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Sunday, September 27, 2015

Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge

Hi Blog! Today is Sunday, September 27, 2015. It is our last full day in the Las Vegas, New Mexico area. After our long drive yesterday to Taos, we decided we need to spend a little more time outside. We are only six miles from the Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge. Because it is a wildlife refuge, they only have one short hike. But, they have an 8-mile loop road that we can ride our bikes on to get out and about.

We started by parking at the Visitor Center. Unfortunately, they were not open on Sundays. No sooner did we begin our ride than this little fellow started following us. I guess he doesn't get to see very many bike riders.  Actually, we figured this hawk thought we would stir up some prey for him, and he didn't want to miss the action.

The first stop on the loop was the Fred Quintana Overlook. This friendly local was kind enough to point out the information plaques which surrounded a wildlife viewing platform.

We used the telescope provided to get a close up look at Crane Lake. The surface was completely covered in ducks and Canada geese. We looked carefully, but we were not able to spot any of the Sandhill Cranes that often fly by here in the fall.

The wildlife refuge is located between the plains and the mountains. The two ecosystems transition here. From our point of view, it looks like the plains go on forever.

At the far end of the wildlife refuge sits McAllister Lake. According to the Fish and Game website, this lake is open for boating and fishing. However, as we biked around, it looks like the lake has not been used for recreation for over 20 years. All the gates are locked and the restrooms are in disrepair. It seems pretty obvious that there is not enough water in the lake for boating.

At the halfway point, the paved road gave way to gravel.

Just past McAllister Lake, we left our bikes at the trailhead and began to walk the Gallinas Nature Trail.

In about a half mile, we could see that the prairie we were walking across was leading us to a canyon. On the far side, we could see the remains of a stone building.

As we approached the rim, the world below us opened up.

This little guy was sunning himself.

The prairie grass gave way to a very rocky surface. The trail was lined with rocks creating a walkway to another old stone house on our side of the canyon. According to the trail guide, these stone homes were built around 1920.

The pine roof beams have since weathered away, but the window sill is still in place. We decided to have our picnic lunch in the shade of a nearby tree, trying to imagine what life in this little stone house would be like.

We realized along our walk, that the trail guide was written from a different trailhead. If we continued to follow the trail further down into the canyon, we would have a much longer walk. We decided to use this point as our turnaround point because the rock formations were so interesting:

It was a quick ride back to the Visitor Center. Tomorrow, we move to Albuequerque to get ready for the Balloon Festival!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The High Road to Taos

The 56-mile High Road to Taos is a scenic, winding road through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains between Santa Fe and Taos. It winds through high desert, mountains, forests, small farms, and tiny Spanish Land Grant villages and Pueblo Indian villages. Scattered along the way are the galleries and studios of traditional artisans and artists drawn by the natural beauty. It has been recognized by the state of New Mexico as an official Scenic Byway.  Today we decided to drive from Las Vegas, New Mexico to Taos, and we followed scenic back roads until we met the High Road south of Sipapu.

The weather was splendid and the aspen were turning yellow (later than further north in Colorado where we were a week ago).  We followed the beautiful Mora River for much of the way, through the Santa Fe National Forest.  The scenery was beautiful.  Our first stop was the Taos Visitor Center, where a wise woman suggested we first stop at the Hacienda de los Martinez.  We might not have stopped there without her suggestion, because we hadn't found the hacienda in our tourist references.

The Hacienda de los Martinez is one of the few northern New Mexico style, late Spanish Colonial period, "Great Houses" remaining in the American Southwest.  Built in 1804 by Severino Martin (later changed to Martinez), this fortress-like building with massive adobe walls became an important trade center for the northern boundary of the Spanish Empire.  The Hacienda was the final, northern terminus for the Camino Real which connected northern New Mexico to Mexico City.  The Hacienda also was the headquarters for an extensive ranching and farming operation.

Today the hacienda was the site for an annual "Trade Fair," comprising local artisans, craftspeople and artists, showing their wares, musicians playing local music, and historians giving talks about the history of the hacienda and the area.  When we arrived, we were greeted by some re-enactors displaying traditional goods that would have been traded at the hacienda in the 1800's:

Kathy took the opportunity to make friends with a little burro who was standing placidly under a tree next to our path:

The entrance to the hacienda greeted us warmly, admitting us to the front-most of its two placitas (or "little plazas"):

When we arrived, an historian was explaining the hacienda's history.  As we listened, our eyes wandered to details of this beautiful architecture:  an arched passageway --

-- and this beckoning corner of the placita:

The hacienda was both home to the Martinez family and a fortified trading post for barter among Mexicans, Indians, trappers and Anglos.  The parlo, or sala, was simply decorated in its day, with a typical corner fireplace for heat during the colder months:

Throughout the hacienda contemporary artisans were displaying their wares.  This room full of local quilts was entrancing:

Most of the hacienda's original front structure still stands, needing only renovation:

The rear of the hacienda gave upon views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, across the floor of the Taos Valley:

We ate a lunch of local New Mexican fare, and then headed on our way, looking for the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.  Also known as the "Gorge Bridge" and the "High Bridge", it is a steel deck arch bridge across the Rio Grande Gorge 10 miles northwest of Taos. At 565 feet above the Rio Grande River, it is the seventh highest bridge in the United States:

It spans an awesome gorge that presents imposing views both south --

-- and north:

As we walked out across the bridge, some kind tourists pointed out to us the mountain sheep relaxing in the shade of the bridge on the side of the gorge cliffs below:

Having satisfied our curiosity about the bridge and gorge, we returned to historic Old Town Taos. Our first stop was the home of Kit Carson, which is now a museum about his life: 

The adobe house is estimated to have been built originally around 1825, and was purchased by Kit Carson in 1843 as a gift for his wife.  The family continued to live in the home until 1867, shortly before their deaths in 1868.  They had moved to Colorado in 1867 so his wife could be treated by doctors there.  The two are buried in the local cemetery, which has been taken over by the State of New Mexico and designated as Kit Carson Memorial State Park.  Clearly, Kit Carson ranks second only to the Martinez family as central to the history of the town.

Having absorbed all this history, we wandered around the central part of the town, which is fairly typical as an upscale tourist destination.  When we weren't sure where we were going, we checked with a local, who always knew the way:

Many of the older, historic buildings have become restaurants, or inns, or galleries, if not museums.  Here is the front yard of one beautiful galleria on a small side street:

Walking back to our truck, we stumbled on yet another historic structure, which now houses the Taos Society of Artists:

Taos was, for decades, an artists' haven.  During the 1960's and 1970's, it became somewhat notorious among locals as a place where hippies went to live.  Since then, obviously, all that history conspired to make it an irresistible tourist attraction.  While the streets are congested with tourist traffic and the shops are too predictable in what they offer to tourists, nevertheless, we were fascinated by the architecture and history, and there is no doubt some beautiful art is made by local artists.  We returned to our campground in Las Vegas late today, satisfied that we had gotten a good introduction to Taos and the beautiful mountain valley in which it sits.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Poking About Las Vegas, New Mexico

Las Vegas, New Mexico has a great tourist and public relations outfit.  When we arrived, we opened up the Visitor Guide, read through it, and exclaimed, "Gee, there's a lot here!  How are we going to see it all?"  For example, Las Vegas boasts more historic structures than any other place in New Mexico - over NINE HUNDRED (that's 900!) buildings in the city are listed on the National Register of Historic Places - most constructed in the mid-late 1800's.  We can vouch that this is true, because we saw them when we drove into town.  However, only a few of the buildings have been preserved or rehabilitated to return them to their historic look.  So the town resembles more a Main Street from the 1950's (which is the last time anyone redecorated) than a mid-19th-Century Southwestern town.

That being said, we thought, "Hey, we'll still enjoy learning about the history.  We stopped at the Las Vegas Museum & Rough Rider Collection (the latter a large collection of memorabilia contributed by families of the original Teddy Roosevelt Rough Riders, who held their first reunion here in Las Vegas a year after their famous ride up San Juan Hill).  Trouble is, the museum and collection are permanently closed.  And there are no other significant museums in town.  Hmmm...things are not going as planned.

Never fear.  We arrived in the Historic Old Town and were greeted by the Homecoming Parade for the local New Mexico Highlands University:

The parade was just wrapping up as we walked into the Historic Plaza.  Chattery parade-goers were traipsing back across the plaza to their cars to head home.  What's not to like about a Homecoming Parade when, despite it being Friday, the schools let all the kids out early so they can attend the parade?

The Old Plaza does boast some original and interesting sculptures, including this statue of an Indian warrior, titled, "Cry to the Ages" --

-- and this quirky fellow, "El Campesino" --

-- as well as this traditional New Mexican wooden "santo" sculpture of the Virgin Mary:

Ambling across the Plaza, we caught sight of an antique car that had been part of the procession:

One building in Historic Old Town Las Vegas has a true claim to be in its historic condition -- the old Plaza Hotel.  It was built in 1882:

You may be interested to know that the recent film, "No Country for Old Men," with Tommy Lee Jones and Javier Bardem, was filmed almost entirely in Las Vegas, New Mexico, and there are many locations in the city that appear in the film, such as the Plaza Hotel.

Another building that has a similar odd claim to celluloid fame is the E. Romero Hose & Fire Company building, constructed of brick in 1909:

While it is an old building and quite interesting architecturally, it's greatest fame arises because it was an extra in the film, "Easy Rider," which tells the story of two bikers (played by Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper) who travel through the American Southwest and South.  Part of their travels are on Route 66, which leads through Las Vegas, New Mexico.  In Las Vegas in the movie, they parade without a permit, are arrested and thrown into jail.  The ostensible jail was next to this firehouse:

Another historic building in Las Vegas is the Hotel Castaneda, built in 1898 by Fred Harvey for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad and thus one of the "Harvey Hotels." The hotel is the oldest Mission Revival Style building in the state of New Mexico. Though the hotel was been closed since 1948, it was purchased for rehabilitation in 2014 and renovations continue, and all sorts of cultural and historic events are held at the site.  It even has its own Facebook page.

