Thursday, June 30, 2011

Berlin-Icthyosaur State Park, Part III

The hills surrounding Berlin Icthyosaur State Park are ripe for exploration if you like old towns and mine sites. We'd read about Ione in ghost town guide books and decided to start there.

We learned by talking to park rangers that the town is pretty much a company town, owned by the Marshall family, and the buildings are mostly all posted "private-no trespassing."  Though most stand in pretty good shape, they aren't necessarily "lovingly cared for".

Ione was at one time the county seat, but later lost that privilege to the town of Belmont. Ione was a silver mining town, and by 1864 she boasted a population of over 600, but the classic boom to bust story is told again - by 1868 the population had diminished to less than 1800. The later discovery of mercury breathed new life into the town, but it was a last, short gasp.

Now, there are ruins and abandoned buildings to photograph, if you can work around all the "no trespassing" signs. has a great description of Ione, but it's not up to date. There are no services at all available now. The gas pumps in front of the saloon are gone, the mercantile is closed, and the sweet little park where children might play is overgrown with fox tails. There are no public restrooms either, so be prepared! The last of the businesses closed in 2006 according to the rangers, who used to frequent the dining establishment there. Now, there's only one family left, and the school bus from Gabbs comes all the way out to pick up their two children.

There's a fork in the road, to the south, on the way out of town, which leads to the cemetery. We explored the graves, noting the wide range of dates, and then had lunch on the tailgate. A good place to admire the valley and think about what life there was like when all the mines and little towns were humming with activity. 

Plotting our return to camp we saw Grantsville on the map and decided to check it out. What a find! Like Ione, there are a lot of old buildings, both wood and stone, still standing (in varying degrees of decrepitude) but there are no "keep out" or "no trespassing" signs.
We could see evidence of many stone foundations for the typical miner's tent-house, wooden buildings, brick buildings, and best of all a gushing spring so the availability of water apparently wasn't any problem at all. Though the town had a sort life span, it must have been nice while it lasted. Now, wildlife must really appreciate this nice little pool. There's more  information on the town's history at

Returning back to the campground we spied what looked like a couple of wooden buildings tucked up in the trees. Following the road up past several rusted out automobiles we discovered an abandoned homestead. We learned later the place is known as Ames Camp (this is about halfway between Berlin and Grantsville.) It must have been quite a place when it was occupied.  It looks to have been abandoned for at least 40 or 50 years as the vintage of the youngest old rusty vehicle on the property is circa 1949.  

The basement room of the main house cut in to the rock, is cool in hot weather. It has kitchen cabinets and a small oil stove, so could have been a summer kitchen or a separate living quarters. Upstairs is a kitchen and two other rooms.  There are several outbuildings, possibly a garage/workshop, chicken coop, and machine shop, at least that's our interpretation based on what's been left behind. We found the suggestion of two wells, so the place was probably pretty comfortable for the residents. Now the buildings provide homes for a multitude of packrats and other natives, none of which came out to visit which was fine with us!

We had great fun in all three locations, admiring the workmanship of buildings that have withstood the elements for so many years, guessing at what the purpose of certain tools, machines or buildings might have been, and imagining what life must have been like when these towns were bustling with activity.

It was a long day bouncing over dirt roads however, so we were happy to see camp again, and the modern comforts of our little RV home!

There are a few more photos here.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Berlin-Icthyosaur State Park, Part II

Berlin-Icthyosaur State Park is unique because it combines two outstanding features - the old mining town of Berlin (see the last post) and the world's largest concentration of fossilized icthyosaurs (literally "fish lizard).
Note the long snout and large eyes of the Icthyosaur

Where as dolphins are fish-like mammals, and also come in various sizes and types, these were "fish-like" reptiles of which there were several different species. They needed air to breath, and came in several different sizes. Paleontologists have found them all around the world, but the specimens here are of the larger species (Shonisaurus popularis) and more complete than those found at many of the other sites.

It seems that during what is known as the Triassic there was something that killed a lot of little fish, or at least made them sick (something like the red algae we get now) and the several icthyosaurs ate the sick and dying fish, which killed the icthyosaurs, causing them to fall in an overlapping heap at the bottom of the ocean.

For some reason they were fairly quickly covered with sediment, thus preserving them in pretty much the same arrangement they were in when they died. These overlapping bones are tricky to interpret first, but once you see the arrangement of tails and fins it makes sense. The display in the shelter surrounds several overlapping animals, and important bones are marked so the presentation makes it easy to understand the mechanics of what happened.

