Index of days:
October 10, 1992: Albuquerque, Socorro
October 11, 1992: VLA, White Sands National Monument
October 12, 1992: International Space Hall of Fame, Roswell Museum and Art Center, Carlsbad Caverns
October 13, 1992: Carlsbad Caverns, El Paso
October 14, 1992: Fort Bowie, Chiricahua National Monument
October 15, 1992: Tombstone, Bisbee, Queen Copper Mine
October 16, 1992: Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Saguaro National Monument
October 17, 1992: Casa Grande National Monument, Phoenix, Heard Museum
October 18, 1992: Champlin Fighter Museum, Arizona Museum of Science and Technology, Pueblo Grande
October 19, 1992: Prescott Bead Museum, Flagstaff, Grand Canyon
October 20, 1992: Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona, Tuzigoot, Montezuma Castle & Well
October 21, 1992: Little Colorado River Gorge, Grand Canyon, Wupatki
October 22, 1992: Navajo National Monument, Monument Valley
October 23, 1992: Lowell Observatory, Sunset Crater, Wupatki National Monument, Walnut Canyon National Monument
October 24, 1992: Winslow Meteor Crater, Petrified Forest, Hubbell Trading Post
October 25, 1992: Zuni Pueblo, El Morro, Mal Pais Lava Beds
October 26, 1992: Acoma Pueblo, Petroglyph National Monument, Taos
October 27, 1992: Enchanted Circle, Cimarron, Rio Grande Gorge, Kit Carson Museum
October 28, 1992: Bandelier National Monument, Los Alamos
October 29, 1992: Santa Fe, Turquoise Trail
October 30, 1992: New Mexico Museum of Natural History, Albuquerque
October 31, 1992: Albuquerque Museum, National Atomic Museum
November 1, 1992: return
October 10, 1992: Well, less than one month back from the Caribbean and we're off to the Southwest--New Mexico, Arizona, and a smidgin of Texas, to be precise. Our plan is to fly to Albuquerque (on our free TWA tickets), rent a car, and see everything, or as much of everything as we can in three weeks. Luckily the car rental includes unlimited mileage.
Our sources for this trip included the Arizona and New Mexico volumes of the "Discover America" series, HIDDEN SOUTHWEST by Ulysses Press, the American Southwest volume of the "Insight" series, the AAA guide for Arizona and New Mexico, Jay Robert Nash's BLOODLETTERS AND BAD MEN, a couple of 1980s guidebooks our library was selling off at a quarter each, and everything about the area from Usenet's rec.travel over the past several months. During the trip we also got NEW MEXICO: A NEW GUIDE TO THE COLORFUL STATE by Lance Chilton et al, THE ROADSIDE HISTORY OF NEW MEXICO by Francis L. Fugate, and THE ROADSIDE HISTORY OF ARIZONA by Marshall Trimble, as well as a few books about Tombstone and other specific historical locations. I've also been reading Zane Grey and Tony Hillerman, and Jack Williamson's reminiscences about growing up in New Mexico.
We arrived in Albuqueruqe about 2:30 PM and picked up our car. I seem incapable of getting the right car on the first try at Hertz. In Puerto Rico, the first car was low on brake fluid; here they had a sign up saying, "If you're traveling to El Paso, ask for special information." The information turned out to be that they didn't want to rent us a Ford (as they had just done) because Fords get stolen there. So we ended up with a Mazda instead, and a cassette player that the Ford lacked. That was welcome--we had brought cassettes to play.
We headed south on I-25 for Socorro. By the time we had gone twenty miles we had decided we wanted to retire here. It is beautiful! There are miles and miles of miles and miles, covered with shrubs and flowers, and in the distance, mountains and rock formations.
Seventy miles south of Albuquerque (on a 65 mile-per-hour road) is Socorro, the home of the Very Large Array (VLA) of radio telescopes. Well, that is how Socorro is described, but the VLA is really sixty miles west. What Socorro really is is a strip of motels, gas stations, and fast food restaurants hiding historic Socorro--a dozen blocks of buildings dating back to the last century. For a Saturday afternoon, though, this place was really quiet--no people and hardly any cars. It wasn't a ghost town, but it was getting close.
We stopped in the Dana Bookstore in the Valverde Hotel and talked to the owner about books, science fiction, and where to eat. She also collects books and likes science fiction--a bit unusual for a woman in her sixties (or more). We were buying A VERY LARGE ARRAY, an anthology of science fiction by New Mexico writers. We also got the Chilton guidebook here. It's the size of a phone book. The store was remarkably well-stocked for a town of 9000.
For dinner we ate at El Sombrero, the bookstore owner's recommendation after Don Juan's (which is closed on Saturday and Sunday). Very good and very cheap--a combo plate was $4.10 and chicken fajitas were $4.95. We both ate very well for under $13 including tip. And we even sat next to a genuine Indian. He was from Gujrat.
Mileage today: 86 miles.
October 11, 1992: Partly because of jet lag and partly because of our schedule, we were up early. After breakfast at 6:30 AM (huevos rancheros for Mark and biscuits and gravy for me), we drove to the VLA at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. This was 48 miles west on US 60, then another 4 miles south on US 52 and NM 166. These were good roads and there was no traffic this early on a Sunday morning, so we made very good time. The road took us through Magdalena, which used to be a major cattle center.
When we got to the VLA, it was so cold I put on my winter coat over my heavy flannel shirt and T-shirt, and put on some gloves. The fact that we were at 7000 feet may have had something to do with it. It was also only 8 AM. We had read that the Visitors Center opened at 8: 30 AM, but they actually open at 8 AM.
Although coming in we had seen several deer, the rest of the visit was strictly technical. The Visitors Center had a twenty-five-minute slide show about the work done at the VLA, and a five-minute video about the results sent back from Voyager 2. There were also several exhibits describing how radio astronomy works (and mentioning that it was invented/discovered at Bell Labs).
By the time we went outside for the self-guided walking tour, it had warmed up enough for me to take my gloves off. We got to see at least one of the receivers up close (there are twenty-seven and one spare, weighing 230 tons each and movable along a thirteen-mile track at five miles per hour). They are very trusting here. Not only could we go right up to the base of the receiver, where all that stopped us from climbing onto it was a sign asking us not to and a short stretch of fence we could have walked around (it went off to the left and then just stopped there), but the store consisted of a couple of racks of postcards and booklets with the prices posted and a slot to drop the money in. I guess most visitors are honest enough that it doesn't pay to staff the Visitors Center.
Luckily for you, I will not explain how radio astronomy works. One note that did occur to me while watching the Neptune video was that the diagram of the solar system we sent out with Voyager 2 was inaccurate; it showed only Saturn as having rings and now we know that Neptune does also. Oh, well, I suppose it's not worth sending out a recall notice.
They also had a section explaining how all the heavier elements-- heavier than hydrogen and helium, that is--were formed inside stars. So we are truly "star-stuff," as someone said.
It was very quiet at the VLA. I imagine people were working the same as any other day--telescope time is still valuable enough that there are no days off for a telescope--but that was all inside the buildings. Outside there were no people (except for one man who was turning on the tree sprinklers), no cars, and only a few birds who didn't have too much to say.
We retraced our route back to Socorro and I-25. On the way back we saw more cars, but it still was not what one would call a congested road. Along the way we grooved on the scenery and listened to commentators on the radio doing the equivalent of a pre-game show for the first of the Presidential debates.
From Socorro we went south 9 miles on I-25, then east 66 miles on US 54 to Carrizozo. South of Socorro we listened to a tourism broadcast about the Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge. This was one of those things where a sign along the road says, "Tune your radio to 610 AM for tourism information." We encountered others as we traveled, giving us a sort of guided tour on the cheap, with Ricardo Montalban as our guide.
We crossed the Rio Grande (not the "Rio Grande River," no matter what my sixth-grade teacher said!). I bet you thought that ran between the United States and Mexico, and it does (or at least along part of the border), but it has to come from somewhere, and this is where it comes from. It looks about the same here as at the border--a muddy, rather small river which wouldn't be known at all were it not for the fact that it forms a major border.
Further along US 54 we passed through the Mal Pais Lava Beds. Since "Mal Pais" means "Bad Country," it's not surprising that the landscape looks very rough here. Hills and long rolls of dried lava cover the ground to the horizon, and the plant life changes from the saltbrush and soaptree yucca of before to weirder-looking plants such as the walking-stick cholla (also known as cane cholla) and cow tongue prickly pear. I suppose this is as good a time as any to describe some of these. Yucca is the entire family of succulents (a.k.a. cactus) that has those long, pointy, sharp leaves. Soaptree yucca, the state flower of New Mexico, grows taller than some of the other varieties, for example the Mohave yucca (which is distinguished by having "threads" along the edges of its leaves). Saltbrush is grayish-green and looks like shrubbery someone has dusted with ashes. Cow-tongue prickly pear has large oval/elliptical leaves (which look like cow tongues) that are chained rather than growing from one stem, and a purple fruit. (I'm sure you've seen pictures of it.) Cane cholla is the hardest to describe. It's made up of tubular stems (with spines) forming a sort of fractal pattern. (Now at least the mathematicians among my readers have some idea what it looks like.)
We crossed the lava beds (whose northern end we will be seeing later on this trip) and turned south on US 54 to Carrizozo. 27 miles down the road we turned off and drove 5 miles down a side road to the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site. (Everything is very well marked here, with signs saying that such-and-such is coming up in a mile and then a sign for the turn itself.)
We spent an hour at the Petroglyph Site and could have spent a lot more, because the rocks with carvings on them (dating back about a thousand years) are scattered over an enormous plain. There were people hiking a couple of miles away from the entrance. I'm not sure how much more we would have gotten from the extra time, as I found many of the carvings hard to spot. We went out about a half mile and then returned, taking a slightly different path. This worked out nicely, as the final stretch on the west side of the first ridge (I think) had the clearest and most petroglyphs of any section. One theory is that all these were carved by sentries to pass the time. It is a good look-out spot, commanding a view of a huge area, but some of the figures seem too accurately placed astronomically to be just random. For example, at the winter solstice, one has precisely half of it illuminated.
What would have helped us appreciate the petroglyphs more would have been a guide, or even a pamphlet, but this is a relatively new national monument, so they are not as advanced as other locations. (Mark noted that the sanitary facilities were as primitive as the petroglyphs.)
We spent a few minutes talking to a couple from Texas. (New Mexico seems to have a lot of Texas tourists now. I wonder if they wait for the rest of the tourists to leave first.) Then we rejoined US 54 south for 17 miles to Tularosa, then took US 70 south 10 miles to Alamogordo, where we got a room at the Motel 6 there--a budget chain more common in the West than in the East, at least for now.
After checking in, we went another sixteen miles south on US 70 to White Sands National Monument. (If you want to translate miles to time, one mile to one minute is about right. It's very easy to average sixty miles per hour here, and not hard to find yourself doing almost eighty at times.) We arrived about 3 PM and bought our Golden Eagle Passport. (A Golden Eagle Passport costs $25 and covers all entrance fees for your carload/family for the National Parks, Monuments, etc., for a calendar year. Since on this trip we're going to at least a dozen, this makes sense. By the way, National Parks are designated by Congress, National Monuments by the President. There is no inherent difference between the two.)
White Sands National Monument (not to be confused with White Sands Missile Range) is about 150,000 acres of gypsum sand beds and dunes. As you enter you see the "tail end" of the dunes, which are moving north at a rate of about thirty feet a year. (The Visitors Center explains all this.) Here there is a fair amount of vegetation. As you drive deeper into the dunes, the vegetation thins out, with only the hardiest plants remaining--plants that can put down roots fast, and grow fast and high to stay above the rising dunes. The road in is eight miles each way, but about four miles in changes from pavement to packed gypsum. This is necessary because of the ever-shifting dunes--they can move the road easily enough.
In the center all you can see are the whole dunes and the mountains in the far distance--a truly alien landscape. Mark claims it looks like snow, but the air temperature belies that. In spite of the heat, though, the sands themselves are very cool--the white reflects all the heat back. Maybe that's why the air is so hot. Walking barefoot on them is surprisingly refreshing, and the sands provide a better footing than one might expect. Climbing the dunes is remarkably easy.
