Los Alamos:  The Secret City

Several years ago I wrote the post Familiar and Family Ground about our visit to Hanford,  Washington.  My grandfathers worked at Hanford to develop plutonium during WWII.  Hanford is one of three sites in the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.  We recently visited a second site in the historical park, Los Alamos, New Mexico.

In 1942 President Roosevelt received a letter from Albert Einstein alerting him that German scientists were likely developing an atomic style weapon.  Roosevelt authorized a fast track project to develop one in the U.S.   That effort was named the Manhattan Project.


General Leslie Groves (right) was the Commanding General of the Manhattan Project. He chose physicist Robert Oppenheimer to lead the Los Alamos Laboratory.

Groves established isolated sites to develop uranium (Oak Ridge, Tennessee) and  Plutonium (Hanford, Washington).  He also needed a secret site to gather scientists, engineers and technicians to design and build an atomic weapon before the Nazis.

fullsizeoutput_54c9The site of the Los Alamos Ranch School, an exclusive boys boarding school located in the New Mexico wilderness was chosen for the lab.  The area was remote enough to be secretive and had usable buildings.  In late 1942, the school was given notice to vacate and area homesteads were purchased as a buffer zone.  


Homesteaders were bought out and told to leave.  Many years later, this cabin was moved off a homestead and onto the site of the Manhattan Project Historical Park in Los Alamos.

Oppenheimer began recruiting scientists and the first group moved on site in March 1943.  European scientists fleeing the Nazis and a contingent of British scientists joined the effort.   At Groves’ insistence information was compartmentalized even among the scientists.  At Oppenheimer’s insistence they were allowed one collaborative meeting per week. 

fullsizeoutput_54f5People joining the Manhattan Project checked in at 109 East Palace in Santa Fe.  (Still there but now a chocolate shop.) From there they got assistance getting “up the hill” to the project site. The only road in was precarious.


fullsizeoutput_54ceThere was no town of Los Alamos, only the lab.  There were former school buildings and hastily built support facilities. Security was tight and no one could enter the grounds without passing through one of two security gates.  

fullsizeoutput_54ccThe make-shift Army post was not meant to be permanent and wasn’t designed for comfort.  Water shortages, electrical outages and cramped quarters were common.  Barely adequate housing was built as quickly as possible for singles, couples and families, assignment based on job and family size.


Hiring a 6000 person workforce was challenging during war time with so many Americans employed elsewhere in the war effort.  (Many wives joined the Los Alamos effort.)  Also challenging was the remote and secret location separating them from family and friends on the outside.   The perks were the scenery and outdoor recreation, the community they formed, and the knowledge they were doing a critical job for the war effort.

Military police screened mail and phone calls to avoid information leaving Los Alamos. Even with protocols in place it was later discovered that three separate informants gave information to the Soviet Union.

Scientists had to solve daunting problems and success was never certain. They only knew the stakes for the world were very high. Enrico Fermi, American physicist from Italy, had only recently developed a man-made, self sustaining, nuclear chain reaction.   The lab scientists were targeting two fuels (uranium and plutonium) and two ignition systems (gun style and implosion) and no one knew if any of it would really work.

The scientists, engineers and tens of thousands of workers at Oak Ridge and Hanford (my grandparents included) were able to produce small amounts of uranium and plutonium by the spring of 1945. Scientists at Los Alamos were sure the gun-style uranium bomb, nicknamed Little Boy, would work but far less certain of the plutonium implosion bomb design named Fat Man.  It needed testing.

fullsizeoutput_54c7A plutonium implosion bomb was successfully detonated 200 miles away near Alamegordo at 5:29 am on July 16, 1945.  It was called the Trinity Test.

P1050756The flash was so bright that it was visible to wives watching for “something” through the windows of a home on Bathtub Row at Los Alamos. (Bathtub Row houses were former faculty homes at the boys school, then given to the most important scientists, and were the only houses nice enough to have bathtubs.)