The thin bones at top left are a ribcage, round on lower right are vertebrae.
Ocean? in Nevada?

Keep in mind, this event occurred about 200 million years ago, give or take a few months, so the environment has changed a bit since then.

At the time these critters were swimming around this area was ocean, it was farther south, probably in the tropics, and was situated along the western coast of what is now North America. This is all according to paleogeographers who study this sort of thing and interpret the changes in the rocks over time. An excellent resource for learning about the geology and paleohistory of this part of Nevada is Geology Underfoot in Central Nevada. The book has great chapters on both aspects of the park, including maps and photos.
On the left the largest and on the right the smallest vertebrae found here.
The fossils were discovered in the 1930's, and Dr. Camp and is team spent about ten years studying them. Once the paleontologists were finished with their work the site was covered with a protective enclosure that is locked when there is no ranger present. The park offers tours twice a day (and a small fee is charged). The "tour" is helpful as just looking through the enclosure windows at the excavation isn't very informative. The ranger conducting the tour explains the various parts and pieces of the find, how they interpreted the events that brought about the deaths of these giant creatures, and answers any questions visitors might have. There also informative displays inside the enclosure.

Dr. Camp's illustration of an Icthyosaur skeleton.
As with any state park, you cannot pick up and keep any rocks or fossils that you find within the park boundary. However, if you are interested in collecting the rangers will be happy to direct you up Union canyon where just past the clearly marked park boundary you are free to explore and collect fossils and mineral samples.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Berlin-Icthyosaur State Park, Part I

Surrounded by the sweet desert perfume of giant sage and pinon pine, we settled in to our campsite in the late afternoon and enjoyed the sunset. It's very quiet up here in the hills, far away from any city lights. The sky is intensely blue, and the stars especially bright. We planned for several days to relax and explore. There is some limited cell access, so we can do a bit of email, but not much else.

Berlin-Icthyosaur State Park (henceforth known as the BISP) is high up in the Nevada mountains, at about 7,000 fee, so days are a bit cooler than down on the flat lands. The campground spaces are generous, and far apart, so it's almost like not having any neighbors at all! (more about the campground in Part IV)

The town of Berlin, huddled against the mountains right at tree line, was for a brief time a very productive part of the Union Mining District. Silver was discovered around 1895.

Within three years the town was formed and by 1905 there were about 250 residents - stores, saloons, a post office, assay office and a school house - all the services a civilized city could offer were here. The story of most mining towns was repeated here however.

In only a few years the mines were depleted, the mill was closed and much of the metal was sold for scrap during WWII. Fortunately the mining company paid for a watchman so many of the buildings were saved from the ravages of vandals.
In the 1970's the site was acquired as a park and has been protected in a "state of arrested decay" since then.

They've done a marvelous job of maintaining the atmosphere of a town just recently deserted. Informative placards describe most of the buildings and sites in the town, so a self-guided tour is easy. Some of the buildings are residences for the park staff, adding to the feeling that is still an occupied town.

The Berlin mine has washed out many times so though the entrance is visible it's not possible to go inside it. We were lucky enough to be around on one of the few days the rangers give tours of the nearby Diana mine however, and so quickly signed up as the spaces are limited.
Our guide did a marvelous job of providing detailed history of the mine, the town, and the tools and processes used at the time.  We even used the same check-in and check-out medallion system the miners used as we traded our sunhats for hardhats, picked up a flashlight and headed into the inky cool darkness. Some of the gold bearing quartz vein they were following is still visible, but again, the value of the ore was not adequate to make a profit over the cost, so after only a few years it was closed. Timing is everything. If the work had been attempted only a few years later, after the invention of more productive and safer mining methods the story might have been very different.

A gravel road to the south of town leads up Union Canyon to the day-use area and the Union town site.  Union itself was for a short time a successful mining town,  but the Union Mines Co. closed in 1918, so there's not much left but a few foundations and the old adobe, but it's still an interesting area to visit.

Also in the same location is the cabin of  Dr. Camp, the paleontologist who worked for many years to uncover the fossils here.  His cabin is attached to a small railway box car, making a little presentation area for discussions of the fossils that are featured here.

 There are picnic facilities here, as well as a trail that leads up and over the hill to the shelter that covers the large fossil excavation. It's a two mile hike, and fairly steep.