Many of the books recommend coming to the dunes at sunset, because the sun is less harsh then. This means an easier time looking at the dunes and plant life (no sunglasses!) and also a better chance of taking good pictures. So about 4 PM we decided to leave, eat dinner, and return about 6 PM (sunset was at 6:35 PM).
On the way to dinner we stopped for gas. While we were filling up two groups of youths got into an altercation which resulted in one of them smashing the rear window of the other ones' truck with a tire iron and several other tire irons being thrown about (all fifty feet from us, I should add). So much for low crime rates. The ones in the undamaged truck raced off and the others were going to follow, but the police arrived before they had a chance.
Dinner was at Western Sizzlin, a Sizzler clone. 'Nuff said.
We returned to White Sands National Monument about 6 PM. It was much better. Besides the light being softer, the temperature was cooler and the place was much quieter. During the day there were a lot of cars and people and children playing and yelling--and sound really carries here. At sunset, you have hardly any people and they've come either to take pictures or to enjoy the sunset in solitude and quiet. We watched the sun set in almost absolute silence, and then the full moon rise over the mountains. We stayed a while longer, held by the beauty of the place, but eventually had to leave (the Monument closes one hour after sunset).
We returned to the motel, watched an instant replay of the first Presidential debate (which ran 5 PM to 6:30 PM Mountain Daylight Time), and wrote in our logs a bit. I fell asleep around 8 PM; Mark lasted a bit longer.
Mileage today: 348 miles.
October 12, 1992: Still on Eastern Time, we were up early again. At 7 AM, we checked out and made reservations at the Motel 6 in Carlsbad. We also asked what time the bat flight was at Carlsbad and were told 5 PM. I had figured it to be much closer to sunset, and we were not at all sure we could do everything we had planned and still make it there on time, but we decided to play it by ear and not rush through the earlier stuff. (Stay tuned for more details!)
We had breakfast at Denny's. To the tourist, Alamogordo seems to be one long strip of motels, fast food places, and restaurants along the highway. When we had driven down 1st Street, at right angles to the highway, looking for a barbecue place mentioned in one of our guidebooks (and couldn't find it, I might add), we drove only about six blocks before we ran out of town and were in emptiness again.
Although the International Space Hall of Fame didn't open until 9 AM, we got there at 8 AM. It's about two miles off the main road and the last stretch of road to it, all of about two blocks' worth, is designated New Mexico state route 2001. Cute.
The Omnimax theater at the museum was showing "Ring of Fire" (about volcanos on the Pacific Rim). As we had seen this is Las Vegas we decided to skip it and save some time. While waiting for the building to open we walked around the "rocket garden" outside. All space museums seem to have them: five or ten or more (depending on the size of the museum) rockets, capsules, and other over-sized paraphernalia too large to fit in the building. (I should point out that most space museums are in the south, where the climate is kinder to outside exhibits.) This one had a mock-up of a Mercury capsule that you could actually sit in, although without all the equipment inside to give you the authentic cramped feeling the astronauts had. There was also the remains of part of a V-2 engine--the V-2 program was continued at White Sands Missile Range after the war. (The docent inside later said that there was some sort of V-2 anniversary program planned, and we did see a special case or two of exhibits on it, but they're keeping it somewhat low-key. Considering all the protests over Germany's plans to have a big 50th anniversary celebration, this is probably wise.)
The unique exhibit in the rocket garden was Sonic Wind No. 1, a rocket sled on which Dr. John Stapp achieved a speed of 632 miles per hour and became "the fastest man on earth" (and may still be--most speed records these days are set in planes or spacecraft).
When the museum opened at 9 AM, we were the first ones in. We paid our $2.50 each (oh, for the museum prices from the Dominican Republic!) and took the elevator up to the fourth floor, since the story starts up there and progresses as you walk down the ramps. For some reason they had several photographs of Scott Crossfield, but none of Chuck Yeager. The two were in constant competition to be "the fastest man alive," but Yeager was usually ahead and was also the first person to break the sound barrier. (See THE RIGHT STUFF for more details.)
There were several displays about Ham (Holloman Aero Med), the first "chimpanaut" (their term--I prefer astrochimp). Ham was born in 1957 in Cameroun; flew on January 31, 1961; and lived until 1983. He is buried under a plaque in a little garden at the entrance of the museum. The docent had a lot of stories to tell about Ham and Enoch (the second astrochimp), including that the really awful papier mache model of Ham in one of the cases was done by the curator's wife, which was why it was there.
There was also a small section on New Mexico's astronauts (Harrison Schmidt and others) and other exhibits stressing New Mexico's role in space exploration and development. Is it purely accidental that their Mars mockup looks like New Mexico?
One criticism I would have is that the models are to all different scales, so the lunar module is the same size as the lunar rover next to it and Mir is made to seem much smaller than it is relative to the planned United States space station because Mir is shown 1:20 scale while the United States space station is shown 1:15.
We finished the museum about 10:20 AM and drove east 70 miles on US 70, then west 10 miles on US 380. The last was tricky, as the turnoff sign for the Lincoln Historic Site seemed to point down a dirt road that turned out to be someone's driveway. We eventually found the correct road and got to Lincoln about 12:15 PM.
Lincoln was not where Billy the Kid was born (that was New York). Lincoln was not where Billy the Kid died (that was Fort Sumner). But Lincoln is the town most associated with Billy the Kid, including his daring jailbreak from the Lincoln County Courthouse. I will not recount the entire story of Billy the Kid and the Lincoln County War, since I'm sure Mark will do so.
There are four museum buildings in Lincoln. This being Monday and Columbus Day, all but the Courthouse were closed, so the admission was only $2 each (normally there's a combination ticket). In addition to the Courthouse Museum, there were a lot of historic markers along the main street describing the buildings and the events associated with them. (New Mexico in general is very good about historic markers and gives drivers advance warning of them and a place to pull over and read them. But then, they have the space to do it. Fred Saberhagen points out that they once exploded an atomic bomb in New Mexico--and hardly anyone noticed.)
The Courthouse, in addition to the usual displays of Western history, also had a Masonic Hall with displays and explanations of the Masons. It seemed oddly out of sync with the rest of the exhibits, sort of like an exhibit on the Boy Scouts would be in Thoreau's house on Walden Pond.
We finished in Lincoln about 1:30 PM. Returning to the main road (US 70 and US 380) we traveled another 60 miles east to Roswell. The landscape changed from the heavy forests we had been passing through (in fact, part of it was the Lincoln National Forest) to a more barren scene. There were still plants, to be sure, but they were mostly desert plants and grasses that were the same color as the dirt. (Oh, the earlier forested area was also a part of the Apache Mescalero Reservation. Do I count reservations as separate areas of the country that I've visited, or are they part of the state they're in? It's an ambiguous situation.)
One bit of color we did pass was an enormous pile of red chiles and broken boxes. Apparently the load slid off the truck carrying them as it rounded a curve.
We arrived in Roswell about 2:30 PM and found the Roswell Museum and Art Center with no trouble, as the streets all had good street signs and were all very regular. (This may not sound like much, but our recent trip to Puerto Rico gave us a new appreciation for rectilinear, well-labeled, two-way streets.) Remember how I said the Lincoln County Courthouse was about Billy the Kid and the Masons? Well, the Roswell Museum is about Southwestern artists and Robert Godard's rocket experiments.
The books had mentioned that Georgia O'Keeffe and Peter Hurd were "among the artists represented here," which led me to expect more than one O'Keeffe they had ("Ram's Skull and Brown Leaves"). I like her work, which has both an almost photographic quality while at the same time a basic simplicity, and had hoped for more. There were about a half dozen Hurds, and there were a lot of paintings, prints, etc., by other, lesser-known artists.
The art section also contained Indian pottery and kachinas. This is to some extent a political statement. The museum, as I stated, was a sort of multi-purpose museum, so it had an art section, a science section, and a Western history section. The latter contained clothing, weapons, and other objects representing the history of the area, and had Spanish, Indian, and Anglo objects displayed. But the pottery and the kachinas were not in this section, but in with the art. In many areas this is a major battle now, as Indians say their art should be displayed in art museums rather than natural history museums. They point out (with some justification, I might add) that if art museums are going to display "decorative arts" such as plates, snuff boxes, and other everyday items of , then they should display Indian (Native American) art as well instead of putting it in a museum of zoology and geology and calling it ethnology.
The art section also had several recent works. Some, like "Oddy Nocky" by William Goodman (a surreal mural) didn't seem to show a lot of Southwestern influence; others such as "Pow Wow" by Willard Midgette or "The Last Emperor" by Tim Pythero (a multimedia work of a mobile home surrounded by an accumulation of objects) did reflect the area.
The Godard section was primarily a reconstruction of the laboratory that he had in Roswell. It included a 1936 wall calendar--sort of. The pages were from 1936, but the backing was not. First of all, the backing said, "Save this calendar--you can use it again in 1986." 1936 and 1986 were not the same. 1936 started on a Wednesday and was a leap year; 1986 started in a Wednesday, but was not a leap year. We suspect the backing was from 1958 (or later). (It also had a phone number for the store it was advertising--not really likely here in the 1930s.) There was also some Harrison Schmidt memorabilia and the ubiquitous moon rock. Does every museum have a moon rock? I did notice that the rock here was considerably smaller than the one in the Space Hall of Fame, though, so there does seem to be a hierarchy. (The one in the museum in the Dominican Republic was one of the smaller ones.)
The museum was smaller than we expected (though since it was free we could hardly complain, and for a small town like Roswell it was actually fairly impressive), so we were finished by 3:30 PM. Since it was somewhere around a hundred miles to Carlsbad, we decided we actually had a chance of making the bat flight. So we drove like (you'll pardon the expression) a bat out of hell down US 285 to Carlsbad. Naturally, since we were in a hurry, this was the stretch that had road construction, slow trucks, etc. And traffic--Carlsbad also slowed us down.
Carlsbad Caverns is not in Carlsbad, but about 24 miles past it (since we were coming from the north). 17 miles past Carlsbad is White's City, a cluster of shops, restaurants, and a motel "at the entrance of the park." True, but not at the entrance of the caverns--that is another 7 miles within the park boundaries. So we raced over this stretch, having the consolation that we could pause to enjoy the beautiful scenery on it tomorrow, and got to the cavern entrance about 5:30 PM. Luckily the path was well-marked and the bats were late. Apparently they've been coming out at somewhat erratic times lately. We listened to the remainder of the ranger's talk on bats until about 5:40 PM, when the bats started and she stopped.
So what are all these bats I keep talking about? They are several hundred thousand Mexican free-tail bats that live in Carlsbad Caverns (in a part where the tours don't go). In fact, they are how the caverns were discovered (or rather, rediscovered, since Indian drawings have been found on the walls)--people saw what looked like plumes of smoke at sunset in the summer. On closer investigation, they proved to be the bats, leaving the cave to search for food (insects) at night and return before dawn. For some reason they all leave at once, and so we watched as the hundreds of thousands of bats poured out of the cave for twenty minutes. And this was noticeably less than earlier in the season, according to the ranger--many of the bats had already left for their winter home in Mexico. Even so, it was a marvelous sight and if you're going to Carlsbad, try to get them early enough the day before to see this. (In the summer it's easier because it's later, because sunset is later. Call the Park; they can tell you when the ranger's talk starts.)
Oh, in case you didn't catch it in the previous paragraph, bats are our friends--they eat insects. This was a large part of the ranger's talk.
We returned to Carlsbad after sunset and moonrise, checked into the Motel 6, and asked where we could get good barbecue. At the Dairy Queen. The Dairy Queen? Yes, it appears that the owner of this Dairy Queen like barbecue, so expanded his branch to include it. It wasn't the best barbecue we'd ever had, but it was not bad. BBQ at the DQ--what's next?
Mileage today: 284 miles.
October 13, 1992: We had breakfast at Jerry's, which I assume is a chain like Denny's and got an early start for the caverns. The caverns don't open until 8:30 AM, but there were several points of interest with descriptive plaques along the road in, and we wanted to stop at them before it got too hot, so we decided to do them on the way in (plus we had the time). One was a short trail leading to an Indian shelter under a rock ledge, another had a view of Walnut Canyon, and so on. They also gave us a chance to take some pictures of the beautiful cliffs without stopping on the road, which would not be very safe. (Many of the roads we traveled you could stop, back up, take pictures, etc., without worrying about traffic. This was not one of them.)