August 6, 1945, Little Boy, named for Franklin Roosevelt, was dropped over Hiroshima.


Three days following, Fat Man, nicknamed for Winston Churchill, was dropped over Nagasaki.

Manhattan Project work continued at Los Alamos until 1946 when most involved in the project moved on.  In 1947, the Army gave control of Los Alamos to the civilian Atomic Energy Commission and the site operated in limbo until the Soviet Union detonated their own bomb in 1949.  The Cold War commenced and Los Alamos had a prominent role in nuclear research and development.

Housing and infrastructure were improved and Los Alamos became permanent. The security fences came down in 1957.  Entrance gates and twenty four hour security discontinued as well.  Only specific lab facilities stayed secure.


Government houses were sold to private ownership between 1962 and 1966.  This home likely sold for $7000.

fullsizeoutput_54caPublic buildings were offered for private ownership or given to the county.  The log portion of this building was the dining hall at Los Alamos Ranch School with the side wings added during  government days.  It is now the Los Alamos Cultural Center for community and special events.

Los Alamos became a prosperous town worthy of attracting top scientists and engineers.  The Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory became internationally known.  U.S. nuclear weapons were developed and stockpiled under its direction.  Peace was maintained through nuclear detente until the Cold War ended in 1991 with the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

fullsizeoutput_54d5Past and current lab employees have earned a number of Nobel prizes (right).  This Nobel Prize  in Physics was awarded to employee Fred Reines for his discovery of a subatomic particle, the neutrino, while at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory.   Employed between 1944 and 1959, Reines believed he worked with the greatest collection of scientific talent ever assembled.


Some of the current lab buildings as viewed from above.

The current Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory is home to the greatest number of PhDs in one place in the world.   Their role has expanded way beyond nuclear defense to include space, medicine, environment and most world concerns.

When the Manhattan Project Historical Park was established in 2015, a collection of former laboratory and utilized town sites were identified.  Some are public and accessible and some are privately owned.


We went into a Bathtub Row home that was gifted to the Los Alamos Historical Museum.  It displays the Cold War Collection.


Inside we met a docent who had been a Lab Electrical Engineer for 30 years and now shares his knowledge and time through the museum.

We had a very interesting day at the Manhattan Project Historical Park Los Alamos site and are very motivated to visit the third site in Oak Ridge, Tennessee!


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Our Day in Santa Fe


Our campground is in the Cochiti Recreation Area, about 45 minutes from Santa Fe.


The Corps of Engineers usually (maybe always) build campgrounds at their dam sites and they are usually quite nice.   The Cochiti Dam is one of the 10 largest earthen dams in the United States with more than 65 million cubic feet of earth and rock.


We have enjoyed pleasant wide open spaces to walk.


Picture isn’t great because I took it on my phone – but nice toad!


We met a woman who said she remembered the storm that more than filled the reservoir!


This is from the dam road on top, you can see how far up the water came above normal!


The walk was great until we were swarmed by gnats.  They even came after me and usually Randy takes all the bugs for both of us!


The campsite next to ours has a monster volunteer watermelon plant heading our way!  The watermelons are about 4″ spheres at this point.


There are a jillion hummingbirds and we fill our little feeder at least daily!  Here we had two on the feeder and one impatiently waiting.  We’ve had as many as six competing for two spots.

But on to our day in Santa Fe…Today we headed into town for one of our favorite tourist activities – a food and history tour! 


These are our tour mates and leader.


We enjoyed a chicken enchilada, with options to add our own red, green, or christmas (red and green) sauce, with a delicious margarita.  Then we walked to our next venue and had a small bowl of Green Chili Pork Stew.  Third course was New Mexico infused pizza.


Dessert was sipping chocolate. We had a variety to choose from – several with spices and chilis.



