Our Newbie Citrus Story


When we bought our house last spring we knew we were getting a grapefruit and an orange tree.   We like oranges and fresh squeezed orange juice but weren’t too excited about the grapefruit.  The oranges were gone by the time we moved in but the grapefruit were surprisingly sweet and the juice was good.

Unfortunately we knew nothing about caring for citrus trees and they got very stressed with inadequate water.   The irrigation system was still set on the winter watering schedule and by early summer the trees should have been getting triple that amount.  It seems so obvious now.

With the aid of a local nursery we got our act together and learned how to care for citrus trees.  Randy spent long hot hours digging water wells under the trees, changing sprinkler lines and pruning the inside of the trees allowing for airflow. 

5E84FC68-B98F-42E1-A63E-854836231AAB_1_201_a We even added to our citrus grove by purchasing a tangerine tree.   We were hoping for a “little cutie” seedless tree.   Because we were newbies, with the nursery planting in the summer,  we bought tree insurance allowing for replacement for a variety of reasons- including if we didn’t like the taste of the fruit.

In December we harvested about thirty tangerines.   They were baseball size and had seeds.  We were so disappointed.   The nursery offered to trade our tree but said maintaining a seedless variety would be pretty much impossible.   Apparently those little cutie growers go to great effort to plant orchards far away from other citrus to avoid cross pollination.  Our tangerine tree was mere yards from our orange and grapefruit trees.   Even though we were disappointed it seemed excessive to destroy a perfectly good tree in exchange for another that still wouldn’t be what we wanted.  We’ll just enjoy our tangerines.  

59DA5C17-7D6A-4B6F-A5CC-EE546EFF2BCCIn January we joined a citrus gleaning group at our church.   About thirty of us spent Wednesday mornings January through March gleaning oranges, grapefruit, lemons, tangelos, etc. from trees in the adjacent Sun City community.  The fruit is donated to a local food bank – some given out as whole fruit and some as juice.

Most of these trees are owned by older people who could not possibly pick the fruit or manage its distruibution.  They donate $25 per tree to the food bank for each tree we pick thereby helping to defray the cost of operating the juice machine.  (The cost of professional gleaners would be $150 – $200 per tree.)  As a group we gleaned 212 trees yielding approximately 95,000 pounds of citrus for the food bank.   

4B9D8574-0F5D-478A-A1A3-E1031BFEB4ECTwice we had house guests who joined us.   Thanks to our friend Jacque for visiting and for pitching in.  

6E8B9F2C-DCF1-480B-82CA-6F55CE7CD5FFOur friend Beth also came and picked with us while visiting.   We didn’t get a picture of her but she took one of Randy shaking the tree.   In January we were picking fruit that didn’t seem quite ripe and by early March all he had to do was shake a limb and lots came down!  (The white paint is to avoid sunburn.)

205642A5-D772-4BDB-9642-7CBCC4E55A14_1_201_aOur own grapefruit were plentiful but much smaller than the ones we “inherited” last year.   Our oranges were also plentiful and small but we don’t know what size they were previously.   We assume they too were stunted due to the summer stress.

We left the fruit on our trees very late into the season hoping they would improve with age but eventually we gleaned them too with the help of our neighbors.E7009346-C39B-4607-A53C-B231CC18B730_1_201_aAfter Donna and Rick had taken as much as they wanted,  and we had given away what we could,  we still had a lot left….

00706F67-99D9-4039-BCCA-771B7ABD951EWe juiced a lot!  We have enough grapefruit juice to last all year and have six quart bags of orange juice.   Our oranges were so small it took about 30 oranges to make 2.5 cups of juice.


And that brings me to limoncello…   Our son-in-law, Seth, introduced me to limoncello several years ago when he home crafted a batch in Boise.    I purchased some  limoncello at Costco last summer and it is my happy hour drink of choice.  I even have a T-Shirt saying limoncello is my “spirit drink.”

1204A16A-326B-43E7-85C4-392C54F5C35C_1_201_aAll that is way overstating the importance of limoncello in my life but when you have a neighbor with a lemon tree, and he gives you way too many lemons, you go for it.   We made our own limoncello.