We got to the Visitors Center a little after 8:30 AM, bought our tickets, and rented our radio receivers. Although this is a national park, the caverns themselves are not covered by the Golden Eagle Passport--for some reason the $5 per person is a usage fee rather than an entrance fee. The radio receivers rent for fifty cents each and serve as your own personal tour guide. As you walk at your own pace, signs along the path tell you when to listen and the voice tells you about what you are seeing. There are also plaques along the way (so the hearing-impaired don't miss all the information).
Oh, yes, that brings up one more note: Carlsbad Caverns is wheelchairaccessible, at least for most of the Red Tour. There are two paths you can take. The Blue Tour enters through the natural entrance (where the bats fly out) and descends down 830 feet over a mile and a half of path (all incline rather than stairs, but at times a bit steep) and then climbs eighty feet of incline to a rest area. The Red Tour takes an elevator to the rest area. Then both tours travel on a mostly level path around the Big Room, with its fourteen acres of formations. There is one small section which is too steep for wheelchairs, but the rest is accessible. (These should probably be called the Red Path and the Blue Path--you don't have a guide, you're not in a group, and you can move at your own pace.)
But I'm getting ahead of myself. We walked to the natural entrance for the Blue Tour and started down about 9 AM. The first part was a switchback trail past the swallows' nests and as far as the entrance to the bat cave (yes, it's called the bat cave). Then the trail (all the trails are paved, by the way) veered to the right and descended through the "twilight zone," the last area where natural light can enter. Then we descended--always descended--through such areas as the Devil's Den, and past speleothems: rock formations with such fanciful names as the Devil's Spring or the Whale's Mouth. This is probably not for the claustrophobic, although the "rooms" are vast (I believe the highest floor-to-ceiling measurement is 250 feet, and other than a few very short tunnels, the height above the trail was at least twenty or thirty feet and there was a lot of open area on one or both sides).
In addition to the well-known stalactites and stalagmites (and we all know which are which, right?), there were also veils and draperies, thin enough to be translucent, and enough fantastic shapes to keep you entranced the whole time.
The last part of the Blue Tour is through the "Scenic Rooms": the King's Chamber, the Queen's Chamber, the Papoose Room, and the Green Lake Room. These are where parts of the 1959 JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH were filmed (primarily in the King's Chamber and Papoose Room, with part also in the Boneyard, an area where the rocks look like a jumble of bones-- or at least did to whoever named it). They still allow filming here, but JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH was the last movie they allowed to be filmed "off-trail," as it did too much damage (according to the ranger). I doubt the damage was intentional, but I suspect that they discovered that no matter how careful they were, the delicate formations and floor surface were not up to it. Anyway, if you can't get to the caverns, the movie will give you a glimpse. There are no giant mushrooms or underground ocean.
We got to the rest area about 10:30 AM. Here there is a souvenir stand (small), a stand selling film and such, and a lunch room selling beverages and box lunches--your choice is fried chicken or a ham and cheese sandwich. Vegetarians should pack their own, but seal it up, because they don't want food odors drifting through the cave attracting bats, so except for the lunchroom area, even gum-chewing is prohibited. We decided to rest our feet--and our senses--and have a soda. You get full value for your money here--there is no ice at all in the cup. I guess bringing ice or an ice machine down would be more work than they want and with the temperature at a constant 56 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celsius), no one misses the ice much. Bring a sweater for the first part, but the walking will probably warm you up to where you'll be carrying it rather than wearing it by the end.
After our rest, we walked around the Big Room where some of the best known formations are: the Hall of Giants, Fairyland, the Totem Pole, and so forth. There are also small pools of perfectly clear water that reflect what is above them so precisely that you feel you are looking into an underground cave. Well, okay, everything here is an underground cave, but I mean a cave below trail level. And it's all the more amazing when you realize that if the Empire State Building were set here, only the 84th to 102nd floors would be above ground.
The circumambulation of the Big Room took another hour and a half. It's not that the walk is hard, but there is so much to see, almost like a natural art museum. If all you could see was the Big Room, it would still be worth it, but take the Blue Tour if at all possible for the full experience. And rent the receivers.
We returned to the surface via elevator, as do all visitors. This would make a great setting for a disaster movie: the power and elevators fail and a group has to make their way back up on foot in the dark. Except there's enough backup systems that this wouldn't happen. And it's very stable geologically. When the atomic bomb was exploded at Alamogordo, it wasn't even detectable in the caverns. But until the elevators were installed in 1931, visitors did have to climb back up, and a small section of the wooden stairs they used remains. I'm sure there were fewer tourists then, although coming as we did on a weekday during the school year, the caverns certainly didn't seem crowded. I suspect in the summer it's different.
After we sent off our post cards, made our hotel reservations, etc., we left the Visitors Center and took the nine-and-a-half-mile scenic drive. It was scenic, all right, but probably no more so than the road in or a lot of other roads, and since it was unpaved and narrow I'd say most people could skip it with no great loss. We did see a mule deer there, but we saw more of those later as well.
We stopped at White's City to pick up cheese and crackers. There is no place to eat between the Caverns and El Paso along US 62/US 180, except for a few roadside restaurants which seemed to be mostly closed. We entered Texas and drove through the Guadalupe Mountains and the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, but didn't stop, as this park is primarily hiking trails. We did stop at the Butterfield Stage Piney Station, but there wasn't really anything to see except the marker.
The land got flatter and drier and we passed from forests to scrub desert, with occasional salt flats. Outside El Paso, the wind picked up and we drove through a minor dust storm.
El Paso did not impress us. The parts we drove through looked pretty yucky--stores, car lots, businesses, all old and run-down looking. We got to our motel, checked in, and discovered that State Line BBQ was very close by. Since this was recommended by a couple of people, we decided to go for it. (By the way, it's called State Line because it's just across the state line into New Mexico.) I'm not a good judge of barbecue, but Mark says State Line was very good.
Mileage today: 203 miles.
October 14, 1992: We had breakfast at the Village Inn at 7 AM, then drove west on I-10 for 153 miles to Steins, a "ghost town." It's a ghost town convenient to the interstate, though, and that means it's been commercialized by being fenced off and admission charged. (The same is also true of Shakespeare, another nearby ghost town.) Paying to see a ghost town seemed kind of silly, especially since in appearance it resembled a lot of the occupied parts of the Dominican Republic (occupied meaning lived in as opposed to military occupation).
We drove another 49 miles west on I-10 to the Fort Bowie turnoff at Bowie. One difference between New Jersey and the Southwest is that in New Jersey the dead animals by the side of the road are opossums and raccoons; in the Southwest they are coyotes.
The paved side road became an unpaved road crossing open range, and then a mountain road. We finally pulled up to the small parking area at the start of the one-and-a-half-mile trail to Fort Bowie, the only people there. As we were getting ready to hike the trail, though, who should pull up to this spot in the middle of nowhere but a Japanese tourist with a camera? Well, he wasn't actually a tourist, but he did have a camera, and a very complex box camera at that, because he was from the University of Arizona at Tucson Center for Creative Photography.
We started hiking about 11 AM and got to the ruins about 12:30 PM. Along the way we saw a lot of ants, a few lizards, a couple of road runners, and some mule deer. There was also a small cemetery where the son of Geronimo was buried, and a few other remnants of that era. The hike wasn't difficult but I was glad it was October and not July, and also that there were some clouds that occasionally blocked the sun.
We rested a bit when we finally reached the ranger station at the ruins. I asked the ranger if he lived there or commuted. He said he lived down below and came up every day. But he didn't hike it--there's a back road the rangers can use. (And because of this, even this site up in the hills in the middle of nowhere is handicapped-accessible, though by prior appointment only.) There isn't much left of the actual fort--after the fort was abandoned, most of the materials were carted off to be used elsewhere. But there are still some walls standing and seeing the flag flying over these walls in the distance as you're hiking up the trail brings to mind all the old Westerns where the people couldn't wait to see the fort ahead. There were also photographs of what the fort looked like when it was in operation. On most of our trips the history is too old for photography, so this is not something we're used to.
We spent about a half hour walking around the ruins. The fort was quite large and (for its time) comfortable. It even had a steam-powered ice machine! Then we hiked back to the car. This took about an hour; we arrived at 2:30 PM. So the whole stop took three and a half hours, which is exactly what the sign recommends. Considering that we hadn't even planned on this until this morning, it's nice we had the time. (It's also nice that the weather was perfect.)
We continued along the access road, finally connecting with AZ 186 on the other side of Apache Pass. 9 miles east on AZ 186 and 8 miles east on AZ 181 brought us to Chiricahua National Monument. Our Golden Eagle Passports saved us the $3 entrance fee and we drove to the Visitors Center, still toying with the idea of taking one of the hiking trails in addition to the scenic drive. But getting out of the car at the Center convinced us to settle for the drive. For one thing, the Carlsbad hike yesterday and the Fort Bowie today were taking their toll. For another, the trails were at almost 7000 feet. (Fort Bowie was at 5000 feet.) And lastly, it was 3:30 PM, a little late to start on even the shortest trail. (Oh, I should have said that before Steins we crossed from Texas into New Mexico and after Steins we crossed into Arizona doesn't do Daylight Savings Time, so we immediately gained an hour. But that also meant that sunset would come an hour earlier. All things taken into account, sunset would be about 6 PM.)
Chiricahua National Monument is known for its fantastic rock formations. In fact, that's why it was designated a national monument. If this sounds familiar, well, think of this as Carlsbad Caverns turned inside out. Some of the most famous formations, such as Balancing Rock and Duck on a Rock, can be seen only by hiking on of the trails, but many others are visible from the road. At the top of the scenic drive it is cold and windy (after all, you are on a mountaintop at 7000 feet), but you get an excellent view of Cochise's stronghold and Cochise Head. The former is a huge area covered with giant stone columns, looking like a giant maze. It is rumored that when Cochise died, he was buried there and the Apaches rode their horses over his grave to conceal it. If so, it worked, as his grave has never been found. Cochise Head is a rock formation on top of a hill that supposedly looks like the profile of Cochise as if he were lying on his back on the hill. I'm not sure how they know--there are no pictures of Cochise and I think this was named later. Unfortunately, Cochise's Stronghold was to the west of the road so we couldn't see it very well and it didn't photograph well in the afternoon. (We did get a slightly better angle from a side road to Sugarloaf Mountain.) Cochise Head, on the other hand, was lit perfectly. Serious photographers should obviously plan on a whole day here, with hiking, so they can get all the best light for everything.
At the summit we met two other tourists, one a 75-year-old man from Arizona who talked about how he moved to Arizona fifty years ago and killed a mountain lion the day after he arrived. I doubt Mark's brother, who moved to Scottsdale this July, can make such a claim.
We didn't see much wildlife along the road here, though a coatimundi did wander across at one point. They seem to be importing a lot of South American mammals here (I can't believe the coatimundi just migrated up on its own); in Lincoln we saw two llamas in a field.
We left Chiricahua National Monument about 4:30 PM and went eight miles west on AZ 181 and then another 31 miles on AZ 186. The scenery was of course gorgeous. I don't say that every time it's true because it would get repetitive, so take it as given that the scenery is always gorgeous.
We rejoined I-10 at Willcox and went west 36 miles to Benson. Benson's major claim to fame, so far as I know, is that there was a song about it in the science fiction film DARK STAR. Here we left the interstate and went east (southeast, really) 25 miles to Tombstone.
Tombstone is not a very big town so our motel choice was limited. However, there was the Hacienda Huachuca, where John Wayne stayed when he was making a film here. We figured if it was good enough for the Duke, it was good enough for us. For the price ($25 a night plus tax) it was an amazingly good deal--a huge room with two double beds, a sitting area with a couch and two chairs, and a full kitchen. That is considerably above what Motel 6 offers, though this was somewhat less modern. (For example, it had a bathtub but no shower.) We couldn't stay in #4 (which is where Wayne stayed) because that was already rented to the only other guests, a couple who was staying a week for Helldorado Days, which start in two days. I'm sure the festivities will be great for the town's economy, but I'm glad we'll be out before the crowds arrive.