Along the way we also stopped at an Olive Oil and Vinegar store.  They had a large selection which included some New Mexico flavors.  We bought Green Chili Olive Oil.

fullsizeoutput_54f3Our history stop was at San Miguel Church, the oldest church structure in the United States, built in 1610.  

fullsizeoutput_5511The original adobe walls still exist under the stucco exterior.  The roof burned during the Pueblo Indian rebellion against the Spanish in 1680 but was rebuilt when the Spanish regained control in 1694.   The building had several additions over the years including the altar screen in 1798.  (The altar area was reconstructed in 1955.)


A bell tower was added in 1848 and a mostly copper 780 pound bell was installed.  The bell itself has history back to 1356 when the Spaniards were fighting and losing to the Moors.  The Spaniards cast the bell in honor of Saint Joseph in a spiritual plea for his help.  The Christian Spaniards defeated the Moors.


The bell made its way to Mexico as Christianity spread.  Señora Loretta Ortiz purchased it in 1812 and a family member brought it to the San Miguel Mission in 1848.  A strong storm brought down the bell tower and the bell in 1872.


The structure displaying the bell is covered with milagros, small charms given in gratitude for answered prayer or to solicit help with a troubling matter – often represented by the shape of the charm.


We came back home and enjoyed another summer monsoon in the southwest.  A couple hours of wind, rain, thunder and lighting have been an almost daily event.    We love it!

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Handy Randy Rockin’ the Repairs

fullsizeoutput_542dGravel parking lot campgrounds are not our usual preference but this campground in Farmington had purpose.   It had full hook-ups (water-sewer-electric) so we could wash clothes – something we can’t do with water and electric only sites found at most state parks.  It also had 50 amp electric so we could run both air conditioners when it was hot.  Then we had all the RV issues for Handy Randy to deal with and the very nice owners allowed us to receive repair part shipments in their office.  Some will and some won’t.

When we started on this trip we had a water crisis,  incompatibility with our new house satellite receiver with the older satellite dish in the trailer, and torn vinyl from a rock lodged under our kitchen slide.    Randy was pretty frustrated that so many things happened all at once and wasn’t sure trailer life was for him anymore!

fullsizeoutput_544eThe torn vinyl required only glue and Randy fixed that right away.  It isn’t perfect but you wouldn’t see it if you didn’t know it was there.  It is the second time this has happened over the years.  New flooring may be in our future but we will have to decide if we want to replace the carpet too.

While still in Flagstaff, Randy found the water part he needed on Amazon and ordered it sent on to Farmington.  In the meantime, he finally heard back from an RV Repair store locally and was able to get the part there too.  The water flowed well again and we had a spare valve coming for the inevitable next time.

The most problematic issue were the needed satellite parts.   It was fortunate that the satellite was the least important as far as being a real problem.  The background is that we upgraded our DISH receiver when we moved into the house with the assumption that we would move the receiver and one wireless Joey into the trailer when we traveled.  People do it all the time.   But it didn’t work.  Randy spent time researching himself and conferred with DISH technical support.  What he learned was that our trailer satellite had an old LNB system and needed an upgrade to work with the new receiver.    

There isn’t a DISH dealer anywhere in Flagstaff, Winslow or Holbrook but there is a small “mom and pop” outlet in Heber, Arizona.  The “mom” understood the problem and what we needed.  She didn’t know if they had the parts on the truck or if she’d have to order them in the next day.  That seemed to go well!  Randy was willing to drive the three hour round trip to get the parts and be done with fixing things!  She didn’t call so we called her.  She said they weren’t on the truck but should be delivered the next day, she’d call when they were in.  She didn’t call so we called her.   She said she had called too late and it now wouldn’t be delivered until Friday.   We were headed to New Mexico on Friday so we were done with the Heber solution.


There was no place to purchase the needed electronics in Farmington but Randy was able to order them out of Detroit and have them shipped second day air.  We received them perfectly.


Randy spent some time rewiring things and finding the satellites.


We have satellite TV through the wireless Joey in the bedroom!


