Saturday, 26 February 2011


I'm finding myself huddling next to the fire today when I really could go for a ski. However, it is minus 12 and there's a windchill and I expect that things will improve by tomorrow. Yesterday, I walked downtown with a group of school kids in - 20 degree weather with a very strong wind whipping off the lake. It felt so very cold. I reflected on the fact that we become wimps in very short order. It was less than a decade ago that I'd walk home from school (often an hour long walk) when it was -25 degrees (although usually sunny)! I've hardly taken any exercise this week because it's been so cold and windy - I'm turning into a total wimp about the cold. Brave prairie skiers and hikers - sally forth!

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Desert Hiking

Trail signs at Big Bend were cut into a metal frame which seemed to be a really good way to keep signs visible through hours, days and years of bright sunshine. I've really enjoyed hiking in the desert - much more than I thought that I ever would. A couple of things I think are essential about hiking - bring lots of water because there's rarely water to be found and wear long pants. I'm not the smoothest of walkers and tend to get looking at things, lose my balance readily, and brush up against plants. This is something you never want to do in the desert because almost every plant has thorns or prickly bits. Even with the heat, long sleeves are probably a good idea, too, although in the winter, I was able to roll up my sleeves many times. Don't forget your hat either; I had brought my tuque on our trip and had to purchase something with a big brim while at Big Bend.
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Monday, 21 February 2011

Big Skies

I mentioned in my last post that NM had the best skies we saw while on holiday. At Guadalupe NP in TX we had incredible sunsets and sunrises as well - and it's located on the TX/NM border. As a prairie girl, I love big skies. While camping just south of Alamagordo, the campground host invited us over to look at things through his telescope. The full moon for January was fast approaching so it was a fairly "light" sky, plus we were in the USA which has a lot of "city lights" although we were in a pretty remote area. I did get to see the Orion nebula and three moons of Jupiter. The moon itself looked pretty spectacular. Earlier in the day, we'd seen the Imax film, Hubble, at the Space Center in Alamagordo. I really liked it and found the story of repair to the telescope a fascinating one. Looking at the Orion nebula on that film was strangely reassuring to me. We're all just part of this huge, swirling mass and it's endless and timeless.
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Sunday, 20 February 2011

New Mexico Sunset

The best sunsets that we encountered on our recent trip were certainly found in New Mexico. This picture was taken from Oliver Lee State Park just south of Alamagordo, NM. I really liked the campsite and watching the sky in the morning and evening. We were able to get re-acquainted with canyon hiking while walking up Dog Canyon which starts in the park. However, it's really close to the air base and several times some earth-rumbling aircraft would take off or arrive. That's the big drawback so I can't say that I'd highly recommend a visit.

We visisted the Space Museum in Alamagordo which certainly brought back memories of the '60's. The space shuttle actually landed near Alamagordo in the '80's. I've found it interesting that every time I'd refer to the name of this town I'd call it Armaggedon. And as soon as we got into the van following our museum visit I simply had to call up Bruce Cockburn's "If I Had A Rocket Launcher" on the ipod.
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Thursday, 17 February 2011

White Sands, NM

We really enjoyed our visited to White Sands NM just outside of Alamagordo, NM.
Perhaps it was because it was our first day of relatively warm weather. The sand dunes are interesting and it's great to see that the park allows visitors to go sledding on the dunes - we saw a few people with "saucers", but didn't actually see anyone using them. I had a good walk for an hour - and walking on sand it such good exercise! - and then we hiked a nature trail which was also really interesting. The big skies and the mountains north of Las Cruces were just what I needed to rid myself of winter blahs. The only drawback to this place is its location next to a huge military base and there is a pretty regular roar from aircraft. We were also fairly close to the Trinity site in this area, where the first nuclear bomb was tested. So let's just call this place a mix of wonderful nature and the worst of humankind.
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Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Chiricahua Revisited

We made a second trip to Chiricahua NM because we had enjoyed it so much the first time. The park offers a wonderful service. A shuttle bus can take hikers up to the trailhead at the top of the canyons at 8:30 a.m. We'd used the service before and really loved it. This time, we completed the "Heart of the Rocks" tour which meant that we hiked almost every trail from the top of the mountain. The trail was in great shape and we enjoyed visiting the unusual rock features in the "heart of the rocks". This Pinnacle Balanced Rock is an example. This is the park which has some pretty unusual birds and we did see an Arizona woodpecker. Alas, no coatamundi appeared, but they do exist in the park. We also learned that this animal inhabits Big Bend in TX.