We didn't have a whole lot of choices for places to eat dinner. We saw only one restaurant on AZ 80--the Top of the Hill. I suppose the Best Western had a restaurant, and there were a couple on Allen Street, but the choice was limited. Tombstone has no McDonalds (the desk clerk found even the idea odd, and said there was still a battle about whether to put an ATM in the bank). So we had Mexican food at the Top of the Hill--good, but not absolutely traditional, as the dishes had been microwaved. Then we tried to pick up some snacks, but the best we could do at the convenience store was a gallon of washer fluid (the car didn't come with any).
Tombstone bills itself as "the town too tough to die," but by 9 PM it does a very good imitation.
Mileage today: 352 miles.
October 15, 1992: We stayed in the room until 8:30 AM, late for us but our sightseeing started only a couple of blocks away. We had breakfast at the Longhorn, the other restaurant in town. It has twelve tables, each seating four. Where are all the Helldorado tourists going to eat?
The main sightseeing area of Tombstone is Allen Street, in particular the four blocks with the Bird Cage Theater at one end and the O.K. Corral at the other. We started with the Bird Cage Theater (which has a $2 admission plus tax; everywhere else I've been, the admission prices include the tax, but not here--Arizona is different, it seems).
The Bird Cage Theater was the cultural center of Tombstone. Stars who appeared here included Florence Roberts, Maude Adams, Eddie Foy, Ethel Barrymore, and Enrico Caruso (in April of 1907). Sarah Bernhardt appeared in Tombstone in 1906, but in a tent by the railroad depot rather than in the theater. Lillian Russell in 1881 here introduced the song "She's Only a Bird in a Gilded Cage," inspired by the theater itself. Which leads to an explanation of the name of the theater. In the theater on the second floor balcony were fourteen "boxes," like box seats in theaters today, only these were gilt-trimmed and had red velvet curtains to provide privacy because these boxes, or "bird cages," where were the "soiled doves" plied their trade. (Okay, so it wasn't all culture.)
While we walked around the theater, the audio system told various anecdotes about the theater. Once, during a performance of UNCLE TOM'S CABIN, a drunken spectator got so excited when he saw the bloodhound chasing Eliza across the ice that he jumped up and shot the dog. (When he sobered up, he offered his horse as well as a cash payment in recompense.) And then there was Russian Bill, who claimed he was the brother of Czar Nicholas. He wanted to seem tough, so he stole a horse. Unfortunately, he was caught and hanged.
We walked down Allen Street towards the O.K. Corral. Tombstone may have been "the town too tough to die" at one point, but now it seems to be "the town too commercial to die." There are still a couple of historic sites, such as Big Nose Kate's Saloon and the Crystal Palace (both still serving drinks), but most of the stores are very tourist-oriented. Even the bookstore, the Territorial Book Trader, is entirely Southwest-oriented rather than stocking a cross-section of categories to satisfy the local customers.
The O.K. Corral also had an admission price ($1.50). In the movies it's shown as an open corral with just a split-rail fence, so you might wonder how they could charge admission. Well, they built a ten-foot-high adobe wall around it. Inside the buildings are a few exhibits, including the hearse that carried the McLaury (or McLowry) brothers and Billy Clanton to Boot Hill. There was also a list of the twenty-five films featuring Wyatt Earp and some posters and lobby cards for some of them. But the main attraction is the corral itself, complete with life-sized statues of the participants. These were not entirely accurate to the description given on the audio program of readings from eyewitness accounts. For example, one of the McLaurys was described as pulling open his frock coat, yet the statue had him in a shirt and vest only. Mark supplemented the audio program by reading aloud Nash's description of the gunfight from BLOODLETTERS AND BAD MEN. (As far as the movies go, they're all grossly inaccurate; don't trust them. And there was even a "Star Trek" episode set here: "Spectre of the Gun.")
We also took a look in the two saloons. The Crystal Palace is more staid, with a beautiful polished-wood-framed mirror over the bar. Big Nose Kate's Saloon was more informal, with sawdust on the floor. For our drink, though, we went back to the Longhorn and had a sarsparilla. It had a paper label on the bottle neck that said, "Big Nose Kate's Sarsparilla," but the bottle was clearly Sioux City Sarsparilla. (Well, maybe not clearly, but it was.)
After the break we took a quick look at the "Tombstone Epitaph" office and then drove to Boot Hill, or (as it's called on the sign) "Boothill Graveyard and Jewish Memorial." Jewish Memorial? I know Wyatt Earp's wife was Jewish, but he and she are both buried somewhere in California. Mystified, we entered the graveyard through the Boot Hill Gift Shop. There is no admission; it was probably decided that charging admission to a graveyard was going a bit too far. The grave markers were all of more recent vintage than the graves, though I assume the information on them is identical to the originals. For example, for one man who died of smallpox, the marker says that a rope was flung around his feet and he was dragged to Boot Hill--obviously to avoid contaminating anyone. The McLaurys and Billy Clanton are buried here, and there is even a section set aside for the Chinese, with Quong Kee having the most elaborate grave and marker (this one original) of any in Boot Hill. He died in 1938 in his late eighties and was buried in Benson (where he was living at the time) before word of his death got back to Tombstone. When Tombstone did hear, they insisted on bringing the body back to the town where he had lived most of his life, and giving him a fitting memorial.
Ah, yes, memorial--as in, what is the Jewish memorial? Well, a sign at one corner of Boot Hill pointed down a trail and said "Jewish Cemetery and Memorial." And down the trail there was indeed a Jewish memorial, of very recent vintage (1984), dedicated to the Jewish settlers of the area and their Indian friends. It sits where the old Jewish cemetery was; the walls are still visible but there are no markers left. For all its isolation, however, the memorial does get visitors. It is a Jewish custom when visiting a grave to place a small stone on it. The memorial is piled high with stones.
(For those of you surprised at the idea of Jewish in old Tombstone, I recommend PIONEER JEWS by Harriet and Fred Rochlin.)
We had planned to drive to Tucson after Tombstone, but since it was early we decided to go to Bisbee first, twenty-four miles east on AZ 80. Bisbee used to be a copper mining town, but in the 1940s the mines finally gave out and were closed. The town is still very quaint-looking (with its "gingerbread buildings," as one tour book describes it) and has attracted art galleries and such. The main tourist attraction, though, still seems to be the mines--there are tours of the Queen Copper Mine and of an open-pit mine. We took the mine shaft tour, and killed time before it started by wandering around the town. If the bookstore in Tombstone had a limited selection, the One Book Bookstore in Bisbee takes the prize. Walter Swain opened the store to see his book ME 'N HENRY. He now has another store next door, the Other Book Bookstore, to sell his other three books.
The tour started at 2 PM (and cost $7 each, by the way). We began by putting on our sweaters (it's cold in the mine), then slickers, hard hats, and battery-powered lamps (the battery pack hangs on a belt in back of you and the lamp hangs over your shoulder on a cord so that you can point it where you want). We then boarded a train (basically just a series of benches pulled by an engine) and went into the mine. Our guide was a retired miner who was able to tell us about how the mining was done. The train went into the mine horizontally on the third of seven levels (the mine being in a hill). We climbed up to one of the stopes, or sections of the mine between levels where the ore mining was actually done. In the walls by the light of our lamps we could still see copper ore, blue and red against the white limestone. There were even flecks of silver. But this was all too low-grade to be worth extracting the ore from, which was why the mine closed. It was hard to see very well by our lamps but our guide Juan pointed out that the miners originally worked by candlelight and later by kerosene lantern--neither of which was particularly safe around all the dynamite being used. We got a long explanation of how drilling and blasting was done, and all sorts of other information as well. For example, they had the equivalent of a Porta-Potty on each level.
We resurfaced into the heat about 3:45 PM and drove to Tucson, returning 53 miles along AZ 80 and then going 44 miles west on I-10. We stayed at the Discovery Inn right off the interstate for $29 a night, including breakfast. This was even cheaper than the AAA book said. I think the hotels in Arizona are hurting because a lot of conventions are boycotting Arizona because it wouldn't declare Martin Luther King Day a state holiday. This year there is a ballot resolution to do so, while at the same time combining Lincoln's Birthday and Washington's Birthday into one holiday (President's Day). The argument for this is that it won't increase the number of paid holidays, and the hotels are really pushing it. (But I would think most of the hotel's patrons who see the brochures would be from out-of-state and couldn't vote anyway.)
For dinner we drove over to the University of Arizona at Tucson area and ended up choosing Casa Blanca. I had tabouli and grape leaves with an iced cappuccino; Mark had a combination plate. We missed most of the third Presidential debate, which was on during dinner time here.
Now that we're in the Sonoran Desert, the temperature is going up. The highs are in the mid-90s (Fahrenheit) during the days, though it does drop into the 50s at night.
Mileage today: 138 miles.
October 16, 1992: Today was our desert day. We started by driving west through Gates Pass and Tucson Mountain Park to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. This came highly recommended by many people, and is certainly a unique setting and design for a museum, but we were both disappointed to find that in large part it was basically a zoo. There are some other exhibits as well, of course, in botany and geology, but the main attraction for most people seemed to be the animals. (One person said she saw more animals here than during the rest of her Arizona trip. This was not true for us, but we covered more ground and did more off-road driving and hiking.) The museum is good for children, I suppose (the adult price is $7.95, while the child prices is only $1.50, so it seems more directed at them anyway). The earth sciences pavilion had a fake cave (it was supposed to be sort of like Carlsbad, I guess) so that you could get a feel for what caving was like, and you could go prospecting in the rock border at the end of the exhibit for gem stones the museum "salted" there.
The zoo areas seemed somewhat cramped (and at one under construction there was a woman painting lichen on the rocks). The aviary was slightly better, though I'm sure the birds feel crowded. We got to see a lot of birds up close (including a hummingbird in flight) and a mouse. In front of the aviary was an interesting sculpture by Dion Wright, sort of the "ascent of bird" from planaria through dinosaur and so on.
There were some botany exhibits and we found these the most fascinating. Besides learning that the saguaro has wooden supports--it looks like you could just snap it off because you extrapolate from a small cacti--we saw an exhibit on convergent evolution. (I think of this as the "separated at birth" exhibit.) This exhibit compared the cacti of the Western Hemisphere with the euphorbias of the Eastern Hemisphere and showed many examples of two totally unrelated plants looking almost identical. This is fascinating stuff (as I said)--I would love to find some articles or books on it. (Unfortunately, the only one listed in "Books in Print" costs $78.50. Maybe Stephen Jay Gould has written something about it.)
We had a brief snack in the cafeteria, which shows their environmentalism by recycling Styrofoam (one of the few places I've seen that does so). Arizona strikes me as a basically conservative state, but one that is strong on environmental issues. (Or at least some of them. They still refuse to ban steel-jawed leg traps.) Then again, I could be all wet.
We had started at the museum at 8:30 AM (opening time) and finished about noon. Driving a few miles further down the road, we reached the Saguaro National Monument. Saguaro (pronounced sa-WAR-oh) is the archetypal cactus--round center stalk with "arms" sticking out and curving up (usually, though they can grow in other directions). Of course, the arms don't start to grow until the trunk is about ten feet high, so most of the cartoons (like in "Peanuts") of them show them way too small. Going to Saguaro National Monument seemed a bit redundant by now, as we seemed to be surrounded by saguaro already, but the drive through Saguaro National Monument did get us closer to the plants and they were denser there as well. Saguaro National Monument has two sections: the Tucson Mountain section west of Tucson (which has a more dense growth--this was the section we went through) and the Rincon section east of Tucson (which has a better Visitors Center). We even worked up enough energy to walk the nature trail (a half mile, thirty minutes). Seeing all these fantastic cacti, I was reminded of Lawrence Watt-Evans's "Why I Left Harry's All-Night Hamburgers," in which someone asks the main character if he wants to travel to strange worlds and see weird plants and weirder animals. Yes? Well, he points out, the earth is full of weird plants and weirder animals. See Earth first!