We were watching our DISH TV for the first time on this trip, feet up, with celebratory wine coolers!

That really should be the end of this post, but there’s more.  There’s always more for Handy Randy!

Days ago our toilet seal stopped holding water in the bowl.  That happens and sometimes it needs a coating of petroleum jelly and sometimes the seal needs replacing.  The jelly didn’t work so Randy had a three pack of new toilet seals sent to the campground in Farmington.   Thank you Amazon Prime!

P1050518He was working on the toilet when I laid down and took a nap.  I woke up to this! The toilet was gone!


I found Handy Randy outside working on the toilet and he declared it broken.

We didn’t have time for Amazon to send us a new one before we were moving on so our choices were to find one in Farmington or reroute our trip through Albuquerque.

Fortunately we were able to locate a porcelain toilet, close to what we had before, near Farmington.  We bought it the next morning. 


Have new gloves and new toilet…Go!!!


It took Handy Randy about 10 minutes to install our new toilet.  We don’t even care that it is white instead of bone.

fullsizeoutput_544fWe moved today and got settled in our new place near Santa Fe.   We could not even begin to do this trailer life stuff without Handy Randy being so capable.  We’d be in the shop all the time, or would have given up long ago.  He is blessedly gifted as a handy guy.  Hopefully we can enjoy the rest of this trip with everything staying fixed!

fullsizeoutput_5451Oh, did I say everything’s fixed…there is one more thing….A minor crack  appeared in the desk top a couple of years ago.  It has split and come together repeatedly as we have moved within different humidity levels.  It has been a cosmetic problem bothering only me.    Since we now live in the hot dry desert, the minor crack is now a cavern on the surface of the desk.  It’s a very good thing that Sun City Grand has a woodworking shop and that Handy Randy has interest in playing there this winter.

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Plan B:  Colorado!

We came to Farmington to hike in the Bisti Wilderness, see the alien egg formations and then explore Chaco Canyon. Since the heat wave followed us that just didn’t sound fun.   So we went with plan B: Durango Colorado, 60 miles away, and up in the mountains!

P1050348Our destination was the Durango & Silverton Narrow Guage Railroad, D&SNG, built 1881-82 to transport supplies north and mining ore south between Durango and Silverton.   Given the 45 mile mountainous route with elevation increasing from 6522 to 9318 feet, the train was an engineering marvel.

P1050350When mining became less profitable after World War II the train’s future was at risk.  Hollywood provided a bridge as many films were made using the train and surrounding areas.  Tourism followed.

fullsizeoutput_5448Over time, disrepair and neglect threatened the line again.  Charles Bradshaw, a railroad historian, purchased D&SNG in 1981 upgrading the rails and equipment, and tourism grew again.

P1050361In 1989 a fire swept through the round house destroying infrastructure and damaging locomotives and cars.  Once again Bradshaw invested in the Durango and Silverton and the line was saved again.    

P1050358There are several options to ride,  all with assigned seating.  We opted for an open air car.


This ‘train was rocking’ blurry picture shows another option.


There was a concession car.   

fullsizeoutput_5433Our locomotive was #481, a Baldwin-K36 class, one of ten built in 1925 and numbered in series from 480-489. Nine of the ten are still out there.  The D&SNG owns numbers 480, 481, 482 and 486.  Each weighs 143 tons when fully loaded with water and coal and pulls 10-12 cars up the canyon.

fullsizeoutput_5431Passengers on the other side of the car were pleased with their view as we began.  


We had the mountain side and sometimes it was very close! 


We had interesting snow on our side.


During our 3.5 hour ride up the canyon we crossed the Animas River several times. 


We also stopped to take on water several times. 


Occasionally we saw steam coming horizontally out of the locomotive.  That was to fine tune the water spray for optimum production. 