31D514F2-43E8-4FFA-A37E-2EB308571122Limoncello uses zest peel, not juice, and is usually made with Everclear.  We had some rum that Randy didn’t like so we used that instead.   After sitting for a couple weeks we mixed that concoction with a simple syrup and were pleasantly surprised with the outcome.

Our limoncello isn’t nearly as strong or as sweet as the brand we buy.  We are liking combining a little of ours with a little of the store bought version.

79772372-81DE-45C6-8A90-BFEEF30F1D5AWe got overconfident and decided to try grapefruitcello and orangecello using our own citrus.   We went to the liquor store to buy Everclear but it was scarce as people were using it to make hand sanitizer.    Vodka was recommended as our base liquor.

From the beginning we had doubts about grapefruitcello because no recipe ever calls for grapefruit zest.  But why not try it?   Several weeks later, when we were ready to add the simple syrup, we made up only a small amount.   Grapefruitcello was really bad.

1A3120C9-C39A-4E61-A0CB-AE7110B31281Our orangecello was drinkable but not as good as our limoncello.   We think the secret for us may be using rum instead of  vodka.

4BCABA6A-A81D-41F8-B42F-64EFFB01F261So we’ve learned a lot in our newbie citrus year – about caring for trees, about gleaning and about eating and drinking the fruit.   This little orange is already beginning next year’s crop of fruit, juice and orangecello.  Cheers!

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Settling In to Sun City Grand

fullsizeoutput_5864No, we didn’t fall off the face of the earth – and thanks to those of you who wondered!   We were enjoying fall travel and then enjoying “the season” at Sun City Grand.   We would be busy still, except for the corona virus, social distancing and forced relaxation.  

We are both doing well in stay at home status.  We walk each day and are working our way through podcasts, books, movies and projects.  SereneWandering finally rose to the top of my list.   I plan to write a few posts to catch you up –  a way to spend my time and yours – if you’re willing.

fullsizeoutput_511dYou may want to go back to May 2019 and read Our New Grand Plan post about the decision we made to stop full time RVing and buy a home.  One year later,  we are happy with that decision.  Randy is doing very well but has had a few blips along the way.  Having a home base near Mayo Clinic was the right call.

In the July 2019 post Wheels, Batteries and  Desert Things, we told you about buying new vehicles and what we had done to our new house that “didn’t need anything.”  We have spent the months since doing even more things.   



Our biggest project was to add a covered patio along the entire back of the house.  The afternoon sun made that area unusable all summer.  It also required having the entire back of the house closed up.



We created a lot more outdoor living space that we are loving.  We opted for a solid cover, added a door from our bedroom to the patio and another area for a fire table seating area.


The first contractor who bid the job (and didn’t get it) tried to tell us what we wanted instead of listening.   He said  “You’ll never use this area.”  We remind each other of that every day when we sit here.  It is our favorite seating area.


Did you notice the shepherds crooks with red hummingbird feeders and stained glass pieces in the previous pictures?  The ground was/is so hard that Randy had to use a concrete bit on his drill and the shop vac to “dig” the holes for the crooks.

IMG_4386We really enjoy the animals that visit our backyard. One morning this bobcat strolled by as I was sitting with my coffee!  So exciting!

We see coyotes come through often enough.  As long as they don’t bother our bunnies, we enjoy them.

P1020365We had 27 solar panels installed.   They are producing power but it has been a huge frustration for Randy.  If he wasn’t an engineer who wanted to know everything about how they worked and how they were installed, we wouldn’t be as far along as we are.  At one point we thought he was going to have to become a solar power expert and fix them himself.  Persistence with the manufacturing and installing companies has paid off, at least in the short term.

Randy decided he was done with our other solar power system.  The solar hot water system came with the house and was one of the first projects he had to figure out.  The system leaked and needed to be coaxed along.  Eventually it wasn’t worth the grief and he pulled it out.


After a new heating and cooling system, I suggested to Randy that maybe we should be done.  Ha!  A week later I decided I wanted security doors.  Security doors are sturdy, lockable doors to keep two and four legged critters out.  Many people lock the security doors and leave their other doors open at night.

Due to an irregular size, our security doors needed to be custom built which led to a lot of research on how I wanted them to look.  I chose an Ocotillo design and we have the same on our front and bedroom doors.