At 1:30 PM we started back for Tucson, planning to do some errands. Mark wanted a haircut and we wanted to get spare batteries for his camera and more film. We drove east on Speedway Boulevard (one of the main roads) and found a barber shop. While Mark was getting his haircut, I looked through the newspaper there. GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS was playing just down the road at 3 PM and we'd been wanting to see that. So after the haircut, we went to that. Great movie, but I'm not going to review it here, as it was only circumstantially part of our trip. (Oh, haircuts are cheaper in Tucson than in New Jersey.)
Dinner was at a Po Folks we spotted on the way. We both had the allyou -can-eat vegetables for $4.99, and I had the iced tea in a mason jar (their trademark). For dessert, Mark had the dirt cup. It's a cheap plastic cup shaped like a flower pot with chocolate pudding topped by a layer of crushed Oreo cookie, and with a gummy worm on top. Then we stopped at a grocery where we picked up graham crackers, dried fruit, and one of the two batteries we wanted. So we accomplished half our errands--not easy to do when you have three errands.
The economy in Tucson must be about the same as elsewhere. We saw several people at major intersections holding up signs that said, "Temporarily homeless--will work for food" or something like that. The Sun Belt may be the growing area, but even here there are problems.
Mileage today: 63 miles.
October 17, 1992: We left early to get to the Arizona State Museum when it opened at 9 AM and arrived at 8:30 AM. So we walked around the University of Arizona at Tucson campus. The palm trees remind me of Stanford, but this is more architecturally coherent, at least the part we saw. It has more of a unity of design than most schools. At the University of Massachusetts, for example, they will erect a 27-story building next to a hundred-year-old chapel, and a concrete slab building just across the way (sort of like "The Architect's Nightmare" painting). But the University of Arizona at Tucson all fits together.
When the museum opened we went in. I have to give it a mixed review. Some displays, such as the photographic record of pot-making by potter Al Qoyawayma, were excellent, but others were extremely simplistic. Maybe for someone who knows nothing about archaeology they would be a good introduction, but if the museum feels the need to tell people that cavemen did not live at the same time as dinosaurs (and it did have this information in one of the displays), then I worry. On the second floor they did have a slightly more advanced display of Pima and Papago (Tohono O'Odham) culture. Ira Hayes was a Pima. (If you don't recognize the name, Hayes was one of the six men raising the flag over Iwo Jima in that photograph.)
After the museum, we stopped in the Arizona Bookstore. In the window they had a display of books pertaining to the collection: Perot's UNITED WE STAND, Clinton and Gore's PUTTING PEOPLE FIRST, and so on. They didn't have Gore's book on the environment, but they did have Mike Resnick's ALTERNATE PRESIDENTS. On the walls outside were posted a couple of mini-biographies from Her Story (Box 1073, Royal Oak MI 48068), including Emma Lazarus, who will be featured during the upcoming Jewish Heritage Month. (You know: "Give me your tired," etc.)
We then bid farewell to Tucson (after driving past the mathematics building at the university). and drove west on I-10. This took us past Picacho Peak which I'm sure has shown up in movies and photos. (Then again, maybe it's just that it looks a little like some of the rocks near Sedona and Monument Valley.) We got off I-10 at exit 211 and went 18 miles north on AZ 87 past fields of cotton to Casa Grande National Monument.
Casa Grande has the distinction of being the first archaeological site protected by the government, in 1892. It is a Hohokam site dating from about 1300. It is unique among the sites in its "Casa Grande," or Great House, often called America's first skyscraper. At thirty-five feet tall, it's not what most people think of as a skyscraper, but I guess it qualifies. The site shows a certain Mexican influence, though the construction methods are different. Unfortunately for archaeologists, the Hohokam cremated their dead (with objects) rather than just burying them. However, towards the end they did have some burials, so archaeologists have some information to work from.
The site reminded me of the step pyramid at Sosa in Egypt. It doesn't really look like Sosa, except that it is a large structure in the center of an open compound. Maybe it was the heat. On the other hand, there is a shield over Casa Grande--to protect the site, but it shields the tourists also.
We spent an hour at Casa Grande (11:30 AM to 12:30 PM), then returned to I-10, passing fields of cotton along the way. We then took I-10 into Phoenix and went directly to the Heard Museum. This is the premier museum of Native American art, so it was a must. The AAA discount cut the admission price from $5 each to $2.50 each. We took a guided tour with one of the volunteers which was informative, but because there were about thirty people in the group it was sometimes difficult to see what she was talking about. So we ended up going through the exhibit a second time on our own. It was a very good exhibit, particularly the kachina doll collection donated by Barry Goldwater. Did you know, for example, that kachinas are "used" (or maybe "applicable" is a better word) only between the winter solstice and mid-summer? Apparently they do not apply from July or August until December. (I must admit to not quite understanding the role of the kachina, and the explanations I've seen haven't helped. The museums spend a lot of time and space explaining archaeology, but they don't always explain the cultures. The again, most museums don't explain the Catholic religion when they exhibit altarpieces, so I guess maybe I'm expecting too much.)
We saw a video of an Apache girl going through the ceremony of Changing Woman, making her passage to adulthood. This I could understand--it was an Apache bat mitzvah.
Noting the long hair in many of the pictures reminded me of a recent news story in which a Navajo boy was suspended from public school for violating the dress code by having long hair. But the Navajo cut their hair only during periods of mourning. I'll be curious how this turns out--it seems a clear violation of the First Amendment to insist he cut his hair (like insisting Jewish boys not wear yarmulkes), but the courts have been a little weird at times.
There was a performance of a Yaqui Deer Dance which we watched part of. There was a lot of reading that the narrator did, but none of it explained the purpose of the dance, or what it represented. And the dancers themselves seemed uninvolved. One of the musicians was a ten-year-old boy in a dinosaur skate-boarding T-shirt. Popping bubble gum, he looked as if he wished he were anywhere but here. And the deer dancer's headpiece kept slipping off and having to be refastened. On the whole, it was not a quality experience.
The museum also had some modern Hispanic art. The best pieces (in my opinion) were the three dimensional pieces by Luis Tapia, including "Carreta de la Muerte" and the very colorful "Chimayo Dashboard Altar." There were also some hands-on displays (make your own cord animal, beat a drum along with an audio-visual program, etc.).
After browsing the museum shop (beautiful stuff, but for more than I want to spend), we drove to Mesa and got a room at the Motel 6. Then we called Mark's sister-in-law Susan and arranged to get together for dinner that night. We also got some idea of how spread-out everything is: even though Mesa and Scottsdale are adjacent towns, it took almost forty-five minutes to get to their house in the latter.
Mark's brother's family moved to Arizona in July, and this was our first chance to see their new house. It's somewhat smaller than Versailles, but not much. The master bathroom, for example, is the size of our living room. And the ceilings are all fifteen to twenty feet high.
For dinner we went to the Moroccan restaurant in Scottsdale. It was authentic in eating style--you sit on the floor and eat with your hands--and the food was good. A full five-course meal is $17.50, not bad when you consider that entertainment in the form of a belly dancer is also included. It's a pity that David (Mark's brother) couldn't have joined us, but he was in Chicago on business.
Mileage today: 212 miles.
October 18, 1992: We drove around for at least a half hour looking for someplace interesting to have breakfast and finally settled on the Waffle House--right across from the motel. It was okay, but with an extremely limited menu. They had two kinds of waffles, plain and pecan, and a few other items.
We got to the Champlin Fighter Museum early, so we were able to start promptly when they opened at 10 AM. The $6 per person admission was cut in half with our AAA discount. Enough traveling and you could pay for your membership with discounts alone. (This is an unsolicited plug.) In addition to the fighter planes, the museum had a huge collection of armaments, including a machine gun that had been used as a prop in a lot of movies, a German gun with a curved barrel (purpose unknown), and so forth. It also had two videos running: "Out of the Sun" (an ad for the F-16) and "Aircraft Gunnery." In the former they interviewed a lot of aces, including Douglas Bader who, if I heard it right, lost both his legs in an accident in 1931 and went on to become a World War II ace. It's possible they said 1941, however, and that he became an ace during the Battle of Britain. The videos were thirty minutes each and what with the guns and the planes (most of the older ones were reconstructions, which is apparently okay to the cognoscenti in this field, but a bit disappointing to the outsider), we were there until 12:30 PM.
We had originally planned to spend part of the day at the Desert Botanical Garden, but decided we were probably getting enough desert elsewhere. (It's probably great for people not traveling much outside Phoenix.) So we decided to go to the Arizona Museum of Science and Technology instead. This is right off the Civic Plaza, dubbed the "Anvil of God" by science fiction fans in 1978 when the World Science Fiction Convention was held here over Labor Day and people had to cross the blockwide plaza to get from the hotel to the Civic Center and back. They talked of roofing it over, but apparently decided against it, as it was still open.
Parking should have been easy, but there was some festival going on (Rosary Day) so there was no on-street parking left. The parking garages still had plenty of room, though, especially near the museum as that was further from the festival.
The museum itself is like a mini-Exploratorium--very mini. Almost all the exhibits are the hands-on sort, but with only four rooms there wasn't very much. Even doing all the interactive things, we got through in only an hour--not much for the $3.50 admission charge ($3 with the AAA discount). Is it my imagination, or are science museums in general over-priced? Most of them seem to charge considerably more than art museums of the same size. Yes, the science museum has upkeep costs, but the initial expense is probably less.
So it was still only 2:30 PM. What should we do? After an ice cream cone at Swensen's, we decided on Pueblo Grande, an archaeology museum that was also on the way back to our motel. This turned out to be a good choice. The museum part itself is somewhat limited, but I did learn that team sports originated in the Western Hemisphere (a fact I don't think I knew before). All the exhibits here, by the way, are captioned in Braille as well as in print. The museum is a city project, although it was initially constructed by the WPA in the 1930s. And that work included preserving Pueblo Grande, which is the large site the museum building is an adjunct to. This is, as the name suggests, one of the largest sites of the Hohokam in the Phoenix area (and there are many along the canals they constructed). The site, as is true of most sites in this area, is self-guiding, with plaques along the trail pointing out features or giving background information. And this is a bargain at fifty cents each. If you don't want to haul your buns all over Arizona to see ancient sites, here's one right in Phoenix you can get to easily.
Going back to the motel, I picked the wrong road to go down: it went right by the Arizona State University stadium just as a football game was letting out. What a traffic jam! Though to be honest, it wasn't as bad as traffic jams back east.
After resting, we went for dinner to the Siamese Cat, a Thai restaurant recommended by IDRAB@ASUACAD.BITNET which happened to be only about three miles from our motel. I'm glad I called it to ask for specific directions, because it was in a shopping center and not easily visible from the road (a common problem here--Susan says it drives her crazy trying to find things). It was a good choice and we enjoyed it a lot.
A couple of random observations: They do have bagels out here, but I'm not sure how authentic they are--in Bisbee they had Jalapeno bagels. And Phoenix is in what is called the Valley of the Sun, which I think means that the temperature approximates that of the sun. As a result, everyone walks around with water bottles, much as everyone in around with umbrellas.
Mileage today: 85 miles.
October 19, 1992: Today we start at about 1000 feet and climb to 7000 feet. We also go from highs in the mid-90s (Fahrenheit) to the high 60s. As we started our climb out of Phoenix we first saw more saguaro (it doesn't grow as well in the lowest parts of the valley), but then it thinned out and we saw scrub brush and then actual trees. We traveled along I-17 for 63 miles, exiting at Cordes Junction. But not for Arcosanti, the main tourist destination around her. Arcosanti is a fully planned community which charges to allow tourists to walk around it. As far as I'm concerned, this makes it more a tourist attraction rather than a real community (at least to me). We had also skipped Biosphere 2 north of Tucson, a completely selfcontained community of six people taking in nothing but sunlight and money from tourists, who have to pay $12 each to walk around the outside.
Our goal, however, was Prescott, 33 miles west on AZ 69. The town itself is supposedly very pretty, looking like something out of Norman Rockwell. Well, it does have a courthouse on a town square, and some of the residential streets have Rockwellian houses, but I can't claim this is worth going out of your way for. We also planned to see the Smoki Museum, but it is apparently closed from September through April, contrary to what the guidebooks say.
The "Smoki tribe" is really a secret society of non-Indians formed in the 1920s to preserve the old Indian culture (or so they claim). There is, not surprisingly, much dissension between the Smokis and real Indian tribes, who think they should be the ones preserving the culture, the dances, etc. They have a point--I'm sure if a bunch of Methodists started a secret society to have seders and bar mitzvahs to preserve the old Jewish ways, Jews would have a thing or two to say about that.