 We have a lot more photos of the Berlin and the Diana mines here.

Monday, June 20, 2011

north to central Nevada

Prince's Plume
We left Boulder City fairly early this morning, heading through Las Vegas then north on hwy. 95 through Goldfield. As we climbed in elevation the flat desert began to green up a bit and soon we were in the midst of a Joshua tree forest. Things look healthy here. Nevada apparently hasn't suffered the killing freeze and severe drought like Arizona. Though the desert here receives only about  6 inches of rainfall a year, the plants are well adapted. There are even a few wildflowers blooming! Prince's Plume isn't one of the most common here, but we found this clump growing beside the road.

I've always been fascinated by Joshua trees. They take on such fascinating shapes and are just gorgeous when covered with their big white blossoms. This is the thickest I've seen them grow in all our recent travels. They're pretty picky about climate and elevations and things must be just perfect in this area.

All along the route we saw convoys of contract and agency fire fighters - some heading north for a well deserved rest after 2 or 3 weeks on the fires in Arizona and New Mexico, others heading south, probably to the fire in southern Arizona (Sierra Vista).

We passed through Goldfield, which hasn't changed much since my folks explored in the mine dumps for old bottles 50 years ago. In the early 1900's Goldfield was the largest town in the state, but now it's considered a ghost town. It still has a lot of permanent residents, so perhaps "living ghost town" would be more accurate.

A little further north we stopped for lunch, groceries and fuel in the little old mining town Tonapah.

The town is looking fairly prosperous considering their population is only around 3300. It's the only place to buy essentials for many miles in either direction, so they have a bit of a captive audience.

Both Goldfield and Tonapah are good places to visit if you want a bit of the flavor of the old mining towns without having to venture off the highway. There are several buildings that are pretty much "original" and illustrate the creativity of residents trying to make life comfortable when they had very little to work with. This house in Tonapah is sided with flattened metal cans. They make pretty good shingles!

For some people this part of Nevada "just desert" but for us it's not only colorful landscapes, but it's just oozing history. At every turn there's another historic mine (silver, gold, copper, and others), an historic railroad,or another abandoned brothel. Just south of Mina we passed the "Wildkat Ranch" - a classy assembly of tall Roman columns enclosing a small squat plaster building, and surrounded by several mobile homes (entertainment rooms). Closed for lack of traffic one would suppose, as the brothels are still legal here.
Mine tailings and headframes near Goldfield

In the realm of civilization and services, we're just a little bit north of  nowhere, but we've had spotty cell service all the way. 30 miles from the park we still have full 1x service. Amazing! So what do people do for work out her "in the middle of nowhere"? Well, mining is big. In fact. we just passed a large magnesium mine, and it turns out they are hiring........ need a job?

Our final destination today is the Berlin-Ichthyosar State Park, where we'll spend a few days exploring.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Burro Creek Campground, AZ

Steve discovered this little oasis by just browsing one of his favorite websites that indexes government campgrounds. We like the BLM areas as they are usually uncrowded and offer great scenery. Burrow Creek is definately up to our standards.
Our site, from the picnic shelter
Burrow Creek Campground is just south of Wikieup, just off of hwy. 93. The gravel road leading  down to the campground is lined with lime green paloverde trees and creosote bushes. Many of the cholla, barrel and saguaro cactus that dot the hillsides are still in bloom. When we entered the campground we dropped down to just a little under 2,000 feet in elevation, so it was warm (it got up to 103) but cooled down nicely during the night. The sites here are spacious and amazingly level, and the restrooms and tables with shades are very nice. We suspect in milder weather it’s often pretty busy, but on this visit we were one of only three occupied sites.

Riverbank view
Our site overlooked the river – what a delightful sight in this weather! The water of course attracts a variety of birds and we had quite a game going trying to identify all the odd bird and bug noises we were hearing. In spite of the heat and water we didn’t have much in the way of annoying bug - no flies to speak of, and mosquitoes didn’t come out until well after dark.

Burrow Creek is quite old, geologically speaking. It has cut deeply through sedimentary and volcanic material, which makes for a colorful hillside. The craggy volcanic rock provides nice niches for bird nests, and the softer sedimentary is full of small holes – homes for the bats we saw sailing around at sunset. There’s a trail on both ends of the camp with access through the stock fence so you can get down to the river. You may meet a few cattle along the way, but they’re friendly.