Our driver told us an amusing story about Tuscon - apparently they've brought in a "stupid drivers" law which requires the driver to pay for a rescue if they deliberately drive into flood areas and are stranded there. I have yet to see one of the flash floods famous in this region, but she said that people will drive into anything, even with the markers indicating how deep the water is - I do hope I get to see one of these rainstorms from the vantage point of a safe place.
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Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Southwest Caves

We visited both Carlsbad and Kartchner Caves while in the Southwest. The major difference between them as I understand it is that one is "living" and the other is "dead". Carlsbad was the first one we saw and I really liked the fact that we could walk into the cave and gradually get into its deepest part. It's not really a world that I love, but it is certainly interesting and an incredible amount of work has been done to make it accessible to humans. The descent into the cave was about a mile long and we walked another one to two miles while at the bottom. All of this is wheelchair accessible. I'd love to be able to see the bats fly out of the cave from May through October!

Kartchner, the "living" cave is quite similar, but it is still building deposits and was also a truly unusual world. To visit this one, you must be guided and they have some pretty strict rules. Again, there's been a remarkable amount of work done to make the cave accessible but most of the cave remains "untouched" and continues to grow. The fact that two university students discovered it in the mid 70's and managed to keep it quiet is pretty amazing. They didn't want it to be exploited and neither did the people who owned the property where the caves are located. Even though thousands visit the caves each year, the human damage is actually quite minimal. It was interesting to compare the two caves, but I was probably more awed by Carlsbad. Was that because it was my first cave experience? I also liked being able to see it at my own pace and watch the changes as we made the descent into the earth.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

America's Best #5: The National Parks

I know I've blogged before about the great American parks - something Canada used to have in an earlier time - and this most recent trip hasn't changed my opinion one bit. There wasn't a single national park or national monument or bureau of land management area that wasn't well-maintained and well-staffed. I spoke with one park ranger in Guadalupe who said that the parks had been severely hit with cutbacks. To the casual visitor this is simply not apparent. The trails were all in superb shape and every campground we stayed in was basically spotless when you think of the number of visitors who come to spend time in the south. I think many of the parks make excellent use of volunteers. Hurrah! The fee for a US National park pass is $80US which is cheaper than in Canada. Here, the parks still have pride in what they provide. I can't say enough good about the American national parks!

Thursday, 10 February 2011

McKittrick Canyon

One of my favourite hikes of our entire trip was the one to McKittrick Canyon in Guadalupe NP. It was a fairly warm and windy day so I figured it would be a great day to be out of the wind inside a canyon. That worked fairly well, but the we could certainly feel the wind for the first 30 minutes of the trail until the canyon deepened. Because the trail was so good, we figured it was going to be pretty easy to access the plateau and it was, but the traverses were so long and flat, we actually did decide to give up 3/4 of the way up - we could see how windy it was. Came back to this spot called Grotto for lunch - these picnic tables and benches are made out of slabs of stone. It was a really beautiful spot in the canyon. We only saw 3 other people on the trail and managed to find a few spotted towhees along the route, but nothing really out of the ordinary in the birding department. We startled one smallish mammal who went into a small cavelike shelter and we're pretty darn sure that it was a skunk.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Bagging TX

Here is Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in TX. We were lucky enough to bag this within 24 hours of our arrival in TX. The hike was in great shape - there were extreme winds in the forecast so we were up early and on the trail by 7:30 a.m. Arriving at the top, there were 4 other hikers up there and another 3 arrived while we stayed on top. Counting hikers on the way down, (practising our numbers in Spanish) we came across 33 more. The winds didn't really materialize and I was pleased to see that everyone made it back down by dark. It's just a nice hike with nothing extreme about it and it's got lots of great views. Highly recommended, as is the park. It's quite a bit off the beaten track, although if you visit Carlsbad Caverns, NM, it's only an hour away. I liked the fact that there are lots of trails and not many people - at least not in January. Many of the hikes are on the top of the mountains and one big issue is water because there isn't much of it around. Doubt if I'll be doing any multi-day hiking here. Great sunsets and sunrises while we were visiting.
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Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Lees Ferry

This picture shows where Glen Canyon and the Grand Canyon meet - at Lees Ferry, AZ. We simply fell upon this little gem of a spot (although I'd remembered reading about it in our Rough Guide a year or two ago) as dark descended and we needed to find a place to camp. Just after crossing Navajo Bridge there is a sign to Lees Ferry National Recreation Area. Our campground host immediately came over to introduce herself, tell us about the California Condors and to invite us to visit the historical sites. She also told me she thought the place should be called Emma's Ferry. Emma was married to John Lee who has a bit of a notorious background. I'm reading a book about Emma right now, but unfortunately, it's pretty poorly written so I can only take it in small chunks. It doesn't sound as if John Lee (Emma's husband) was around too much and Emma basically ran the ranch and the ferry service for a good bit of her life. As a good Mormon woman, she was probably happy to do that. This picture also shows where everyone crossed the river by ferry from 1873 until 1928 when the first Navajo Bridge was built.
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Monday, 7 February 2011

