fort Bowie.

Remnants of old Fort Bowie

Fort Bowie was commissioned to provide protection of the pass and those using it from the Chiricahua Apache lead by Cochise and then Geronimo.
The Fort was a very basic outpost for the first few years but by 1886 adobe structures had been completed with separate quarters for officers and enlisted men, a post hospital, storehouses, corrals and a commissary.

Bowie Point, site of a Heliograph station

The fort stayed in service until 1894 8 years after Geronimo and his band surrendered and were exiled to Florida. The fort no longer had a purpose with the Apache warriors banished to reservations.

Soldiers have been moved to National Cemeteries but civilians remain in the cemetery at Fort Bowie.
The Visitor Center is small but includes exhibits about the fort, the region and about communication. Heliographs were used extensively in this remote area. The US Army Signal Corps adopted the British invention to use in the American Southwest where the sun shines more than 300 days a year. The Heliograph works using mirrors to reflect sunlight and a keying system that interrupts the light flash in a series of dots and dashes that correspond to Morse Code. Arizona and New Mexico once had 23 Heliograph stations about 25 miles apart. Fort Bowie and Bowie Peak were in this chain of communication.

Apache Pass
We enjoyed visiting this remote outpost of the American West.  Most of the fort has disappeared with the passing of time. Portions of adobe walls remain to show us where buildings, corrals and the water cistern once stood.
The Ranger at the Visitor Center recommended the Overlook Ridge Trail to give us a birds eye view of the pass. We set out behind the Visitor Center and started to climb. The views from the top of the ridge were as beautiful as described. You can still see tracks through the pass and imagine wagons and coaches trying to climb the hills. The downward trail took us past the Fort’s cemetery and by Antelope Spring in a gentle 3 mile loop.
We returned to the car, tired and dusty but happy to have made the effort.

Fort Bowie National Historic Site
3500 Apache Pass Rd

Bowie, Arizona

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Land of Standing Up Rocks

Arizona Desert Sunset

November 19, 2017
Thanksgiving week and we have made it to Arizona.
We will be spending the next week in Benson, down in the Southeast part of the state.
There are several National Park sites in this region that have been on our list for a while and the towns of Tombstone and Bisbee are close by.
We are staying the week at the Saguaro Escapees Park. It's lovely here with a great view of the desert and mountains as a backdrop. We are at the border between the Chihuahuan Desert and the Sonoran Desert and are beginning to see a change in the landscape. Today we spotted our first Saguaro cactus.
The sunsets are lovely painting the sky with a pink glow for 360 degrees.
The neighbors in this large well maintained park are friendly and welcoming. They have invited us to attend their annual Thanksgiving feast.
Monday we drove back toward the east with a plan to visit Chiricahua National Monument.

Once again we found ourselves on dusty back roads climbing in elevation to reach the National Monument. We stopped at the Visitor Center for a trail map and to watch a short video before driving the 8 mile scenic route  through Bonita Canyon to Massai Point.

Gravity Defying rock formations

Chiricahua was named by the Apache as the Land of Standing Up Rocks.
It is an incredible configuration of top heavy rocks that look like they shouldn't be able to hold themselves up.
The gravity defying structures resemble stone cairns carefully balanced by the hands of a giant.

Chiricahua is a sky island

Chiricahua is called a Sky Island. The isolated mountain range is surrounded by meadows and grassland for miles around.
These rocky peaks, like much of the landscape of Arizona and New Mexico were formed by the ash of volcanic eruptions. The ash particles fused into a type of rock called rhyolite. Thousands of years of weathering and erosion of the weak spots in the ash formation created the individual spires that we see today.

A view from Massai Point

The rock formations capture your imagination. They look like castles or cityscapes, ships and faces. Many of the prominent features have been named. Balanced Rock, Organ Pipes, Geronimo, and the Sea Captain are among them.

The face of a reclining Geronimo
We were delighted to see hawks soaring around the peaks and to hear woodpeckers in the wind blown pines. Mexican Jays harassed us for scraps while we picnicked at Massai Point.

Mexican Blue Jay
There are miles of trails to hike at Chiricahua. We chose the Massai Nature Trail and a portion of the Ed Riggs trail for their amazing sky views.

Balancing rock in Bonita Canyon.
From Massai Point we could see the Dragoon Mountains where Chief Cochise and a small band of Chiricahua Apache lived and evaded being forced to Reservation life. We hiked into Cochise Stronghold from the State Park 2 days ago and enjoyed seeing the Dragoons with their lookout points and hidden canyons from this perspective.

Organ Pipes

Chiricahua National Monument
12856 East Rhyolite Creek Rd

Willcox, Arizona

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Cliff Dweller Canyon, New Mexico

We left White Sands and drove a couple of hours to Silver City, New Mexico. Silver City was founded by Silver Miners in the late 1800’s but now the only mining that we saw was for copper. Those large strip mines are quite a business in this part of New Mexico.
Silver City has an interesting downtown area. We found a great Farmer's Market and procured some Thanksgiving vegetables as well as a jar of hot spicy dilly beans. Chili peppers go in everything in New Mexico!
There were a couple of good coffee shops and several restaurants as well as a distillery. The city has a rough history that includes a major flood that destroyed much of the downtown. They rebuilt with elevated buildings and sidewalks leaving the old Main Street as a “big Ditch” that provides a place for water runoff in the event of a flash flood. It makes for an interesting downtown as the big ditch area has been developed into a green-space environment with elevated walkways and desert gardens.