Typical of BLM campgrounds there are no services at the sites so it was a good opportunity to test the new solar system. I'm happy to report the solar system passed with flying colors, keeping our portable frig, several fans, and the TV all running at once during peak sun hours. Steve happily spent the afternoon turning things on and tracking the usage and recovery capabilities. It’s always nice when a project turns out the way it was planned!

We have only a short drive planned for Saturday. We’ll be staying in Boulder City for a couple of days to catch up on mundane activities like laundry and grocery shopping. See last year's post for info on the Elks Club where we'll be staying. More photos from the area here.

Classic Arizona sunset

Friday, June 17, 2011

Silver City and Pinos Altos, New Mexico

'Still camped out in City of the Rocks, we took the morning off on Wednesday so we could sit around and just enjoy the scenery and the cool morning air. This is turning out to be one of our favorite places. The more we explore the park and admire the care and planning that has gone into it, the more we appreciate it.

After lunch we took off for a quick tour of Silver City, about 30 miles northwest of us. It's a nice size town, a good place to pick up a few groceries and a couple of sewing items. We stopped at Aunt Judy's Attic quilt shop first. She didn't have what I needed, but graciously drew a map showing me how to get to the other quilt shop in the old part of town. The Western Stationers/Thunder Creek Quilt Shop had exactly what I needed, and lot of other great craft and gift wares too. The shop is at the end of the historic downtown part of town, on Bullard Street. The street is lined with well cared for historic buildings, most occupied by galleries, gift shops and restaurants. .  . a great place to spend some time exploring.

Next stop, Pinos Altos, an old time gold and copper mining town, a bit higher up in the mountains. Though they do welcome tourists, the town is not at all gussied up with artificial or trendy decor. The old buildings are original and the town really is an authentic experience. We hear the infamous Judge Roy Bean had an establishment here for awhile, as a merchant and purveyor of liquor (what a surprise!) We'll have to track that location down on the next visit.

We stopped at the Buckhorn Saloon hoping for a cold one. I mean, what Texan can resist stopping in a saloon with a name like that! It wasn't open, and no hours were posted, so we wandered over to the ice cream parlor/gift store and browsed around a bit. A nice little lady who was sipping a tall  root beer told us the saloon would be open in half an hour, so we thought we'd wait.

There was another gift shop and museum across the street that looked like fun and a good use of a half hour. We did a bit of shopping (good prices!) had a great time visiting with the proprietor. His family has owned the building, which was originally a school house, since 1860. They never lived in it but did have it rented out. It's now filled with a nice selection of Native American jewelry, blankets, pottery, mineral samples, and other treasures. And the little museum at the back is great fun to explore. Under a bit of dust are some unique items from the old days of mining, a retired wagon or two, and wonderful collections of arrowheads and pottery that have undoubtedly been in the family for many years.

Our shopping spree complete, we saw the saloon had opened up so went in. The little lady from the ice cream parlor was already deeply engaged with her friends in a game of cribbage at one end of the bar. She was sipping from a glass of something clear, and I'm quite sure it wasn't gin, as she had just proclaimed that she hated gin as it was the cause of the fall of the British Empire!?

That pronouncement elicited  murmurs from the other cribbage players (no telling whether of agreement or confusion) and then the subject changed to the barkeep and his young  son, who was enjoying a cold soda at one of the tables. "Oh, he has a job now!" said one of the cribbage players. "Are you charging him rent yet?"

What parent could resist joining in on a conversation like that?

'Seems Dad isn't charging him rent but is thinking about charging for all the hot water he uses! The barkeep and his son had been living in Mexico until just recently, the father teaching English classes. We didn't quite get to how they ended up in Pinos Altos, but heard great stories about his time in Mexico.

The Opera House
When our drinks were finished we asked if we might see the interior of the Opera House, which is attached to the saloon, and he graciously opened up and turned on the lights for us, not only in the theater but in the main dining areas of the saloon.

What a gorgeous establishment!
The owner has done a magnificent job of bring back the Victorian style of decor and yet maintaining a comfortable, somewhat rustic feel.
The dining rooms are filled with photos of the town in its heyday, important people, the mines, and other interesting historic scenes. Each of the opera boxes, high up in the theater, has a collection of photos of the small mining towns (mostly ghost towns now) surrounding Pinos Altos.