And then when I didn’t like the way it looked with our old ugly front door I had a new insert installed.  We are both happy with the doors now.

We really do think we are now done working on our house that “didn’t need anything.”

Next time I’ll tell you more about what we’ve been doing that isn’t house related.

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New Things in Las Vegas!

Our fall road trip concluded with a few days in Las Vegas.  We’ve been to Las Vegas lots of times but still found some new things to do.

IMG_4277We stayed downtown (instead of on the strip) to have easy access to the Fremont Street Experience.   We walked through the five block covered extravaganza several times enjoying the lights and zip-lines overhead.   There were interesting artisans and musicians during the day but the place got pretty seedy later in the evening.

fullsizeoutput_57a9Our downtown hotel was across the street from The Mob Museum.   We spent a few hours exploring but could have spent many more.  Another visit is certainly warranted.   The museum documented, with exhibits and video, the rise of Organized Crime through prohibition and beyond.   Organized crime infiltrated Hollywood, Sports, Racing, Gambling and Drugs.   Police and politicians were bought and paid for in cities across the land.

P1020313Huge skimming operations occurred at both the Stardust and the Tropicana in Las Vegas.

P1020305American awareness of organized crime was raised through the Kefauver Hearings in 1950 and 1951.  Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver led the Senate Investigation on organized crime and held hearings in 14 cities across the United States. They were broadcast into people’s homes by a new medium called television.

fullsizeoutput_57abToday the old Las Vegas courthouse is The Mob Museum. A very effective multi-media presentation about the hearing is available in the very room in which it was held.

After Americans became aware that organized crime had infiltrated their lives in previously unknown ways, the tide began to turn.  Efforts to root out corruption took hold and the battle waged.   

fullsizeoutput_57adIn tribute to Speakeasies, common during prohibition, the Mob Museum has its own in the basement.

fullsizeoutput_57acWe enjoyed a couple of drinks.

fullsizeoutput_57baAlso new, we went to a Rod Stewart Concert!  

fullsizeoutput_57bcIt was very good!

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The North Rim – Finally!

Leaving Page, we headed west toward the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, a place we have wanted to visit for years.   

We have been to the south rim frequently as it is far easier to get to.  The south rim is where most Grand Canyon visitors go.  True story:  Randy, a girlfriend, and I went camping on the south rim of the Grand Canyon the night we first met at Northern Arizona University in 1977.  My mother didn’t hear that story until 30 years later!

P1020106En-route we came upon the Navajo Bridges.  The bridge on the left is the original, built in 1928.  It is now a walking path spanning the Colorado River.  

P1020117A second, very similar looking bridge, was built for modern vehicles and traffic, in 1995.

P1020125California Condors frequent and nest in the Navajo Bridge area and we were delighted to see one near the bridge footings.  Notice the tag on the right wing.  Condors weigh up to 23 lbs, have an average wingspan of 9.5 feet and are the largest land bird in North America.  They can fly 80 miles per hour!  In 1982 there were 22 known California Condors, now there are approximately 500!

P1020139Further down the road we came to the “Arizona Strip,” where six condors were released by the Peregrine Fund in 1996.  Condors had not been been seen in Arizona since 1900.  Since that initial release, the Peregrine Fund has released an additional 8-10 condors annually.

Sharlot-M-Hall-HistorianAdjacent to the condor placard was one about Sharlot Hall.  She  was important in Arizona history in a variety of ways.  The placard highlighted her campaign to ensure that Arizona got separate statehood status.  In 1906, she opposed a congressional measure to bring New Mexico and Arizona into the Union as one state. She toured the territory gathering opposition to the bill and wrote a poem describing why Arizona deserved separate statehood.  The poem was delivered to US congressman and the measure was defeated, maybe in part, because of her efforts.

fullsizeoutput_5769We had a beautiful fall drive approaching the north rim of the Grand Canyon.

fullsizeoutput_576dWe were delighted with our little cabin, inside and out!



fullsizeoutput_5771Although the day was a bit hazy, we enjoyed views of the north rim!



fullsizeoutput_5782The Grand Canyon Lodge was built on the edge of the north rim.

fullsizeoutput_5786We enjoyed the warm sun on the lodge verandah.