We did drop into the Bead Museum, one large room with a fairly extensive collection of beads, beadwork, and other ornamentation. The gift shop had handicrafts of all kinds from around the world. In fact, one thing I saw in a lot of shops here was Guatemalan cotton--hardly a local item. This shop looked like an outlet for the Oxfam catalog of handicrafts.
Fifteen miles north on AZ 69 and twelve on AZ 169 brought us back to I-17. Driving the 62 miles north to Flagstaff, we drove through a bit of rain--enough to splatter the dust on the car but not enough to clean it or warrant running the wipers.
We wended our way through Flagstaff past a string of motels, restaurants, and other tourist amenities. We didn't make a reservation because we were still toying with the idea of staying near the Grand Canyon tonight. (It's a two-hour drive each way between Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon.) The drive to the canyon was scenic, through stretches of national forest, but not particularly more so than other roads we've driven on.
We came in through the south entrance (where most visitors enter). Coming in this way you pass Mather Point and its view of the canyon, somewhat obscured from the road itself by trees. I carefully avoided looking at it, wanting to get the full impact all at once. We drove on to the Visitors Center, parked the car, and hiked the quarter mile or so through the woods to the Rim Trail and our first view of the Grand Canyon.
The Grand Canyon is big. Saying that it's twenty miles across and a mile deep doesn't convey how big it is. The first view from the Rim Trail is impossible to describe. We walked along the Rim Trail to the Yavapai Museum, trying to get some feel for the scope of it all. The Rim Trail is a good way for the non-hiker to "hike the Canyon." You can walk along a level paved path along the rim--right along the rim in places. Even though the drop is not a sheer one, it looks like one until you're within a few inches, and pets (and probably younger children too) should be kept on a leash.
By now, it was getting late (one walks slower at 7000 feet, even on a level path), so we drove to Hopi Point on the West Rim Drive to see the sunset, or rather, the Canyon at sunset. It had been cloudy since we arrived, but the sun managed to come out for sunset. As impressive as it was under clouds, the Canyon is even more so in the sunlight, when you can see all the colored layers and get a much better idea of the scale of it all. I can't describe it--you'll have to go see it.
Since we stayed for the sunset, we ended up making the two-hour drive back to Flagstaff in the dark. Mark was somewhat worried about finding a room at 8:30 PM, but there were a lot of vacancies. (Oh, we had decided to stay in Flagstaff because the weather forecast for the Canyon was better later in the week, and because all the rooms near the Canyon were about $100 a night!) We picked the Starlite Motel in Flagstaff--what a mistake! The building was of cinder-block construction, there were no extra outlets to plug things into, the toilet didn't flush properly, and the door was a sliding glass patio door that provided little sound insulation. We decided to stick it out for the night and find a different hotel for the remainder of our time in Flagstaff.
Dinner was at El Chilito's, but I was too tired to notice the food very much. And no wonder, because
Mileage today: 392 miles.
October 20, 1992: Breakfast was at the Village Inn, then we filled the tank and drove south on US 89A (a.k.a. "alternate 89") to Oak Creek Canyon. As one book puts it, you "amble innocently along through Ponderosa pine forests, then suddenly the bottom drops out." Well, not quite that suddenly, since there is a scenic view announced. And we knew that it must be very scenic, since there were rows of jewelry dealers lined up at it. It was: the ground drops over a thousand feet and the steep walls and floor of the canyon are covered with green pines and with oaks and other trees in golds and scarlets. The road makes this descent in a series of switchbacks, starting at 7000 feet and settling in below 6000 (more or less--the canyon keeps descending, though at a slower pace, until it is about 4200 feet in altitude at the mouth). This is the canyon that Zane Grey wrote about in THE CALL OF THE CANYON, a book of great descriptions if less than stellar plot. The canyon road travels along between towering cliffs and under a canopy of trees.
Along the way were a few motels, cabins set back from the road. Someone at the Grand Canyon had suggested that these looked like good cheap places to stay, but they were fairly obviously not cheap, and driving down that switchback after a hard day's sightseeing would not be my idea of fun.
As we approached Sedona at the mouth of the canyon, the character of the scenery changed dramatically. The canyon opened up and gave way to "red rock country"--all those incredible formations so familiar from Marlboro ads. Buttes and mesas are outlined against the sky in fantastic shapes, providing a sharp contrast with the narrowness of the canyon.
Sedona itself is an artists' colony, which means it's full of galleries and shops and tourists. Traffic slows considerably through Sedona to avoid hitting all the pedestrians. We had planned on stopping, but the touristy nature of the town put us off that idea and we continued on US 89A for 17 miles to Cottonwood, where we turned west onto AZ 260 for 5 miles and then through Clarkdale to Tuzigoot.
Tuzigoot is one of the three major Sinagua sites of the area. The Sinagua lived about the same time as the Hohokam, but in the northern part of Arizona. One theory is that the Sinagua were the ancestors of the present-day Zuni, and the exhibit in the museum dealing with the warrior gods would seem to bear that out, as it related the warrior gods of the Sinagua to those of the Zuni: lion (north), bear (west), badger (south), wolf (east), mole (nadir), and eagle (zenith). (I assume the lion here is a mountain lion rather than the African variety.)
There was also a display which charted the percent of burials at various ages, giving a way to calculate life expectancy. 42% of the burials were of children under eight years old, 24% were in the eight- to twentyyear -old range, 29% twenty-one to forty-five, and 5% older than forty-five.
By the way, the name Tuzigoot was given to the site in 1933 by an Apache, Ben Lewis, and means "crooked water."
The ruins here, while well-preserved in some regards, are not as impressive as those of Mexico or Peru. In part that is due to the much larger scale of the Latin American ruins, and in part it is because the materials used here were just not as durable--mud rather than fitted stone.
We returned to I-17 via AZ 260 and drove north 3 miles to the exit for Montezuma Castle. This is a very well-preserved pueblo built in a cave in a cliff. It was named by explorers who thought it was built as a retreat for Montezuma, who never actually got anywhere near this site and lived several hundred years after it was built. But the name stuck.
I was surprised at how many people were at Montezuma Castle. There were some bus tours--I guess it's convenient since it's right on the route from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon. As usual, there was a self-guiding trail past the ruins. These are very well done at the National Parks and Monuments, including information about the plants as well as the sites. For a change, we arrived at just the right time to photograph the ruins (12:45 PM to 1:20 PM). The sun was striking them, instead of putting them in the shade, which is what seems to be true most of the time for us.
Umberto Eco's hyperreality struck again, as people stood in front of a model of the ruin listening to an audio program when the ruin itself was right there to look at. (There is also an Imax theater presentation of the Grand Canyon right at the entrance of the Grand Canyon.)
We also got to see a new animal--a gopher--a nice change from the usual lizards and birds.
North a couple of miles is Montezuma Well, part of the same site as the Castle. The Well is a natural sinkhole filled by a warm (76 degrees Fahrenheit) spring and having more ruins in and around it. (The water fills the sinkhole only part way, leaving room for dwellings in the cliffs that form its sides.) This site was considerably less crowded and even among the people there, few felt like climbing down into the sinkhole to see the ruins. It wasn't that the path was rough, but the fact that they would have to climb back up the seventy feet that dissuaded them.
We finished at the Well by 2:20 PM and decided to return to Flagstaff through Oak Creek Canyon instead of I-17. So we took I-17 as far as AZ 179, then took that 15 miles north to Sedona. This gave us some great vistas of another part of "red rock country," as well as seeing some of what we had already seen, but from a different angle. Having driven both directions through Oak Creek Canyon, I would still recommend the north-to-south direction as the way to see it first. In the other direction, the canyon grows gradually; coming from the north, the impact hits you all at once.
Back in Flagstaff we settled on a Rodeway Inn (at $32 a night, the same as the Starlite). It was considerably better, though not perfect: the water was over-chlorinated, the smoke alarm didn't work, and we couldn't get the Flagstaff station on the television (which we wanted for the weather forecast). Still, it was a vast improvement. (Oh, lots of the motels in Flagstaff seem to be run by Indians. Not Native Americans, but Indians. Flagstaff is not where I would have expected a large Indian community, but there you have it.)
On the way to dinner, we passed by the Chamber of Commerce, which was still open (it's open until 9 PM during the week). So we stopped in to pick up information and ask about tickets to the Lowell Observatory (no longer necessary--just drop in). Then we ate dinner: barbecued chicken at Granny's Closet, with a really good salad bar.
Mileage today: 150 miles.
October 21, 1992: We went down to the motel office to extend our room for another three nights. Surprise! We could get it for two nights but Friday night was the start of Parents Weekend at Northern Arizona University and everything was booked up. Luckily, we were planning on leaving Saturday morning anyway, so we'll leave late Friday instead. I'm just glad we didn't arrive on Friday. As to why we didn't make all our reservations ahead, well, we want to be able to shift things around and not be locked in. It's a trade-off.
Upon calling the Grand Canyon and finding that the forecast for today was better than for the rest of the week, we decided to return there today. But rather than take AZ 180 to the south entrance again, we took US 89 north for 51 miles to Cameron, then turned west on AZ 64 for 31 miles. This took us through part of the Painted Desert and past the Little Colorado River Gorge, as well as getting us to the east end of the East Rim Drive.
This part of the Painted Desert is not the most dramatic--those parts are further north or in the Petrified Forest National Park. But if you're not going to either of those, this will do and provides a change of scene on the way to the Grand Canyon. The colors here are mostly reds and yellow, with green being provided by the plants, and blues only by morning or evening shadows. Up close, a lot of the color looked like what back East would be pollution--mineral deposits on the surface. But here it occurs naturally, so it's scenic instead.
The Little Colorado River Gorge is like a mini-Grand Canyon, a warm-up for the real thing just down the road. This is where a tributary of the Colorado River (the Little Colorado River) flows before it enters the Colorado and it exhibits the same formations as the Grand Canyon, but on a much smaller scale. In other words, on a scale you could grasp. This being fall, the river was dry, though the riverbed was damp. This whole area is within the Navajo Reservation and this area is in fact a Tribal Park (the equivalent of a State Park or a National Park). But where National Parks have official gift shops, the Tribal Parks have a lot of independent stands, more like a flea market. Of course, what the vendors are selling is almost identical from one to the other, particularly at the cheaper end of women's jewelry. There was more variation at the higher end, or in men's items such as belt buckles or bolo ties, but the prices seemed very consistent from another.
We got to the Desert View Point on the East Rim Drive about 10:30 AM. Once again, we were struck by the scope and beauty of the Grand Canyon. >From each point along the rim you get a different view and can see different features. It's not something you can see once and say you've seen.
Of course, nothing is perfect and the Grand Canyon is no exception. Well, the canyon may be, but the park around it has fallen prey to the inevitable problems. Gift and curio ships sit at the rim (okay, only at three spots, but still...). There is a replica of the original tower at this spot which costs twenty-five cents to climb. You're already a mile up- --will another fifty feet make a difference? (One good thing they have in the gift shop is disposable panoramic cameras--if you have a 35mm camera you can do better with that, but for people with Instamatics and such, $15 plus developing for twelve panoramic shots isn't bad and fills a need. What need is filled by the majority of stuff sold there is a matter for conjecture.)
We stopped at a couple more viewpoints and I mused on the mindset that has us drive to point A, get out, admire the view, get back in, drive to point B, get out, etc. This is clearly not the ideal way to see something like the Grand Canyon, but we have gotten into the mode of packing as much as possible into as short a time as possible. (This vacation is probably a perfect example of this.) By "we" I don't mean just Mark and I, but a lot of people. A lot of what we (Mark and I) saw we devoted enough time to, but to do something like the Grand Canyon justice you need more than one day. You also need more energy than we have--I don't think we're up to hiking down into the canyon and back. Maybe that's the problem: we want to do more, but can't. (Or as a character in a Karen Joy Fowler story says: "We should have done more. I look back on those years and it's clear to me we should have done more. It's just not clear to me what more we should have done.")