We've heard the dinners in the saloon are excellent, but unfortunately we didn't time things right this time to find out for ourselves. The Opera House has a regular schedule of performances, so a return visit is definitely in the plans!
Interior of the theater

Additional pics of the day are here.

Check out the Boondocking post on Pino Altos for the details of their experiences there. They were lucky in their timing and met the owner of the Opera House.

Thursday: we're scheduled for a long drive. We'll be spending the night at the Escapees park in Casa Grande, then moving on. No time for fun for a couple of days I'm afraid!
UPDATE - arrived at RoVers Roost at 2:30 - it's 110 degrees. It's so hot we had to put the awning up to shade the refrigerator side of the rig, and it's so windy that when the awning gets hit with a gust the whole ship shakes. It's no wonder that most of the permanent residents of the park have departed for cooler climes!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Road Tripin' Music

We've logged about 1,295 as of lunchtime today.... lots of miles and lots of big rigs. We just heard this on the radio and couldn't resist sharing it!  Check this out on YouTube:  There's a Diesel on My Tail

Drop us a comment and tell us what you think of the song!

Just in case you didn't catch all those lyrics. . . .

Del Reeves - Diesel On My Tail lyrics

I just pulled onto the highway in my little foreign car
Well it's rainin' and the road is really bad
Never saw that big ole diesel but I heard him hit the air
I got a feeling that I might have made him mad

There's a diesel on my tail a making ninety miles an hour
And my reflection in my mirror is mighty pale
I can hear St Peter calling I can almost smell the flowers
Can this compact take the impact there's a diesel on my tail

Well he closed the gap between us pushed the pedal on the floor
He's makin' ninety in that big ole diesel truck
Hear the names he's callin' me above the engine's roar
And the words won't be found in Webster's book

There's a diesel on my tail...

Well I'm huffin' and a puffin' as I try to make the grade
And I wish I had some pedals on this car
Then I'm slippin' and a slidin' and afraid to touch the brake
For this doodle bug could never stand the jar

There's a diesel on my tail...

Well I'm slippin' and a slidin' tryin' to hold it in the road
And I tell you I just got to win this race
While I'm tremblin' and a shakin' he's a pourin' on the coal
So close that I can steal his licence plate

There's a diesel on my tail...

Gila Cliff Dwellings

One of the big attractions of this area is the Gila Cliff Dwellings, and we've allowed a whole day for the trip.
We took hwy. 35 north through the tiny town of Mimbres toward the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. It's about a two hour drive on a gently winding narrow road through a steep  valley.

A stream supports cottonwoods, orchards and pastures so it's greener than anywhere we've been lately. Climbing higher, following the "Trail of Mountain Spirits" the junipers and yucca give way to several varieties of pine. There are numerous cattle and horse ranches along the way, and deer wandering on the road.

About 30 minutes into the drive we crossed the Great Divide, elevation 6,569 at this point. We had clear skies when we left, but as soon  as we crossed the divide the skies filled up with smoke that we could smell even with the truck windows up and the air conditioning on. 

There's nice chance for a rest stop along the way: Ruins Viewpoint has restroons and an accessible trail leading to a view of Lake Roberts as well as an archeological wite with the remains of Mogollon pit dwellings that have been excavated. A placard gives an explanation of the history of the area.

A note of caution for this route - bring plenty of food and water as there is none to speak of along the way. Every little "cafe" we passed was closed, and the two little establishments that try to pass themselves off as stores have litte in the way of wares to sell other than ice and beer.

The Gila (pronounced Heela) Cliff Dwellings National Monument has a small but very informative visitors center. Their displays and video do a nice job of setting the context for the cliff dwellings themselves. A short drive into the canyon, and then a .6 mile walk (gaining about 175 feet in elevation) takes you into the actual cliff dwellings.

Few places allow tourists to actually walk into the structures, as this one does. You can take a self guided tour with a brochure, take a guided tour with a ranger, or latch on to a volunteer like we did. Scott has been volunteering at the park for 10 years. In fact, he became so fascinated with the history of the dwellings that he went back to school and got a degree in anthropology. He's very knowledgeable about the history of the dwellings, and we learned a lot from him.

These dwellings were only occupied by a few families for one or two generations. The residents probably left because  the climate had become drier, making it harder to raise food, and there was competition for food from other groups moving into the area. They know a lot about the residents as they left behind pottery, small amounts of stored food and personal items. Wikipedia has a nice, brief description of the site.