fullsizeoutput_5789There were views everywhere, including inside the lodge lobby.

fullsizeoutput_5788We learned about Brighty, the burro.  Burros had been brought to the canyon area by miners and were eventually abandoned.  They survived over time.  Brighty became a pet of the first lodge owner in 1917.   Brighty and family son Bobby worked together hauling water and Brighty received daily flapjacks.  Eventually the National Park Service decided to remove wild burros and most were captured and adopted out by 1981.

fullsizeoutput_578bWe ate in the lodge dining room, one of several places to eat on site.

fullsizeoutput_578fWe attended a ranger presentation on the Civilian Conservation Corps.  It was one of the best we’ve ever attended.

fullsizeoutput_5785A view from one of the CCC sites.

fullsizeoutput_579dThe next morning we walked the rim trail one more time looking at the views and trying to find a Kaibab Squirrel.  We learned Kaibab Squirrels live only in this area and we wanted to see one.   Supposedly they are everywhere but we had quite a challenge finding one!   We were searching for a gray squirrel with a white tail….

P1020252We saw and heard evidence of this one long before Randy finally found it way up in the tree.  The zoom lens and his steady hand got the picture!

fullsizeoutput_57a2After all that effort, we saw this one bounding away as we approached our truck to leave. 

Our take away is that we like the north rim very much.  Even though it is a bit of a challenge to get there, we were surprised by the amount of visitors and activity.  A lot of people like the North Rim of the Grand Canyon!  We hope to visit again soon.

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Our “Problems” With Antelope Canyon…

fullsizeoutput_56e6Even if you are unaware, you have likely seen photographs of Antelope Canyon near Page in northern Arizona.  Antelope Canyon is a bucket list destination for serious photographers (which we aren’t) and slot canyon hikers (which we are).

fullsizeoutput_566dAntelope Canyon was formed by flash flooding through Navajo Sandstone. 

Unfortunately eleven tourists were killed in the lower canyon in 1997 due to flash flooding.  These deaths contributed to the area being named a Tribal Park shortly thereafter and the requirement to utilize Navajo guides.   The potential for flash flooding is monitored very carefully.

fullsizeoutput_5663The first problem we encountered with Antelope Canyon was whether to book (well in advance) an Upper or Lower Canyon tour.  For no particular reason, I chose the Upper Canyon, “The Crack.”  I booked about a week prior to our late September trip and still had limited options.

fullsizeoutput_565dWe were transported to the site in four wheel drive vehicles.

P1010894An interesting entrance to the Upper Canyon – walk right in!

fullsizeoutput_5670There are about 12 people in a tour group, but there are dozens of tours in the canyon at the same time.

20190930_092620The tour guides are awesome, knowing just where and at what angle, to take photographs.   Some of the views have been named to reflect something similar outside the canyon.  This opportunity was called monument valley.


fullsizeoutput_5679We enjoyed our tour so much that we inquired about a walk up tour for the Lower Canyon. (We had seen limited “cash only” walk up opportunities at the Upper Canyon.)   At about 11:00 am, we got the last tickets for the last lower canyon tour at 4:00.

P1010973With hours to wander, we ventured to other sites near Page.   First was the Horshshoe Bend of the Colorado River, the same river that formed and traverses through the Grand Canyon.

fullsizeoutput_56a0Then we went to Antelope Point Marina and enjoyed a boat tour of this section of Lake Powell.

fullsizeoutput_56a1We enjoyed three house boat vacations on Lake Powell many years ago and, while at the marina, decided to take a look inside the new houseboats available for rent.  

P1020003At 4:00 we connected with our tour guide.  Unlike just walking in the Upper Canyon, this time we took the stairs and descended into Lower Antelope canyon, “The Corkscrew.”



fullsizeoutput_56feThere were sets of stairs throughout the tour which could be problematic for some.

fullsizeoutput_5700There are so many interesting features in the sandstone.


P1020021Like before, our tour guide knew when and how to get the best pictures, mostly with cell phones.  Only two of us on tour had regular cameras and Randy’s phone photos, taken by the guide, were often better than those from my real camera (on automatic settings), also taken by the guide.   If photography had been the primary reason for this adventure – not knowing how to use my camera would have been a real problem!

fullsizeoutput_56faOne “photography tour” is offered each day, presumably allowing more time at the best time of the day for light angles.  On the day we were there those tours were at about noon.  (Our tours were early and late.)   If photography is important to you, take that into consideration and book even further in advance!