The locomotive had a sooty discharge.  White pants weren’t ideal – even 6 cars back! 

fullsizeoutput_5429Coal locomotives have risk of escaping cinders.   A  special “car” follows with 30 gallons of water to douse any stray ember.  Another 500 gallon car follows that one.


And if those efforts fail, a helicopter and bucket is available.

What wasn’t clear is how many of these precautions have always been or how many are in place now because of the 2018 “416 Fire.”  Government investigators found the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and current owners, American Heritage Railways, responsible for the fire that destroyed 54,000 acres, crippled the local tourism economy and cost $25 million to fight.   Litigation is pending….


On a happier thought…Old trains seem to make people happy.  Throughout our ride we saw people taking pictures and waving. 


 We saw one of the old mines as we approached Silverton.

P1050471After arrival, train guests are guaranteed 90 minutes before return departure.  The other option is to take the bus down which allows more time in Silverton and still gets into Durango before the returning train.   We opted for the latter since we had more fun planned.


Our first task was to find lunch.  There are a number of restaurants available including the Shady Lady, site of the last Brothel in Silverton, closing in 1947. 


We opted for Natalia’s, also a former brothel, with a sign that read:  Natalia’s is home to one of the oldest standing bordellos in town built in 1883.  Sorry, that service is no longer provided… but the food is great. 

fullsizeoutput_543eHunger quenched we set about exploring.  We learned between 300-500 people winter in Silverton when temperatures can dip to 30 below zero.  Most businesses operate from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

fullsizeoutput_5447We saw a shrine on the hill and went part way up.  I later tracked down the story.  1950s Silverton was struggling with many mines closing.  The men’s club from St. Patrick’s Catholic Church was looking to honor Christ and decided to build a shrine.  County commissioners agreed to donate the land and owners of a dismantling local brewery donated the stone.  That excited the Italian stone masons and others and the shrine on the hill became a community effort.


The community raised $6,000 to buy and ship the Christ statue from Italy and celebrated when it was put in place.

Three miracles are attributed to the Christ shrine.  First, shortly after installation a uranium company purchased one of the mines reviving employment in the area for a time.  Second, 1000 seedlings donated by the Forest Service, planted by the community, and watered three times weekly for a month and a half before the rains came, survived their first winter and flourished.   The third attributed miracle came years later, in 1978, when Lake Emma burst through the mine when no one was present, thus no one was killed or injured.


A “near the shrine” view of Silverton.

fullsizeoutput_541eIn town we found Freenote Harmony Park.  These parks are the project of grammy winning musician Richard Cooke.  His mission was to build Global Musical Parks on five continents, including all 50 states in the US.  I appear to be concentrating way too hard!


The bus ride down the mountain took 90 minutes and was sporadically narrated.  We arrived in time to welcome the train that came in before ours. 

fullsizeoutput_5426We watched as workers knelt on either side and peered under the train as it went by.  We were told they were watching every axel and break pad.  They do so for every train coming and going.

We thoroughly enjoyed the train part of our day!

P1050513Next up was the BarD Old West Music Show and Chuckwagon Supper.   We’ve been to quite a few of these over the years and this one was outstanding.  BarD has been in operation since 1969 with shows nightly from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day.  

We had a great day in Colorado and even had to wear a jacket for part of the day.  Imagine a train whistle celebration for that!

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All Over the Map in Northern Arizona


We’ve done a lot during our few days in Northern Arizona.  We had to visit “the corner.”


Those of a certain age can sing  “Standing on the corner in Winslow, Arizona – Such a fine sight to see.”


“It’s a girl, my lord, in a flatbed
Ford slowin’ down to take a look at me.”


Also in Winslow we saw two pieces of steel from the twin towers and a flag from the Pentagon after 9/11.

Seeing the 9/11 Memorial prompted a search on how these artifacts end up in a small town in northern Arizona.  I found that the Port Authority started a program in 2006 to disperse 9/11 artifacts.  Because they were from a crime scene, each release was approved by a federal judge.  Artifacts were released to over 1500 sites around the world.