In one sense we've time our trip just right, as the park was closed for three weeks in late May and early June due to the fires. We saw evidence of the fire all the way up the trail, and marveled that so little real damage had been done.

Scott explained that the had run a hose all the way up the canyon with sprinklers on all of the little bridges where the trail crisscrosses the creek. The sprinklers created large areas that slowed the spread of the fire and made it easier to control As it is large areas were burned but no structures were lost and they were able to open the park back up as soon as the fire was out.

On the way out of the park we made one more brief stop to examine a panel of pictographs. Many of the dark red painted designs are badly faded but others are remarkably clear.

Fire had burned the area all around the base of the panel, and destroyed one post on the placard explaining the site. The sign is enamel on metal, so wasn't damaged at all.

Inspired  by that cookbook we bought yesterday, we had a  crockpot pork roast waiting for us when we get home. Shredded and wrapped in a warm tortilla with salsa it 'made a fitting finish to a delightful day!

To see more photos, visit the album.  View as a slide show or individually. You can click on any of the above photos for a larger version.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

City of Rocks State Park, NM

We arrived in the City of Rocks State Park early in the afternoon on Monday. Approaching the park the formations look strangely like Stonehenge, only we're not in Britain, we're in New Mexico!

We'll be staying here for the next three days as we take in a bit of the surrounding area and recoup. After all, it was almost a 50 mile drive to get here!

This is a unique area geologically speaking. Formed of compressed volcanic ash that has metamorphosed into stone, then eroded over thousands of years, the formations resemble those in the Alabama Hills in California. Those formations are largely composed of granite however, so aren't counted among the six places in the world that have a feature like this.

We opted again for one of the few sites with power so we could safely leave Molly in the rig when we are out for the day. The electrical sites here are really nicely laid out. They're long, wide, nicely landscaped, and each has a small permanent shade over the picnic table which is sitting on a concrete pad (we could really have used that kind of setup in the Oregon rain!)

This mural includes 20 species who live in the area. 
It was in the high 90's when we first  arrived, so we took advantage of the cool interior of the visitor's center, admiring the murals and chatting with the host. Turns out we had met him last year at Rock Hound State Park. When we commented on the smoke in the air the host said this was really very moderate smoke, as a few days before there was a fire closer by and they had all been packed and ready to evacuate if necessary. 'Glad we missed that episode!

A quick drive around the perimeter of the campground gave us a better sense of the layout.
They have done a beautiful job of tucking campsites up in the rocks, providing privacy and a bit of shelter from both sun and wind for each of them. Each site has a picnic table situated on a perfectly level gravel pad, terraced with local stone.We noted this type of construction in other parks in the area. It's a really nice way to organize the sites without getting in the way of parking your RV, and helps slow down erosion.

The soil here seems to support a much wider variety of plant life than we saw in the Alabama Hills, and judging from all the last-year's yucca blossom stalks it must be breathtaking at the peak of spring bloom.
There is a Botanic Garden featured in the campground. It's well laid out, and does have a nice variety of species, but as a gardener, I must say it could use some loving attention. Overall the park does have a nice variety of vegetation and many of the yucca are in full bloom. There are a few stray wildflowers here and there, and many types of cactus have fruit that are starting to ripen.

There is also a really unique aspect to this park. It has an observatory.  The Simon Observatory is located in the group camp area, surrounded by picnic tables in alcoves formed by the rocks. there are also several placards describing various astronomical features. The solar system and space theme has been carried out in several ways around the park. There's a "campground scale" replica of the solar system, which starts out with a little garden with placards just behind the visitor center (oriented as if it were the sun) and then extends into the campground, and each of the sites has a name taken from the celestial systems. We're staying in Zena, for example (it's the 10th planet, now known as Eris.) Each site has a name taken from astronomy.
As evening approached the smoke in the air became even more obvious. As much as we've complained about the smoke, it does make for a colorful evening sky, a nice backdrop for all the yucca flowers and interesting rock formations. We're up over 5,000 feet, so the evening cools off quickly.We very much enjoyed sitting outside and watching the changing shadows as the jackrabbits and cottontails grazed around us.