The drive through the Gila National Forest gave us spectacular views.
Sunday we drove the 45 miles into the Gila National Forest to visit the Gila Cliff Dwellings. The road, NM 15-N, is narrow and winding with expansive views of the mountains as we climbed higher. The drive took us about 1 1/2 hours that included a couple of stops to enjoy scenic overlooks.
We started off deep in the canyon and climbed about 180 feet in elevation.
The Gila Cliff Dwellings are a series of caves high in the walls of a canyon formed by the Gila River. For a short period of time more than 700 years ago a group of Mogollon people used seven of the caves as their home.
We stopped first at the Visitor Center to look at the exhibits and watch a short introductory film, then drove to the trail head.

This monument at the Visitor Center marks the location of Geronimo's birth.
There is an established trail to the caves crossing a bridge over the Gila river, a small trickle after the long hot Summer. The path is well maintained and pretty easy with one particularly steep portion that could be difficult at this elevation of 6000 feet. Luckily we have spent the last 3 months at elevations of 3000 feet or higher and are acclimated to the environment. As we walked the trail we caught glimpses of the caves through the pine and cottonwood trees that line the canyon.

The Gila River after a long hot Summer
We reached the top of the trail and stopped to catch our breath. The caves were right in front of us rising in elevation from #1 at ground level to #7 How the heck did they get up there?

The caves from the trail.
The caves are quite a combination of natural environment and adobe additions. In one place, long before the cave dwellers arrived, a large slab of rock had fallen from the ceiling. It was much to large to move so adobe was added and it became a wall that divided sleeping quarters from the kitchen and public living space.

Note how dark the sooty ceilings are.
The roofs are so blackened with soot that they resemble a night sky. We accessed the individual caves via a series of stone stairs, narrow rock bridges and wooden ladders that challenged my dislike of high places. Caves 6 and 7 are not on the tour as they are only accessible with rock climbing equipment.

Caves 2 and 3.
We met a volunteer named Brenda who had been workamping at Gila for the last 2 months. She was a fellow full time RVer and fan of National Parks. Brenda had a lot of knowledge about the cave structures and conversation with her allowed us to visualize living in them.

An outer wall across the caves natural opening.
She pointed out petroglyphs on the wall of cave 5 and was keeping notes of visitor's interpretations of them. Brenda encouraged us to explore the 46 separate rooms of the high natural homes.

Stone and adobe were used to partition the caves into rooms.

Interestingly the position of the caves allows morning sun to warm them and leaves the entrances shaded during the hot portion of the day.

Stone and adobe fireplace.
Cliff Dwelling Canyon is an abundant environment for hunter-gatherers. 24 of the 32 specimens of plant remains found in the caves were wild. Pinon nuts, yucca, acorns, berries and nuts were all present. Squash, beans and corn were also found in storage caches. These crops referred to as the 3 sisters were cultivated by many native American ancestral people throughout the west.

The caves have beautiful views.
Pottery shards and the bones of deer and small animals have been uncovered as well as the mummified remains of residents dated to that time period.
The caves are a wonderful example of life in the New Mexico High Desert 700 years ago. The 10-15 Mogollon families lived here for only 20 years, 1 generation in their culture. It is impressive that so much evidence remains of their occupation.

Ladder to cave 5.

We returned to the parking area via a second trail to complete the loop, and enjoyed a different viewpoint as we descended. This side of the canyon still has evidence of a large fire that occurred in 2011.
The Gila Cliff Dwellings are in a remote area but worth the effort to get there. We took a more easterly route home. It was slightly longer but took us through another part of the National Forest with different views.

We saw deer on the way home.

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
New Mexico 15-N
It’s a long winding and beautiful drive, about 43 miles, through portions of the Gila National Forest. 15-N ends at the National Monument.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Acres of White Sand but no Waves in Sight

The base of this tree with its roots exposed by shifting sand looks like it is running away.
We have arrived at our Winter home at Picacho Peak Arizona. It is always an adventure to choose a place to stay when you have never been to an area before but we are very happy with our choice. Picacho Peak RV Resort is a lovely friendly park with a lot of amenities and active Winter residents. There is plenty of room to walk and ride bikes. Fred has met a group of Pickleballers and I am already in with the Crafty ladies. Its going to be a fun few months. We are settled in and have been busy planning for the Holidays.
I finally am getting around to recording our last few stops in New Mexico and Arizona before arriving here on December 1.

The few we looked out on at White Sands Missile Range RV Park.
We had an opportunity to stay at New Mexico's White Sands Missile Range Army Base in mid-November. Their RV Park is only 8 sites and we were lucky to be able to claim one for a week. The pads were situated to have a lovely view of Salinas Peak and the San Andres Mountains.
This is a remote outpost. The motto on base is “This isn’t the end of the earth, but you can see it from here.”