Still in Winslow, we visited La Posada Hotel.  It opened in 1930 and was the last grand Fred Harvey – Santa Fe Railway Hotel.  Amtrak still stops there.  Mary Jane Colter considered the La Posada her personal masterpiece – quite a statement considering she was the architect and/or designer at many iconic southwest buildings – think Grand Canyon!


In Flagstaff we drove by the less grand “High Rise” dorm I lived and worked in as a student resident advisor at Northern Arizona University.


Lots has changed at NAU in 38 years but not our married student housing apartment.  It looks the same!


We were able to go in the same engineering building and look around.  Randy found some plaques commemorating familiar professors.


Way back then the president of the computer science club had a key to this back door allowing access to the engineering building during off hours.  The president preceding Randy gave it to him and he in turn passed the key on to his replacement. 


We loved visiting campus and stopped at the bookstore to buy gear. We plan to meet University of Idaho grads Connie and Warren here for the Idaho – NAU football game in November.


As we left the bookstore we saw this guy making a delivery somewhere on campus.  He wasn’t around when we were!


La Fonda Mexican Restaurant, established 1958, was around when we were living in Flagstaff! It was one of our go-to places while we were students from 1977-81.  It was delicious and inexpensive!  


We were delighted when college friends Connie and Nick suggested we meet at La Fonda!  We enjoyed the visit and the food!


Driving around Flagstaff we noticed a 10 – 12 vehicle convoy of black Tahoes.  We assumed it was a government convoy but as we drove by the license plates were from states all across the country and were driven by regular folks, mostly but not exclusively middle aged couples.  I researched Tahoe convoys but found nothing.  Anyone?

Midway between Flagstaff and Winslow we visited Meteor Crater.  We heard someone commenting that it was just a hole in the ground.  It is a hole but he must have missed the excellent movie and museum to come away with such a demeaning attitude!

About 50,000 years ago a meteor sped towards earth at 26,000 miles per hour (think five minutes from New York to northern Arizona).  It is estimated to have been 150 feet across weighing several hundred thousand tons


One of the museum exhibits shows how heavy meteor material is compared to normal earth rocks.


The meteor struck with a force greater than 20 million tons of TNT, devastating the area for miles around.  The resulting circular crater is 700 feet deep and 4000 feet across.


Since the crater is round, early thought was that the meteor came directly from above.  Miner Daniel Berringer believed the meteor would be beneath the crater floor.  He purchased the land in 1902 and started mining for iron.  He tried for 28 years but never found the meteor.

Scientists now believe that the meteor melted or vaporized upon impact with only small fragments remaining.    


They also believe that the meteor hit an angle resulting in uplift on the south side of the crater.

The Berringer family still owns the crater and surrounding lands.  They have allowed NASA to train astronauts in the crater and have let scientific research continue.   Meteor Crater is considered the first proven and best preserved impact site on earth.


After exploring  northern Arizona daily, we returned each night to our trailer at Homolovi State Park. We also explored this park.


Homolovi State Park was approved by the Hopi tribe to preserve two ancestral sites they consider holy.  The land depressions above show areas of past looting.


Ancient Puebloans, thought to be precendents of the Hopi, migrated through and lived in the area in the 1200 and 1300s.   Archeological sites at Homolovi contain an estimated 1200 to 2000 rooms.


Some have been preserved by the park and tribe.


Some of the thousands of pottery sherds are placed on rocks for you to see.


So what is a sherd and why isn’t it a shard?  A sherd is a sharp piece of pottery found in an archaeological site originating from the word potsherd. A shard is a sharp piece of china, glass, ceramic or similar.


From another era, there is also an old Mormon Cemetery on the grounds of Homolovi.   Sent by Brigham Young, Lot Smith established the settlement of Sunset along the Little Colorado River in 1876.  It was abandoned in 1888 due to drought and flooding.  


Posted along the Little Colorado in Homolovi  – We stayed away!


