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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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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