White Sands Missile Range is right up the road from White Sands National Monument, another of our National Treasures administered by the National Park Service. It is like no other part of the desert that we have seen. The sands of the Tularosa Basin in this part of the Chihuahuan Desert are a brilliant white in color. From a distance the dunes look like snow drifts. The sand here is gypsum and it is cool on your feet making it pleasant to walk in. A shallow seeping water supply beneath the sand supports a small but diverse ecosystem that is not found anywhere else on earth. The sands are always moving changing the shape of the dunes. Plants have learned to grow tall quickly and to dig in their roots. Animals have adapted by evolving into light colored versions of their species.
Fred walking across the sand.
Visiting White Sands is like going to the beach, without an ocean nearby. Family's picnic here with sun shades and beach blankets and barbecue equipment. There are Volley Ball nets set up and several groups of people had brought in waxed sleds to slide down the dunes.

Sleds waiting for riders.
We took a short hike through the dune life nature trail, walked a boardwalk over and between the dunes and enjoyed a picnic lunch. It was a lovely way to spend the afternoon.

We enjoyed the adobe architecture and decorative doors of Las Cruces.
White Sands is not far from Las Cruces, New Mexico. We drove into the historic city twice in order to explore. Our first visit was to attend the Saturday Farmers Market. The Market turned out to be more craft fair than produce market but we did see a great Veterans Day Parade that included marching bands, representatives from all branches of the Military,  local Police, Fire, EMS and Border Patrol. It was quite a spectacle and we were glad to have happened upon it.

 Billy the Kid was convicted of murder and sentenced to hang but escaped after being transferred from Mesilla.
Our second visit to Las Cruces was to the Old Mesilla District. We enjoyed seeing all of the historic adobe houses with stone fences guarding their gardens. Old Mesilla was part of the Wild West. Here at one corner of the Plaza Billy the Kid was jailed while waiting for trial. The old jail is a gift shop that serves delicious coffee now. Francisco Pancho Villa walked these streets. Pat Garrett, the man who killed Billy the Kid, is buried here.

Old Mesilla shop.

Opposite the old jail is La Posta de Mesilla a restaurant that was once a stop on the Butterfield Stagecoach Line. The old adobe building once provided rooms for sleeping, a blacksmith shop and a stable for horses in addition to food service.  

We enjoyed a great lunch of traditional southwest foods while watching restaurant employees decorate for Christmas. The restaurant has a large display of caged parrots and piranha in tanks near the entrance. It was unexpected and delightful. Thanks for the recommendation Mike and Connie Johnson!

The other historic buildings around the Plaza house restaurants and gift shops that feature products from the Southwest and Mexico. Some of the buildings are adobe, others were brick and one had decorative tin siding. We enjoyed looking at all of the woven rugs and blankets whose designs are specific to individuals or families.
Beautiful work.

another Old Mesilla doorway

We left White Sands Missile Range on Friday morning and were thrilled to see a missile test on that last day. I was out walking and Fred was at the RV talking with our neighbor when we each observed the missile streak through the sky and land in a puff of smoke. The sound and a contrail followed a few seconds later. It was an amazing display that we were glad to have seen. US-70 and the access road to the base close during the tests so we were a captive audience for the rest of the testing that morning. Happily we only had to travel about 60 miles to our next destination.

White Sands National Monument
19955 US-70
Alamogordo, New Mexico

Old Mesilla Village
2385 Calle de Guadalupe
Las Cruces, New Mexico

Farmers and Craft Market of Las Cruces
125 N Main St
Las Cruces, New Mexico

Saturdays 8:30-1

Friday, November 17, 2017

Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array

Back in September when we had to change our travel planning. And the new route was going to take us down to New Mexico. I knew we had to make plans to visit the National Radio Astronomy Observatory site. Also called the "Very Large Array" (VLA).

If you have seen or remember the movie "Contact" with Jodi Foster. That movie was filmed on-location at the VLA. 

The VLA is located about 50 miles west of Socorro, NM off of US-60. The site has a total of 27 dish antennas. Each antenna is 82 feet in diameter, standing about 90 feet high, and it weights 230 tons.

They sit in a wide-open section/area of land around open farm land in this Y-shaped configuration when in it's maximum spacing it is 22 miles long. Which make the 27 antennas one of the single powerful telescopes in the world.

The scientists & staff at the VLA adjust or moved the antennas to change the science capabilities every four months. So they can see and observe items out in space day & night 365 days each year. And this all begin back in 1980. 

To move the dish antennas specially-trained employees board a special transporter unit to carefully lift and then relocate the 230-ton dish to one of 72 new positions along the Y-shaped railroad tracks. The array area has over 82 miles of railroad track at the site.

If you enjoy astronomy or outer space and are in this area of New Mexico. Then this is a must-see place to visit and explore.

For more information visit the VLA website : 

Very Large Array Visitor Center
Old Highway 60
Socorro, New Mexico