At 11:30 AM we took a guided tour of the Tusayan Ruins from a ranger who was considerably more favorable towards the Anasazi than the Fort Bowie ranger was towards the Apache. (By the way, "Anasazi" is a Navajo term meaning "Hostile Ones," and the Hopi, who consider themselves the descendents of the Anasazi, object to the term. But as it is in common use, and as there is no other term for these people, we're stuck with it. The term "Hostile Ones" does seem inaccurate, though, because very few of the burials excavated here show signs of violent death.)
The ranger spoke of what he saw as the three major differences between Native American society and Anglo society. One was the emphasis on the group over the individual. (This seems true of Japanese and Chinese society as well.) Another was the power of tradition--innovation is much less common and less well-received than in Anglo society. The argument that "it's always been done this way" carries much more weight in Native American society. And finally, the male and female roles are much more definite and distinct. These (to me) all seem like over-generalizations of Anglo society--certainly not a monolithic culture--and probably of Native American society. But it's an interesting hypothesis to start from.
The ranger also clarified what kachinas are, at least partially. He described them as being intermediates between people and gods, sort of like angels. There are 235 of them, and the dolls serve much the same purpose as statues of angels or saints do--as a reminder and as a teaching aid.
After this we continued along the East Rim Drive and the West Rim Drive, ending up at Hermit's Rest, another gift shop area. At one point we could see on the canyon floor the remains of an old camp which had been abandoned when the area became a National Park. We could also see some campers, though all you could see without binoculars was the blue dot of one of the tents. Whether it's the cumulative effect of seeing the canyon from many different points, or just the way some of the West Rim viewpoints project into the canyon, by the end I had the feeling that the Grand Canyon covered the entire world, or at least the entire world ahead of me and to either side. It seemed endless, and as though the only solid plain was behind me and I was looking at an infinity of canyon.
It was now 2:30 PM and we decided rather than wait three hours for sunset we would start back to Flagstaff now and see Wupatki National Monument on the way. We got to Wupatki at 4 PM, not enough time to see it all, but we decided to see what we could today and wrap it up Friday morning. We managed to see the Box Canyon ruins, Lomaki, the Citadel, and the main Wupatki ruins before dark overtook us. These were more ruins of the Sinagua people, and were fairly well preserved, though it's not clear how much restoration or repair has been done on them.
By the time we got back to Flagstaff, we decided to grab a quick bite at Taco Bell and rest up--we both needed it.
Mileage today: 262 miles.
October 22, 1992: Breakfast at J.B.'s again. They're right across the street and have a breakfast buffet for $2.99, so they're hard to beat.
Today's schedule involved a lot of driving. We started with 67 miles north on US 89, 63 miles east on US 160, and 10 miles north on AZ 564 to Navajo National Monument. This took us through more of the Painted Desert than yesterday, and here the blues and greens are actual rock colors rather than shadows and plants. (The best views of the Painted Desert turned out to be in the Petrified Forest National Park, but when we were there it was raining, so it was good we had seen this part.)
While driving, we listened to KTNN ("The Navajo Nation"), 660 on the AM dial (as they say). This is 75% country and western music and 25% Navajo music. The disc jockey does the commentary in Navajo, and the ads are in both Navajo and English. Even the stuff in Navajo has English, actually-- besides song titles and such, English is used for phone numbers, addresses, and other specialized uses. It's an odd mixture to hear, as Navajo is much more glottal than English and the transitions between languages is quite abrupt.
One of the first ads we heard was for a horse auction in Winslow. One of the specials was a "three-in-one sale," or as they described it, "a mare, a foal by her side, and another one in her tummy," all for one low price.
(I think we may be listening to too much country and western. Mark already knows the words to "Bubba Shot the Jukebox" and can sing along with it.)
We got to Navajo National Monument at 11:45 AM, which sounds like a longer drive than it is, but that is 11:45 AM Mountain Daylight Time. Arizona does not observe Daylight Savings Time. Except within the Navajo Reservation, which does. Except within the Hopi Reservation (which is completely surrounded by the Navajo Reservation) which doesn't. Got that?
Navajo National Monument consists of three sets of ancient Anasazi dwellings built into cliff walls. The most accessible (Betatakin) is visible from an overlook point a half-mile from the Visitors Center or via a three-mile hike. Luckily, the hiking trail was closed for the season so we could settle for the overlook trail without feeling guilty. Of course, this approach has its drawbacks. Though the cave in which the dwellings were built is 370 feet wide, 452 high, and 135 feet deep, and the dwellings normal size, the distance makes the dwellings look like doll houses, partially I suppose because we're not used to caves of that size. Binoculars are strongly recommended, though there is a telescope at the overlook (and free, not coin-operated).
We talked to the ranger a bit, trying to figure out exactly how the reservation stood vis-a-vis the state of Arizona (or New Mexico, or Utah, or Colorado, as it extends into all four). No sales tax is charged on the reservation. Cars are registered with the various states, but only the license plate fee applies--Navajos living on the reservation don't have to pay the somewhat expensive Arizona value tax on the car, for example. But they can vote in state elections. I still don't understand it all, I guess.
We returned to US 160 for another 19 miles east, then went north on US 163 for 24 miles to Monument Valley Tribal Park. This involved driving in Utah, but only for about a hundred yards, as the entrance is right over the state line, but the park is almost entirely in Arizona.
I would like to point out here that Monument Valley is a Tribal Park, not a National Park or a National Monument. Golden Eagle Passports are not accepted. I say all this because they say all this--on their entrance signs, on their brochures, etc. I suspect this is a source of much confusion.
Even before entering Monument Valley, we could see magnificent rock formations with such names as El Capitan and Owl Rock. But once inside you can see that the $2.50 admission fee is worth it. Of course, you still have two choices. You can drive your own car over the 17.5-mile dirt road through the park or you can take a guided tour that covers it. (Actually, the latter is still two choices: the 17.5-mile route for an hour and a half at $12.50, or an extended tour lasting two and a half hours and going to some additional sites for $15.) Since they said the road was passable for ordinary cars, we decided to drive ourselves.
The first part of the road was the worst par: fine loose sand with a lot of holes and ruts. (Coming back up was even worse, as it was hard to get traction if you slowed down, which I had to do when the car in front of me decided to stop briefly. But we did make it without mishap.) The only other really bad part was a fairly steep slope down a hill and across a stream, luckily fairly shallow. There was also a spring there, with the water being fed into something like a shower so that it came out of a faucet ten feet above the ground. Because this created a pool under it, the only way to fill a water bottle from it was by driving up to it and sticking the bottle out the window and under it. We watched one of the tour guides do this from his van, and he called out that we should do it too, that it was "Navajo beer." (On of the other differences between the Navajo Reservation and the rest of Arizona is that Prohibition is still in effect on the Reservation and alcohol is illegal.) Everyone on the Reservation seems very friendly (Mark compared them to the Dutch in this regard). I mean, here we were, driving ourselves around, not taking a tour, and yet the guide is as friendly to us as if we were. There was one spot where there were two Navajo girls about five years old and a sign saying you could take their picture for $2 each, which reminded us of the Masai girls in Kenya and Tanzania. But other than that, the merchants and vendors were much more dignified than in many places we've been. I know "dignified" sounds a bit patronizing, but when comparing them to (say) an Egyptian vendor who jumps out from behind a bush trying to sell you a necklace, or even a New York street vendor with his fake Rolexes, it seems the right word.
Monument Valley is where John Ford filmed a lot of his Westerns (there's even a John Ford's Point named after him) and so would probably look familiar if you've seen such films as SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON or FORT APACHE. I'm not sure who named the formations; Elephant Butte doesn't sound like a traditional Navajo name. There's Left Mitten Butte and Right Mitten Butte, the Totem Pole (another mixed metaphor--totem poles are used by the Northwest Indians, not the Southwest), Thunderbirds Mesa, and so on. And these forms are scattered over a wide landscape (which I guess is partly why wind erosion could work on them to achieve these results). It's like a giant sculpture garden.
We had arrived at Monument Valley at 2:45 MDT. We finished the drive about 5 PM MDT (this also included a stop at the Visitors Center before the drive).
I must admit to being surprised when I see a satellite dish next to a house on the Reservation, or that vendors take credit cards. It's a lifetime of seeing either movies about the Indians of a hundred years ago or unfavorable modern images emphasizing poverty for charity appeals. To take a more extreme example, if everything you knew about California came from movies set in the 1800s and pictures of South Central Los Angeles, you'd be surprised at the real thing too. While the difference isn't that dramatic, life on the Reservation appears to be not all that different from life off it. The houses and cars are not noticeably different and, while there is slightly more herding and farming on the Reservation, people there have pretty much the same jobs as off. The ranger at Monument Valley does construction work in Phoenix during the winter, for example.
In many ways, the Navajo Reservation is like Puerto Rico--part of the United States, but with a different culture than the rest of the United States and with a certain degree of autonomy. It's like a spectrum--Puerto Rico is more separate than the Navajo Reservation, and on the other side you have the New Orleans area of Louisiana, not officially separate in any sense, but supporting a distinct culture (Cajun) none the less, and having a somewhat different political structure (parishes instead of counties, and more laws based on the Napoleonic Code rather than on English common law).
When we left Monument Valley, we had dinner at El Capitan Cafe at the intersection of US 160 and US 163. Mark had a Navajo taco: beans, meat, lettuce, and tomato salsa on a large piece of "fry bread," which is like (Asian) Indian puri. (It is very confusing to refer to Asian Indians in this log. It's interesting that I find it necessary so often.) I had chile beans with fry bread. Good stuff, and clearly authentic--all the other customers were Navajo.
We returned to Flagstaff over the same route after dark. The sky was full of stars, more than we ever see at home. We even stopped on the way to look at the sky away from any light. (There wasn't even very much traffic, so it was really dark.) We could see the Milky Way clearly (not possible in New Jersey, at least with all the lights where we are) and there were so many stars we couldn't manage to pick out the Big Dipper among them, which is easy in the somewhat less populated skies back home.
We got back about 8:30 PM, ran a wash through the laudromat near us (one thing university towns have is laundromats), and went to sleep.
Mileage today: 400 miles.
October 23, 1992: Today we "finish" Flagstaff, or at any rate see what we can before heading for Winslow. Most of the motels still have "Vacancy" signs out so we might have been able to stay another night. Then again, they might have only singles left.
After breakfast and a quick stop at an ATM (isn't technology wonderful?), we drove up West Mars Hill Road to the Lowell Observatory. It is called Mars Hill Road because Percival Lowell did all his studies of Mars at the observatory he built here. (Most of them were about his canals, which turned out to be optical illusions, but he also did a lot of work whose accuracy and value remains.) It was also here that Slipher first found the evidence for an expanding universe and Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto (whose existence Lowell had predicted--alas, Lowell died before the discovery was made in 1932). Tombaugh used a "blink comparator" to flip back and forth between two photographs of the night sky taken six weeks apart, looking for the one "star" that had moved (only planets would move against the background that fast). I tried it out; if it had been me looking for Pluto, we'd still be looking.
It was cold and windy at the top of the hill, but at 10 AM the Visitors Center opened and we went in. The chandelier in the center is Tiffany or Tiffany-style and shaped like Saturn with its rings, a motif also seen in the iron gate leading to the telescope dome. The tour was given by a student (of mathematics, not astronomy) who seemed to concentrate on making it folksy and accessible rather than highly technical. Some of the folksy stuff was interesting, though--did you know that Lowell used cooking pots and fry pans from his wife's kitchen as lens covers on the telescope?
They're building a new Visitors Center which will be open in two years, at which point it will probably be like every other science museum and lose the historic aspect it has now. Even now, the small gift shop has books of photographs from Mariner and Voyager, but none of Lowell's own books.
On this trip we're seeing a lot of natural wonders, and Lawrence WattEvans' s statement (see page 20) still applies, but I should note here that Mars has canyons that would swallow the Grand Canyon and mountains to dwarf Everest (Valles Marineris and the Tharsis volcanos, respectively). Just wanted to keep it all in perspective.