There are even wild burros in Homolovi State Park.  And in case you didn’t know (like me) burros and donkeys are the same animal.

I learned some things writing this blog – I love that!

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Way More Than Just Wood Rocks!

Our trip had a rough start.  We knew intellectually we would be trading trailer problems from full time use for problems due to inconsistent use but we didn’t expect so many so fast.  In frustration Randy even said the words “It’s time to sell the trailer.” 

fullsizeoutput_5384Driving to northern Arizona was fine but while setting up I noticed that a rock lodged under our kitchen slide tore the vinyl flooring.   Then our new house based DISH receiver, that was supposed to work with our current satellite dish in the trailer, didn’t.  Randy and DISH technical support eventually determined the problem and the part fix.  

Finally, and most problematic because you can live with a torn floor and no satellite reception, a valve in the water system broke and we were without water.  Randy eventually kluged a fix so we had some water in the trailer while using the pump but it is a very temporary fix.

Most of the next morning was spent trying to run down needed parts.  It took hours but a plan for eventually acquiring the parts emerged so we could go have some fun!

fullsizeoutput_53c8We visited Petrified Forest National Park and found way more than we expected!   We began at a visitor center with an orientation film and museum.   

fullsizeoutput_53a2The museum showed us how this currently barren landscape looked during the Triassic Period, with forests, plants,  fish, dinosaurs and reptiles.  Think Costa Rica because that is where northern Arizona was before continental drift!


The area that is now northern Arizona was near the equator when the land was one continent called Pangea. 

fullsizeoutput_5392Plant and animal life were fossilized through continental drift and climate change.  The forests were buried by layers of sediment absorbing ground water, volcanic ash and minerals.  The minerals are responsible for the varied colors.




Many of the petrified logs look as though someone sawed them into pieces.  A ranger explained that the weight of the petrified logs cause them to break that way.

fullsizeoutput_539dAgate Bridge is a 110 foot petrified log spanning a gully.  In 1917 park personnel placed the concrete support but it is expected to eventually fall due to the stream below creating change.   It is no longer allowed to walk across the bridge.


There are amazing landscapes along the  26 mile park road with overlooks and hikes to explore.  This area is called Blue Mesa.



This area is called The Tepees, showing the layering so prevalent in the park.  There are an abundance of fossils contained in the layers, another of the park’s area of focus.


There are over 1000 archeologic sites related to the ancient peoples who traveled through and lived in the area for thousands of years.  


There are single and multi room pueblos. 


There are petroglyphs and solar calendars. 


See the bird with the frog!

More recently, Petrified Forest National Monument was established in 1906 after a request from the Arizona Territorial legislature.   The CCC worked in the area from 1934 to 1941. The monument gained national park status in 1962.


This is one of the original entrance stations.  Over time these stations were used as restroom facilities and museums.  They now provide a cool breezeway with information placards.

Route 66 went through Petrified Forest National monument and it is yet another area of park emphasis.

fullsizeoutput_53c5Travelers could spend the night or have refreshment at the Painted Desert Inn.  It is now a museum featuring the inn,  route 66 and the Harvey girls but was unfortunately closed by the time we arrived.  Another day….

We had enjoyable hours exploring the park but could have spent days   There are so many hikes and overlooks we just didn’t have time for.   Petrified Forest National Park is so much more than just petrified trees!

One of the reasons the Arizona territory wanted national protection for the area was concern about rocks and artifacts being stolen.  The current park position is to debunk the idea that there was massive theft and vandalism but there were a couple letters on display from people returning rocks.


There are businesses outside of the park selling petrified wood.  There is even a concessionaire inside the park selling items that were sourced from the outside.  The philosophy is that if there is a way to acquire petrified wood legally most people will choose that option.


We did!  

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Wheels, Batteries and Desert Things


We have been settling in to our new desert home. This prickly pear cactus is in our yard.