A much more modern and vibrant part of the city is the New Mexico Highlands University, whose campus occupies much of the downtown area between the Historic Old Town and I-25.  Many of the buildings are new, all are of interesting architecture, and clearly the university has spent a great deal of money recently on the campus.  Here is a shot of one of the older buildings, the Auditorium, built in 1916, which is still in excellent shape.

The Auditorium, as well as the Plaza Hotel and some other historic Las Vegas buildings, are said to be the homes of ghosts.  Check out these ghost stories.

All in all, our walking tour of the town of Las Vegas had decidedly mixed results.  But Kathy apparently did a great job of researching Mexican restaurants, because we chose to have lunch at the Original Johnny's Kitchen Mexican Restaurant, and we ate some of the best New Mexican food we've tasted anywhere, complete with those famous New Mexican green chiles!

Estancia hambrienta, mi amigo!

Pecos National Historic Site

Hi Blog! Today is Friday, September 25, 2015. It is our first full day near Las Vegas, New Mexico. Just down the road from us is Pecos Valley, a major crossroads of different cultures.

Situated between the towering Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the flat-topped Glorieta Mesa lies the Glorieta Pass, through which a continuously unfolding story of human culture has traveled to and from the Pecos Valley for thousands of years. This gateway between the plains and the southern Rocky Mountains has seen the Pueblo and Plains Indians, Spanish conquerors and missionaries, Mexican and Anglo armies, Confederate and Union troops, Santa Fe Trail settlers and adventurers, tourists on the railroads, Route 66 and now Interstate 25. To learn more about the area, we stopped at the Pecos National Historical Park.

Oscar-winning actress Greer Garson and her husband Col. E.E. Fogelson owned a large range in Pecos Valley. There was evidence that a once great pueblo city existing in the valley. They donated 300 acres in 1965 for the creation of Pecos National Monument, money in 1983 for construction of the Visitor Center, and land for the designation of Pecos National Historical Park. They loved the area and wanted to make sure this historic site was preserved.

We started our tour of the Visitor Center with a short film on the life of the Pueblo Indians that lived in the valley from about 800 to 1838. Archeologist Alfred Vincent Kidder began to excavate the site in 1915. By digging through a large trash mound, Kidder was able to determine that the site was continually occupied for almost 1,000 years. By piecing together bits of broken pottery buried in the layers, he could approximate the date of construction. By comparing the pottery to other known basketmaker and pueblo pottery, he could determine how far and wide the Pecos Pueblo traded with other Plains and Pueblo Indians. It is hard to imagine that these pots were made in the 1100's.

The only standing structure left in the Pecos Pueblo was the second church built by Spanish Missionaries in the 1700's. However, once archaeologists began studying the area of the Pecos Pueblo, they were able to determine the layout of the walled city. Here, artists have created a model of what they believe the structures to look like based on other pueblo communities.

With trail guide in hand, we began our journey from the Visitor Center to the Pecos Pueblo. Just below the hill on which the Pueblo stood was a large open field. Archaeologists believe this field was used as guest quarters and a market square for visiting bands of Plains and Pueblo Indians. Once atop the mesa, we could see the outline of the excavated rooms. From Spanish reports in 1584, it is believed that over 2,000 people lived in the walled city.

In addition to the multi-story dwellings, the Pecos Pueblo has a number of ceremonial kivas. The kivas were circular rooms dug into the ground with ventilator shafts, a deflector, firepit and sipapu or small hole in the floor symbolizing the place of humans' emergence and point of access to the spirits dwelling below. Here, Dave is about to go below and commune with the spirit world.

Inside the kiva, the original fireplace stands ready. Behind the stairs is the ventilation shaft. We were very careful not to step in the hole in the floor that is the entrance to the netherworld!

Much of the north side of the pueblo is still buried where it fell into disuse. This large mound was once part of a five story structure housing hundreds of people. Now it is just home to a couple of ground squirrels.

The church built by the Spanish missionaries in the 1700's looms large on the mesa. As we got closer, we learned this was the second church built on the site. The rock walls you see in the foreground are the outline of the much larger first church built earlier in the 1600's.

A corner of the first church still holds some of its original stucco. The church was destroyed in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. The Indians in various pueblos united to drive the Spaniards back to Mexico. They killed the priest and destroyed the church.

Freedom for the Pecos Pueblo only lasted 12 years before the Spanish came back. Unlike other pueblos in the area, the Pecos Pueblo welcomed back the Spanish and joined in the Spanish fight to retake Santa Fe. A smaller church was built and Spanish rule was re-established. But by 1780, disease, Comanche raids and migration had reduced the population of Pecos to fewer than 300. Pecos was almost a ghost town when the Santa Fe Trail trade began flowing past it in 1821. Here Dave is standing on top of the wagon ruts in the Sata Fe Trail.

The last survivors left a decaying pueblo and empty mission church in 1838. They joined their Towa-speaking relatives 80 miles west at Jemez Pueblo, where their descendants still live today. Much of their once great city has returned to its natural state.  Today, blossoming chollo bushes make us think of the once-fertile lands that surrounded this sacred place.