We'll explore further tomorrow, as well as visiting the Gila Cliff Dwellings.  For a few more shots of the area visit the album.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Olive Lee Memorial State Park, NM

Sunday - We're making a quick overnight stop at Oliver Lee Memorial State Park, just south of Alamogordo. The park is billed as an oasis, where water flows year round and ferns flourish. But not this year. We can tell by the flower stalks and other vegetation that this area must be really luxurious in normal years, especially in the spring, but with the current drought conditions this year the plant life is struggling. Also unavoidable now - the vista that would typically be crystal clear is today clouded with smoke, blown in from one or more of the fires around the state. It does make for an interesting sunset photo though, so we make use of whatever advantage we can. That rosy glow makes a nice contrast to the lacy mesquite leaves. They're one of the few plants that have survived seemingly unscathed. But as we Texans know, you really can't kill a mesquite, no matter how hard you try!

This area was hit really  hard by the extreme winter, and now the drought is taking its toll. The main trail, up Dog Canyon, is closed as it leads into the Lincoln National Forest, which is closed. The campsites here are snuggled up against the foothills - interestingly eroded, they are tall enough to block the sun until later in the day than one might expect. Because of the slope almost every site has a fantastic views of the Tularosa Valley, and at night the lights in the houses scattered throughout the valley twinkle like stars. The sites are spacious, and graveled paths wander among the yucca and mesquite.

The visitors' center is small, and gives a brief overview of the area and the wildlife. The main feature of the park is the restored ranch house of Oliver Lee, a rather noteworthy figure in New Mexico's history. You can read about his encounter (as a murder suspect) with Sheriff Pat Garrett here and  here in a True West Magazine story. They don't make a lot out of this particular bit of history in the park, but to us the story of Lee's involvement with Pat Garrett and a never-solved murder mystery was what made the ranch really interesting to us. Take time to read about the case - it's a fascinating piece of western history!

We were the only people who showed up for the three o'clock tour of the Lee Oliver Ranch (the 100 degrees outside may have had something to do with it) But Wendy, the park manager, gamely saddled up and gave us a private tour. It was nice to be able to talk about the history of the ranch, recent as well as past, in a little more detail than usually happens in a crowd.

The wall was constructed for the movie.
The Ranch was used, with many alterations, as a set for the filming of  Scandalous John, a movie produced by Disney in 1971. There is a display in the ranch house featuring several photos from the filming of the movie. That event was particularly useful in restoring the building as it helped the researchers in identifying what was new and what was original in the structure.

As we were preparing to leave the park I glanced at a cholla cactus beside the road and noted what has to be a classic example of wildlife triumphing over human interference. (In other words, they can completely ignore us!) Note the nest in the cactus.... this was right at the edge of the road...... with three eggs in it!

Monday 8:30 AM - up and out early - for us! and heading for the White Sands visitor center. The visitors' center is in a 1920's adobe building - beautiful, and cool! Their gift shop is stocked with a nice array of Native American arts, and the information center has a great selection of books for adults as well as a wide variety of books and activities for children.
We picked up a great slow-cooker cookbook: Southwest Slow Cooking by Tammy Biber and Theresa Howel  - can't wait to try out some of the recipes! The displays in place are currently "place holders" as they are in the process of installing new state-of-the art displays. We'll have to catch those the next time we're passing  through.

Check the album for a few more photos.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Three Rivers Petroglyphs site

We arrived at Three Rivers Petroglyphs site in the early afternoon on Friday. We had a bit of a jolt when we saw a sign saying "Three Rivers Petroglyphs campground closed" then realized it was referring to  the Three Rivers Recreation Area, not the petroglyph site.We have a new host and hostess this year. Nice folks, and after a brief visit we set up camp in the same spot we had last year. Steve checked his calendar and we were here on exactly the same date! Actually there aren't a lot of decisions to make about "which space" as there are only two with services. In this kind of weather having the electricity to run the air conditioner is nice, and the fee is only $10 a night. Hard to beat!

Everything looks pretty much the same except for the effects of the extremely cold weather ( 18 below!) and the drought.  Compare a creosote bush from last year, and the same one this year. The shots were taken from a slightly different angle but believe me it is the same bush!


We've spent many years wandering the desert and we've never seen creosote shrubs look this dry. It isn't hard to imagine what would happen with one little spark landing on vegetation this dry.

Knowing we were headed for temperatures in the high nineties we got an early start on Saturday morning. They open the gate to the trail at 8 AM, so we were there shortly thereafter. No dogs are allowed on the trail, so Molly had a nice, air conditioned nap while we hiked in the sun. What's that about a dog's life? We pretty much had the trail to ourselves, not surprising this time of year, though we have seen several cars come and go in the parking lot. It seems few venture far on the trail before they decide to head back for shade and water.