Climbing out of the lower canyon!


Although not a real problem, we would be hard pressed to pick a favorite between the canyons . Both are amazingly beautiful, just different.   The Upper Canyon is taller and has wider openings. The Lower Canyon is truly a corkscrew.   Both of our Navajo tour guides were great!  

Our biggest Antelope Canyon problem going forward – The bar for future slot canyon hikes is very, very high!

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Fourteen Border Crossings in One Day!

fullsizeoutput_5603We enjoy riding old trains and have been on quite a few including the Durango to Silverton trip I wrote about in Plan B:  Colorado! just a few weeks ago.   This time we were in the vicinity of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad near  Pagosa Springs, Colorado.

fullsizeoutput_5601The Cumbres & Toltec is advertised as the longest and highest narrow gauge railroad in America. Narrow gauge lines are 3 feet wide instead of the standard 4 feet 8 inches.  The narrow gauge allowed for tighter mountain turns.

fullsizeoutput_560aThe Cumbres & Toltec is a remnant of the Denver & Rio Grand Railway, built in 1881 for the mining industry in southwest Colorado.   The rail route through the mountains and over the 10,151 foot pass was built in less than one year.  

In addition to mining interests, the railroad later moved timber, cattle, sheep and passengers.  A first class parlor car was part of the train until 1951.

By the 1950s most narrow gauge lines in the Rocky Mountains were scrapped.  This line was saved because oil and gas was discovered in the Four Corners area and it was used to transport equipment.  The Rio Grande Railroad abandoned the line in 1967.

fullsizeoutput_5606Colorado and New Mexico joined together, contracting with Cumbres Toltec Operating LLC and the Friends of Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, Inc. to operate a tourist train.

We traveled an hour by car from Pagosa Springs, Colorado to Chama, New Mexico,  crossing the border enroute.  

fullsizeoutput_55c0We began our train ride in Chama, New Mexico with tickets to ride the complete 64 mile route arriving in Antonita, Colorado.  We would return to Chama by motor coach.  The reverse is also possible.


We went into our assigned car to our assigned seats.  There were about 18 people ticketed on our car so we had options!


Window seats for everyone!   We could also go from side to side as scenery demanded.

Just two days previously the train had been completely full requiring more cars.  Since that train had more than seven cars, a second engine was required to pull the weight up the 4 percent grade out of Chama.   


A volunteer docent moved throughout the train giving everyone free route maps and information.  He was outstanding.

fullsizeoutput_55d6Movie personnel utilized the train and this area while filming Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

fullsizeoutput_55daLobato Trestle sits 100 feet above Wolf Creek.  When the train requires a second engine the trestle cannot support the additional weight.  The first engine unhooks and goes across.  The second engine brings the train across and they reconnect.

fullsizeoutput_55deThe engineer is doing a blowdown – releasing steam to adjust pressure and eject sediment.  Two cars back we got blow in our faces!  We learned that lesson quickly!


We went to the open-air gondola car for a short time.


For twice as much money we could have ridden in the restored parlor car.  


A fire car followed us the entire route looking for embers.

fullsizeoutput_562cAt Cumbres Pass “station” eight people from our car disembarked.  Seven got off and met family members who had driven to pick them up.  


This woman disembarked to continue her solo hike along the Continental Divide Trail.  

fullsizeoutput_55f3This is Tanglefoot Curve.  Builders made wide loops to gain small amounts of elevation, in this case 39 feet.  We saw this looping many times throughout the trip.


We stopped to take on water for the steam engine.


The scenery was pretty awesome!

fullsizeoutput_562eTwo and a half hours into our journey we approached Osier.   


Trains from both directions meet at Osier for lunch.  Passengers can continue on (like we did) or board the other train and go back to the same station you left from.  Lunch, a full turkey or meatloaf meal,  was included in the ticket price.


P1010757Osier used to be a toll station on the road from Conejos to Chama.