International Troubador

This canoe is located in Mexico at Bosquillas Canyon and I'm pretty sure that it belongs to Victor, the Singing Mexican, although I didn't ask him. Our very well-used Rough Guide to the Southwest mentions a fellow who used to take people across to Mexico to spend the day (for a price, of course). With increased border patrol that is no longer quite as lucrative as it might have been in happier times. The day we visited, Victor sang to us in Spanish and he has his "busking jar" out on the American side. I just had to give him some money because after I called out "Hola" to him he asked me "Como estas?" and I was actually able to answer him - my first real conversation in Spanish with a true Mexican! Naturally, I left him a twoonie.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Recuerdos a la Venta

Here's a sample of souvenirs available for sale along the Rio Grande. While visiting Bosquillas Canyon there were several Mexicans on horseback patrolling the donation containers and asking if we'd like to "buy stick". The walking sticks are quite the rage around these parts, I think. I'm not sure how many items they manage to sell, but I know there were some successful sales made the day that we walked to the canyon. Usually, there was a plea to "help children" alongside the donation jar. The park newspaper was pretty adamant about NOT purchasing these items, but I'm sure most ignore it.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

The Rio Grande

This is a picture of the Rio Grande at Big Bend National Park so you really can see that it is simply a small wade across the river to get into Mexico (or into the United States). The Chisos Mountains make the backdrop in this photo. We were certainly surprised to see how small the river is at this point and we observed that it was even smaller as we headed further west in Texas, at least in a few spots. The Mexicans tend their souvenir kiosks on horseback (future post) and border patrol isn't really evident in the park at all. We did get stopped leaving the park, but we were about 100 miles out of the area before we were asked to answer a few questions. We did notice a couple of blimps up in the sky in southern TX and southern NM which we figure must have been border control units. As well, we drove over a nearly deserted road in southern NM and saw 3x more border patrol cars than ordinary users.
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Friday, 4 February 2011

CA Condors

A thrilling moment for us occurred last Saturday when we visited the Lees Ferry area of AZ. The campground host had told us that we should look for the huge California Condors before we left and to look under the bridge at Navajo Bridge. Before leaving the area, we did just that and discovered 3 birds sitting on a rock ledge. They were birds 70, 73 and a juvenile which couldn't be identified but was tagged. The 3 birds were simply enjoying the sun and we'd have been thrilled to see them fly over the Colorado, but they weren't having any of that. I didn't have the heart to throw something at them. It was still a thrill to see this rare bird. The scene at right is the view of the Colorado from the "old" Navajo Bridge which is now a walkway.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Best of America #4: Roads

I'm always amazed at how much better the US roads are than those we have in Canada. We just spent 1.5 days travelling the I-15 which really ought to be a toll highway so that the Canadians who use it at least pay for some of it! There's construction near Salt Lake City which is a bit of a nightmare - they do ask everyone to slow down to 65 mph through it - but the rest of the road is in great shape. The traffic almost disappears after the junction with the I-84 north of Salt Lake and stays that way until the junction with the I-90 at Butte. Snow and ice did cover one lane of the I-90 on Tuesday so we opted for state highway 200 to get us to Sandpoint. Other than some ice in the shady spots, it was in really good shape. I do think that permitting 70 mph on a two-lane highway with no shoulder is excessive, however. MT was cold with brilliant blue skies as we came north. I'm finding that I can even sleep in the rest areas now on the interstates - had one of my best sleeps "south" just off the I-10 near Las Cruces, NM. All that traffic simply becomes more white noise to lull one to sleep.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

America's Best #3: Breakfast

I love to go out for breakfast, especially in the U.S. It's not something that I treat myself to very often, but I did go on Tuesday in Missoula, MT. I chose the Perkins chain because I'd had a pretty good experience in previous years. For the first time ever (likely because it's been my first opportunity), I ordered off the 55 plus menu. I was delighted to be delivered a small omlette with real spinach and real mushrooms that were very lightly and freshly cooked. I also received two smallish pancakes with it and a selection of 3 delicious syrups. It was served on a small plate and was a perfect amount for my appetite. I love the large coffee cups and the fact that a coffee carafe arrives at the table - and it can fill that coffee cup 4 times! My companion for breakfast was Des Kennedy's The Passionate Gardener which I am thoroughly enjoying. The staff were all friendly and polite and my only small complaint would be the lowering of the blinds to keep out that beautiful MT sunshine! Cost of this experience: $7.50 plus tip. Yankee doodle!