We pretty well explored the hills closest to the campground last year (read  last year's blog entry for more on the campground and pics of the petroglyphs), so this year we are focusing on those farther out, past the shaded rest area.

This is truly a treasure house for petroglyph enthusiasts. The trails are easy to follow in most cases, though you have to be a bit of a mountain goat to get to some of the best glyphs. The area near the beginning of the trail has a few numbers posted and there's a little guide book that explains a little about each figure. Farther out, where we went today, you're on your own. Of course, it's all open to individual interpretation anyway. Von Daniken would probably say they were left by space visitors, Levan Martineau  would explain the meaning of each panel as if he were reading a newspaper, James Keyser would toss in the concept of recording dreams and tribal history, then of course there's always the theory proposed by one of our neighboring campers, "it's just graffiti."   Whatever your view, it's clear from the various stages of patina development on older glyphs that this area was used for many generations so the area held some specific importance for a lot of people over time. It's about four miles, round trip, from the beginning of the trail to the farthest peak. And aside from the petroglyphs, you have a great view of the surrounding countryside.

We did our best to cover the largest area today, leaving two other outcrops to visit in the future. Here's the album of some of the best of what we saw today (click on the photo).

Friday, June 10, 2011

Brantley Lake State Park, New Mexico

Steve had us routed for about 360 miles yesterday, and we were clicking along  just fine until we had to stop for a grass fire along the highway, just west of Pecos. We sat for about an hour, in 100+ degrees, watching the smoke turn from black to white (a good sign) and ten back to black as the winds whipped the flames and spread it from one area to another. Finally it was out and traffic was moving again. But the scene had apparently been repeated many times before along that same stretch of road. All along the highway from the Texas border to Carlsbad the still smouldering chard remains of countless brush fires gave testament to the extreme fire danger this year.

 Just outside of Carlsbad we noticed live flames in the median and pulled over to use the OnStar to call it in. As Steve was making the call I looked behind us and the fire had jumped the road and was burning quickly toward the railroad tracks.

A few miles later we reached our destination, Brantley Lake State Park. Steve had read about it on Wheeling It, a new blog he discovered. We rather like the way they write, and descriptions they provide of the places they've visited, so we've added them to our links list on the right under Travel Blogs.

The thermometer was hovering right around 104 when we got settled in to our space, so we set up as much shade for the rig as we could, started the fans and the air conditioner, and hoped for the best.

 I went down to the pay station to pay the rent and looked around at the facilities on the way. A large tree directly across from us was definitely showing stress from the heat and drought. . .  a prime target for burning I'm afraid. The cactus and shrubs all looked dehydrated too. I took a few shots of the campground on the way back.

The campground is nicely laid out with large spaces and shaded tables, and I especially like the way they've made wind breaks with small stone walls in each space.

I had just taken a shot of the lake and turned around to take one of our space I noticed a dark plume of smoke just north of us, across the lake. Steve called 911 again, and got the same operator he spoke to earlier in the day! She recognized his voice, too. Again, we sat and watched the black smoke turn white, then black again as it got away from the fire fighters. It took about an hour before they finally got it knocked down. Let's hope that's the last we see of flames, but I'm not counting on it.

Brantley Lake is an interesting area, and though we aren't staying this time we will definately be back. The lake, a reservoir really, covers the old town of Seven Rivers, once home to the famous ranchers Charles Goodnight, Oliver Loving and  John Chisum. There are undoubtedly great historic areas to visit here.... next time!

Early morning at Brantley Lake - Here in the Chihuahuan Desert the nights are cool, even when the days are hot. After yesterday's 104, this mornings refreshing 59 degrees was a welcome change. 

We broke camp this morning just before 9 o'clock so we could hit the visitor's center as soon as it opened, then headed northwest toward Three Rivers. On the way we passed through Artesia - this little town is definitely on list to visit  next time. The downtown area boasts several beautiful bronze statues commemorating the cattle ranching history of the area, and a great variety of little shops - including a quilt shop!

Our route takes us through the cool heights (8,000+) of the Lincoln National Forest. Thought the pine trees at the higher elevations are still green, the forest is closed due to high fire danger. We passed through Mayhill, within the forest area, where three homes and over 2,000 acres were lost to a wildfire in May. At the rate things are going we'll remember this as "the summer of the fires."