Osier became a section house for the railroad when it came through.

fullsizeoutput_560bWhen we boarded the train to continue on a bird was trapped in our car.  Randy and another passenger were able to get it out.

fullsizeoutput_5611We traveled through the Toltec Gorge, 600 feet above the Rio de Los Pinos River.  I wish the picture did the gorge justice.

fullsizeoutput_5614Just west of the Rock Tunnel we saw a Garfield monument.  Railroad employees had a service at this site for Garfield on the day of his death in 1881.  The monument was dedicated by railroad employees.

fullsizeoutput_5618We entered the tunnel, bored through 360 feet of solid rock – in 1881.

fullsizeoutput_561fA second tunnel, Mud Tunnel, required wooden supports over the entire 342 foot length.  A train once broke down in the tunnel, burning the supports.  Railroad workers constructed a road around the tunnel until it was repaired.  In the meantime, two trains met on either side of the tunnel and transferred cargo and passengers using the road.

fullsizeoutput_5621Throughout the day we enjoyed seeing houses and cabins in the wilderness.  Some were in pairs or groupings and appeared to have road access.  This one was all alone and appeared to be accessible only by airstrip.


The scenery changed many times during our six hour ride

fullsizeoutput_5625We saw entering New Mexico (or Colorado) signs throughout the day!

fullsizeoutput_5627Sometimes a new sign appeared just a couple hundred yards down the track as the route looped from one side of the border to the other.   The train crossed the New Mexico-Colorado border eleven times!

fullsizeoutput_562aAs we approached Antonito we saw Hangman’s Ferguson Trestle (Mr. Ferguson was hanged on it.)   The trestle was accidently burned down during filming of the Willie Nelson’s movie:  Where the Hell’s That Gold?  They had to pay to have it rebuilt.

fullsizeoutput_55fd Randy and I have been fortunate to make seven or eight of these train trips.  We have liked them all but agree that the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad is our favorite.

During our motor coach ride back to Chama we crossed the border two more times.  On our drive back to Pagosa Springs, we crossed the border in our car one more time.  That was fourteen border crossings in one day!  

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NM in NM: El Morro

The last National Monument we visited on our recent New Mexico adventure was El Morro – The Rock With Three Names!

fullsizeoutput_5575El Morro, this large sandstone bluff, sat on the main east-west route for several people groups.   

fullsizeoutput_5594It wasn’t the rock promontory, but the oasis pool at the base that was the reason for many to stop and rest a spell.

fullsizeoutput_55aaZuni forefathers, part of the southwest puebloan culture,  built communities atop the rock circa 1200.    This area was along east-west trade routes for native peoples.

fullsizeoutput_557ePetroglyphs in the sandstone bluff are the earliest carvings.   Current Zuni consider this site sacred and named it Atsinna “place of writings on the rock.”

Spaniards came through during their second conquest effort looking for the elusive cities of gold.  They found some silver but little gold in “New Spain, land that is now New Mexico.  Mostly they found native people groups and began to convert or conquer them for God and Spain.  Records indicate that Spaniards came to the “pool at the great rock” in 1583.


The Spaniards called the great rock “The Headland.”  Juan de Onate recorded his presence on April 16, 1605, the earliest known European inscription.


This area became part of the United States after The Mexican-American War (1846-48.)   Army expeditions began to map the area and interact with the Zuni and Navajo.  

fullsizeoutput_558eNamed “Inscription Rock” by the Anglo-Americans, Army Engineer Lt. James H. Simpson and accompanying artist Richard Kern came to document the inscriptions.  They, after faithfully copying each and every petroglyph and inscription, made an error, misspelling “insciption” in their own.

P1050902.JPGEmigrants to California and railway survey groups added inscriptions in the last half of the nineteenth century.

El Morro National Monument is no longer on the main east-west route.   First the railroad (1881) and then the highway system (I-40) take travelers along a route 25 miles north.   El Morro isn’t hard to get to but you need to plan ahead.   It is absolutely worth the few extra miles and effort!

fullsizeoutput_5574El Morro was named a National Monument in 1906, one of the original four designated monuments by Teddy Roosevelt under the new Antiquities Act.   The other three are Devils Tower in Wyoming,  Montezuma’s Castle in Arizona and Petrified National Forest, also in Arizona. (More on those later.)

fullsizeoutput_5590A stop at the visitor center gives you an introductory video, expert advice and a loaner trail guide.   It is a great resource for getting some background on some of the 2000 names inscribed on the great rock.