One of our pleasures is to sit on our back patio in the mornings and watch the wildlife.


The lizards stroll by – sometimes they do pushups!  


We see and hear a variety of birds.  Randy is partial to northern mockingbirds and I like cactus wrens.


The quail have been so much fun to watch.  We are impressed with the way one parent is always vigilant while the family is feeding.  We see families with three to sixteen babies several times a day.   Obviously the turtle in the picture is stone, but the real critters move around the yard with little concern for the others.  They all just share the space.


I try really hard not to get too attached to the cute bunnies hanging around the yard because…


….we also have coyotes in the area.   We haven’t seen one in our yard yet and hope we don’t.



There was very little that needed to be done to the house but we found a few things.  Randy had the garage floor finished with a high gloss epoxy treatment – all the better for those new wheels you’ll soon read about!


Our big project is upcoming.  In August we will have pavers placed and a solid patio cover extending from one end to the other along the back of the house.  We have a south facing back patio and, except for those few morning hours, it is basically not usable this time of year. 

This time of year has some advantages too.  We are getting acquainted with our Sun City Grand community while events and venues have fewer people.  

P1010551Randy has golfed and I have been line dancing, playing the ukulele and joined a new book club.  We have been to resort activities, game nights, Arizona Broadway Theater and a Diamondbacks game at Chase Field.

And for all that activity it was nice to have something to drive besides the big old truck!


All the wheels are in place in our three car, extra deep garage.


It took way longer than we thought it would to find my new wheels – like three months!  I wanted a newer used Audi convertible with navigation, back up camera, and without a black interior or exterior.  It was the no black interior that was the problem.   We searched in four states, bid on a car on Ebay twice, put a deposit on one in Salt Lake City, and finally decided on a 2015 Mercedes Benz E400 right here in the Phoenix area. It isn’t an Audi but we like it very much.


In contrast, we bought our 2017 E-Z-Go golf cart on our first day of seriously looking.  Randy did preparatory research and had things narrowed down to two manufacturers. He decided he wanted a cart with a maintenance free lithium battery so then our choice was between new and a golf course rebuild. We opted for the less expensive rebuild.   We both liked the idea of yellow, harkening us back to Randy’s little yellow BMW roadster (that my mother still owns).   We made choices for accessories and upholstery quite quickly.  Yes, I realize the “interior” is black!   The battery was the big thing.

And speaking of batteries….Shortly after we moved to Surprise our truck batteries had to be replaced.  The salesperson could not believe that they were the truck’s original 2012 batteries.  He said batteries do not last anywhere near that long here because of the heat.

And another battery story….  


It was very bittersweet (think a few choked back tears) to leave our trailer in covered storage at the end of May.   It had been our home for five years and we wondered if it would feel abandoned or was glad to finally get a break after continuous use.


Six weeks later Randy picked it up for a “spa day”  and the 2012 trailer batteries were also dead.  Off to the battery store one more time.  We have definitely learned that heat is deadly to batteries, most don’t last longer than two years in this area.



And yet another battery story!  Batteries expand when left exposed in the truck when the truck is in the sun.  This is our navigation GPS and it still works, even with a puffed out back.


So what other summer desert things have we learned?   That getting hot water for a shower isn’t a problem – especially when you have a solar hot water heater that is always bubbling.   Figuring out how it should work was Randy’s greatest engineering challenge in the new house.  Of course he eventually solved it and it works great.

Getting cold water is way more of a challenge.  If I need to do a cold water wash in the machine I do it at 5:30 in the morning.   Cool or lukewarm showers are problematic.

Overall we are surviving quite well in the desert heat, but only because the house, the car, and everywhere we go is air conditioned.   We also enjoy cooling off in our resort pool a half mile away.  It is a quick walk, bike or golf cart ride away.

We are looking forward to taking the clean and waxed trailer (with new batteries) pulled by a truck (with new batteries) up to cooler elevations for a few weeks.  I’ll write again from there.

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