A short trail brings you to the base of El Morro.


The pool is there through the cattails.

fullsizeoutput_5577Nature will have its way with sandstone but this cut is so precise it looked purposeful. Alas, no -it was just the way the rock broke and fell.


The inscriptions are everywhere!


In some areas you can see petroglyphs, Spanish and English together.


E. Penn Long was a member of an Army expedition looking for a route between Ft. Smith Arkansas and the Little Colorado River.


P. Gilmer Breckenridge, in the same Army contingent, was in charge of 25 camels being assessed for usefulness to the US Army in the water deprived southwest.   The experiment was deemed a success but was abandoned with the onset of the Civil War.

fullsizeoutput_557dSeveral monument administrators have done what they thought was best to try and preserve the inscriptions that will eventually be lost to nature.  Cutting around inscriptions to move water flow away was attempted.


Blackening inscription with a graphite mixture was also tried.


One park administrator even had signatures done after 1906 scraped away as he considered them graffiti and unlawful.

fullsizeoutput_5591After viewing the signatures near the base of the rock, we followed the trail up to the mesa.  This rock looks like it could break off at any moment.


We saw one area of ruins on our way up.  This area was closed.


We made it!



fullsizeoutput_55acWe saw a second set of ruins that are being preserved and are accessible.

A few years ago I accidentally took a very good picture at a Nevada state park.  I called it my Stairway to Heaven picture and an enlargement hangs on our bedroom wall.    I’ve been looking for Stairway to Heaven shots ever since.  The mesa trail had a few!






We had wonderful views from the mesa at El Morro!

After visiting El Morro, we are fortunate to have been to all four of those original 1906 national monuments.  If you would like to read the blog posts from the other visits they are: Devil of a Time Getting to Devils Tower, Is it the Journey or the Destination?  and Way More Than Just Wood Rocks!.

And if you haven’t heard Stairway to Heaven in a while….here is a link:  Stairway to Heaven


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NM in NM: El Malpais

fullsizeoutput_553fOur third NM in New Mexico was El Malpais National Monument.    El Malpais means “the badlands” and they were bad in the best possible way!   


Entering the monument on the east side, we saw sandstone bluffs.



There were interesting geologic breaks in these bluffs, vertical and horizontal.


The La Ventana Arch is within the monument.


The dominant feature of El Malpais is the lava flow generated from McCarty’s Crater 3900 years ago.   From the height of the sandstone bluffs, the flow looks deceptively green.


On the ground the black lava is clearly dominant.


There was a trail through the lava flow marked with cairns.


There were little caves or collapsed lava tubes here and there.  From a distance we thought these were petroglyphs.  They were not – just staining on the rock.


The lava looked different at every turn.


Recent lava activity in Hawaii has helped scientists understand what happened at El Malpais.



We walked over many crevices some where we could see the bottom and some we could not!  They fit together like puzzle pieces.


This lava rock was surprisingly light.


A cactus makes a claim for life in the lava environment.


A forest of small Douglas Fir and Piñon Pine exists on the lava flow.  As the roots twist to find their way in the lava, the top of the tree twists too.


People made their homes in and around the lava flows as well.  There were ancestral Puebloans in the area in the 1100 and 1200s but this is not a Puebloan ruin.  The monument holds two abandoned homesteads from far more recent days.  This is the remnants of the Garrett Homestead, thought to have been built between 1935-37.  Homesteaders escaping the dust bowl amid the Great Depression tried to eek out a life in this difficult land.

El Malpais National Monument also has lava tubes and ice caves accessible with a permit but we did not have the needed equipment.  That’s a downside of owning a house – some of our stuff was there instead of with us.


In the vicinity, but outside the monument, we explored the Ice Cave – Bandera Volcano, The Land of Fire and Ice.

fullsizeoutput_556eThe site is privately owned, originally purchased for raising sheep.  That is hard to imagine.   The same family maintains ownership and is now in its second generation as a tourist site.

fullsizeoutput_556fThis is a spattercone, formed when a minor vent formed in the molten lava.  A surge of air rushed through the lava breaking the surface and forming a blow hole.


A section of collapsed lava tube.


This lava tube still goes somewhere….but we didn’t go see where.


We walked up to the viewing area for the Bandera Crater, the largest volcano of many in the area.  Bandera last erupted 10,000 years ago.   The crater is 1400 feet wide and 800 feet deep.  

Okay, this was the fire – let’s find the ice!


This small ice cave was used for food storage when the family first purchased the site.


We descended down a lot of stairs to the opening of the main ice cave.  I couldn’t help but think about going back up all those stairs.


As we approached this platform we could really feel the temperature change.  The cave is a consistent 31 degrees and made our warm day feel wonderfully cool!



The ice and icicles  visible from the opening of the cave.


It always seems worth noting when we cross the Continental Divide!   We crossed it from east to west going from El Malpais to Bandara Volcano and then again from west to east heading back to Grants, New Mexico.

One NM in NM to go!

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NMs in NM 

NMs in NM?   National Monuments in New Mexico!

New Mexico has one national park, two national historical parks, one national heritage area, one national historical trail and 12 national monuments.  During our trip to northern New Mexico we visited four of the national monuments.  This post highlights the first two – Aztec Ruins and Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks.

fullsizeoutput_5457We almost didn’t go to Aztec Ruins.  We’d seen a bounty of ancient puebloan sites recently and lacked motivation.  (We experienced the same with mining sites a few years ago.)  Yet Aztec Ruins was just a few miles away, and it is a national monument, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so we went…and it was very nice! 

fullsizeoutput_5497To be clear, the Aztecs were not here.  Anglo settlers named the area centuries after ancient puebloans occupied the site from the late 1000s to the late 1200s.  


This was a well planned community overlooking the river.   This model shows only the west side ruins.  Planners and early inhabitants likely came from Chaco Canyon (55 miles south) as features of architecture, ceremony and pottery were similar.


Much care was taken with design and construction.  This wall exactly aligns with sunrise on the summer solstice and sunset on the winter solstice.  The purpose for the green sandstone band is unknown.


The community was built over a 200 year span with later builders following the earlier master plan.  Stone work patterns changed over time.


Geologist John Newberry is the first recorded visitor to the ruins in 1859.  The west ruins were in good shape with walls 25 feet tall and rooms undisturbed from centuries before.

fullsizeoutput_5495Anthropologist Lewis Morgan investigated the site in 1878 and estimated 25% of the wall and room stones had been taken by area settlers for building materials.  A period of extensive looting occurred until they were privately owned in 1889.  

fullsizeoutput_54a3In 1916 New York’s American Museum of Natural History began sponsoring  excavations.  The Great Kiva was reconstructed under their supervision.


The ancient puebloans transported stone and wood from long distances to build the Grand Kiva, a religious building central to their community.  Kivas vary in size but consistently have a central fire pit, four pillars and floor vaults.


Tree rings from original roof logs helped date the ruins.  The roof weighed 95 tons.

P1050559Today the National Park system oversees the security and preservation of the site.   Preservation techniques include reburying rooms and replacing mortar and missing stones  It is estimated that 90 percent of the current masonry is original.

Moving from man made history to geologic history…

fullsizeoutput_5464Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is managed by the BLM with the Pueblo de Cochiti people.   (The Cochiti people joined other puebloan groups in driving Spaniards from the area in 1680.)

fullsizeoutput_5474Cone shaped rocks were formed by successive volcanic eruptions occurring six to seven million years ago.


The eruptions left layers of pumice, ash and tuff 1000 feet deep.


Later eruptions spewed harder rock.  Surface boulders allowed tent rocks to form underneath as the caps protected the softer pumice and tuff.  Water and wind did their parts.


There is a nice slot canyon to hike through on the way up to the mesa.  

fullsizeoutput_54bcHiking at altitude was difficult and we liked any excuse to pause.  This guy went across the trail ahead of us and proceeded to dig his tunnel entrance while we watched.


We made it to the top!


Randy walked to the very point because of course he does that.


We checked on our friend on the way back down. We saw his work but not him.


We saw a cave on the way down, thought to be hand carved with sticks and sharp stones between 1200 and 1540.  That is fire soot on the ceiling.


One more picture of Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument because it is spectacular!

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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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