We left the observatory around 11 AM and drove north back to Sunset Crater and Wupatki National Monument. We had driven through here in the dark two days before and so hadn't seen the giant cinder cone of Sunset Crater, the remains of a volcano that erupted in 1064, Arizona's last active volcano. Nor had we seen the other cinder hills or lava flows. And they were worth seeing, covering the entire area. Hiking is no longer permitted on the cinder cone itself, as the erosion caused by sliding cinders had killed all the plants on one side of the cone. (The trails were closed twenty years ago and filled in, yet you can still trace their path across the bare cone.) It all reminded me of Bartholome, the volcanic island we visited in the Galapagos, which they were also about to close for the same reason. In addition to cinders, there was aa lava and pahoehoe lava. The former is rough and jagged; the latter is smoother and in rope-like strands. The names are from Hawaiian, by the way.
We hiked the trail to the base of the cone and around the lava fields, trying desperately to avoid the large crowd of noisy children from an Episcopalian school. It was still quieter than the Visitors Center, where they were hammering away repairing the roof. Altogether we spent about an hour and a half at Sunset Crater, then continued down the loop road to the Wupatki ruins. In particular, we saw the Wupatki ruins and the Visitors Center, since we had seen the rest two days ago. This took about a half hour and then we backtracked past Sunset Crater and almost to Flagstaff, where we got onto I-40 east.
You may have noticed that while I mention breakfast and dinner, I never talk about lunch. That's because lunch is something like graham crackers and dried fruit, eaten while on the road. To do a trip like this you need four things, or rather you must lack four things: you must lack a mileage charge on your car, lunches, children, and brains. We're enjoying ourselves, but I can't actually recommend our schedule to anyone else.
As I said, we got onto I-40 east, but only for a few miles, to Walnut Canyon National Monument. At this point we hit the break-even point on our Golden Eagle Passports and we're only two-thirds of the way through the trip. This area of the country is heavily dotted with National Parks and National Monuments, and at a dollar here and two dollars there and ten for the Grand Canyon, it can add up fast.
Walnut Canyon National Monument is more cliff dwellings, these built in (surprise!) Walnut Canyon. This is much narrower than the other canyons, so the only way to see the dwellings very well is to climb down 240 steps. This doesn't sound bad, but then when you're done you have to climb back up, the equivalent of climbing a nineteen-story building, and at an altitude of 7000 feet. Still, we were feeling frisky, so we decided to try it instead of just peering at the ruins through binoculars.
The rooms in the canyon were very well-preserved, some of them complete so that if you entered them through the tiny doorway you could tell how it would have been inside of one of them back when they were in use. The thick walls kept out the heat, but they also kept out the light, and the door let in very little. Even with a cooking fire, it would be very dark, and all work that involved seeing what you were doing must have been done outside. There were built on ledges under cliff overhangs (like the ones we saw at Navajo National Monument) so there was some space in front of them and a ledge to walk on, but I wondered what the ledge (and the path down to it) were like before the National Park Service put in a good path for visitors. The canyon itself is like a small version of Oak Creek Canyon--high steep walls covered with pine and other trees.
The whole circuit, including the walk back up, took about an hour. We got back to I-40 east and drove to Winslow. As we drove the sky ahead darkened, contrasting sharply with the bright blue behind us. Lightning flashed all along the horizon, but very little rain fell, just a few splatters.
Mark claimed Winslow was the ugliest town we had seen on this trip. I can't argue that--most of what we saw consisted of run-down or closed motels, gas stations, and restaurants. The motels that are open are competing for the few customers who do get off the interstate. For many, the chief way they compete is by saying "American Owned" on their signs. At first glance, one might think this meant they weren't owned by a large multi-national firm (which is obvious just by looking at them), but what it really means is "not owned by (Asian) Indians." (This is speculation on my part, I admit, but Mark also came to the same conclusion.) This is no doubt one of the contributing factors that leads people to think of Arizona as a racist state (the flap over Martin Luther Day is another) and I for one will avoid places that advertise this way. (Actually, we seem to have settled on Motel 6 as the best room for the price, but not every town has a Motel 6.) This "American-owned" phenomenon continued in New Mexico as well, and the worst example I saw was one that said, "We're American. We're clean."
Winslow is probably best know from the song "Take It Easy" by the Eagles ("Standin' on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, and such a fine sight to see..."). As far as I can tell, there's nothing to do in Winslow but take it easy.
We had dinner at La Casa Blanca. I had a mediocre chicken fajita pita- --not that it surprised me. By the way, it seems to be customary here to drink iced tea from the glass rather than through a straw--even if Mark gets a straw with his lemonade, I rarely get one with my iced tea.
Mileage today: 151 miles.
October 24, 1992: We had breakfast at the Falcon Restaurant--not that there was enormous choice. After taking a picture of "The Corner" (2nd and Kingsley), we backtracked west on I-40 19 miles and then took the access road 6 miles to the Barringer Meteor Crater, a.k.a. the Winslow Meteor Crater. Daniel Moreau Barringer was the person who first theorized this was a meteor crater. In fact, this was the first positively identified meteor carter and is the best preserved. In addition to this crater, another crater on the far side of the moon (at 131 degrees west, 29 degrees south) is also named for him.
The crater is 575 feet deep and 4100 feet in diameter, caused by an eighty- to one-hundred-foot diameter meteorite. (The latter is speculation, as most of the meteor vaporized on impact.)
The crater us privately owned and in order to give people more than just a hole in the ground for their admission ($6 each, or $5 with an AAA discount), a museum has been built, half devoted to meteorology and half to space exploration (because the astronauts came here to learn about meteors and craters). There was a very good section on meteors and a fairly average section on space exploration (which did have a spacesuit that had been on the moon--there are only twelve of those). There were a couple of videos, "The Future Belongs to the Brave" and "Flights of Imagination," that weren't working at first and had to be rebooted. The latter video talked about the theory that organic molecules came here from outer space and then noted the irony that a meteor finally killed off the dinosaurs, bringing it all full circle in a way.
We decided not to hike around the rim of the crater, so the whole visit took about an hour and a half.
We got back on I-40 and went 50 miles east to US 180. The Petrified Forest National Park has a drive-through road that goes from I-40 to US 180, and when heading east it makes sense to start at the end on US 180. Actually, it would be nice to get off the interstate more often, but the interstate has replaced the "local" roads, in this case Route 66. There is still a fascination with Route 66 here, for reasons I don't quite understand, and everyone is selling Route 66 souvenirs.
We got to the Petrified Forest National Park about 11 AM. We started with the Rainbow Forest Museum. There was a lot of emphasis on not taking petrified wood out of the monument. We had seen similar warnings about removal or vandalism in other parks, but they really emphasized it here. They showed samples of letters that people had written and sent with pieces of petrified wood they were returning. They read like the bad luck parts of chain letters--"I took this piece of wood and three days later broke my leg." But it is a real problem here. They estimate that about 36,000 pounds of petrified wood are removed each week, or about 3.4 pounds per vehicle. And then there is the Fossil Cycad National Monument. Or rather, there was the Fossil Cycad National Monument. Established in South Dakota in 1922, it was closed in 1956 because all the fossil cycads had been removed. Which is why they emphasize the dictum, "Take nothing but photographs; leave nothing but footprints." To satisfy the souvenir seeker, the shop sells petrified wood collected outside the park on private land. (It's not clear this is much of an improvement, as this still depletes the landscape, but it beats plowing it under for farmland.)
After the museum we walked along the Giant Logs Trail behind the museum, where we got a chance to see close up the different kinds of petrified wood in all the colors created by the different minerals. This is the best trail, since it does have an explanatory booklet to tell you what you're seeing that the other trails lack.
The gift shop provides a way to buy legal petrified wood but a lot of the rest of their stuff is over-priced. For example, they had a bolo tie like the one Mark bought, but costing 50% more.
We drove along the scenic road, stopping to walk to the Agate House, a seven-hundred-year-old pueblo house built from petrified wood. It's amazing--a house built of what are practically semi-precious gems. William Randolph Hearst would have been so jealous!
We also walked through the Crystal Forest, which was basically more of the same. It used to have a lot of crystals in the hollows of some of the log, but those were taken by souvenir hunters even before this became a national monument. It was difficult to appreciate it even at the level remaining because we were somewhat preoccupied by the storm clouds and lightning rapidly approaching. In fact, we made it back to the car just as the rain really started. It let up enough for us to get out of the car to take a quick look at the petroglyphs on Newspaper Rock, but the beauty of the Painted Desert at the north end of the park was hidden by rain and clouds. Luckily, we had seen some of it earlier on the way to Monument Valley.
(Note: if you recall Casa Grande was the first National Monument. This was the second; it was later made a National Park.)
From here we drove east 22 miles on I-40 and the north 38 miles on US 191 into the Navajo Reservation and to the Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site. This part of the Reservation is obviously less traveled by tourists, because there were no stands selling jewelry and pottery as there were on US 89 out of Flagstaff. We left the Petrified Forest at 2:15 PM and arrived at the trading post at 4:30 PM, having once again lost an hour by driving on to the Reservation. And we weren't going to gain it back when we left, as we were leaving by way of New Mexico. But we would get it back overnight, as Daylight Savings Time ends tonight. Confused? So were we.
They say walking through the door of the trading post is like stepping back in time. It was--as soon as we got there, lightning hit a transformer somewhere and all the electricity stopped. So we had a chance to see the trading post as it was before the electric light (although we used flashlights instead of candles). It was full of a lot of antique goods (tack and such) as well as high-priced craft items like rugs. (I'm sure they were also high quality, but they weren't anything we were interested in.) We did buy a half pound of pinon nuts.
From there we went east 21 miles on AZ 264 to Window Rock, the tribal capital. Window Rock was named for the "window rock" or natural stone bridge north of the center of town. The tribal offices are all in the area at the base of this rock, a very nice setting.
We continued east on NM 264, leaving Arizona and the reservation and entering New Mexico. Then seven miles south on US 666 brought us to Gallup, our stop for the night. Dinner was at the Ranch Kitchen--some okay barbecued chicken. After dinner we drove out past the edge of town to watch the terrific lightning in the western sky.
Mileage today: 279 miles.
October 25, 1992: Breakfast was at the Ranch Kitchen. If we find a place that's good for dinner and open for breakfast, we tend to stick with it. It saves time.
We drove south 26 miles on NM 602, then west 5 miles on a side road and 6 miles on AZ 53 to Zuni Pueblo. (There seems to be some disagreement on whether there should be a tilde over the "n" in "Zuni." Since it's split about 50-50, I'll do it the easy way and not use it.)
Zuni was the first pueblo we visited and I have to say I found it a bit disappointing. That fact that it was Sunday, and early Sunday morning at that, may have contributed to this; there just wasn't very much activity. The houses looked pretty much like the houses in other towns. Oh, they had hornos (beehive-shaped mud ovens) in their yards, but these were often next to a satellite dish. There was great emphasis placed on the road being named Zuni Veterans Memorial Highway; there was even a historical marker commemorating this and all the Zunis who had served in the armed forces.
The Zuni, by the way, speak a language unrelated to any of the other languages of the Indian groups. Other language groups include Atabascan (Navajo and Apache), Keresan (Acoma and six other pueblos), and Tiwa (Taos, Isleta, Santa Clara, and others). At first glance it would seem that languages groups could help determine relationships between groups, but the relationship turns out to be more geographical than genetic. For example, Jews speaking Yiddish and Ladino are genetically closer to each other than to either German-speaking or Spanish-speaking people.
We stopped in a couple of shops that were open and discovered most items priced well out of our range. I guess we're just not interested in expensive objets d'art.
Going east on NM 53 for 34 miles brought us to El Morro National Monument. (There is also an El Morro in San Juan, Puerto Rico, administered by the National Park Service, but that's part of the San Juan National Historical Site. Still, it could lead to confusion. And what's the difference between a National Monument and a National Historical Site?) The main attraction of this site is grafitti, dating from 1605 to 1906. Actually, there's newer grafitti than that, but it's called vandalism. It's hard to explain why someone carving their name on a rock in 1880 is historic and should be preserved, and someone doing it in 1980 is a vandal. Was the 1880 person a vandal then?
The reason this giant sandstone cliff (headland, or "morro" in Spanish) has all the grafitti is that it also has a pool of water fed by a spring, making it a popular stopping place for travelers through the dry Southwest. A trail leads along the base of the cliff and a booklet points out the most important inscriptions (this is also known as Inscription Rock). Actually, 1605 is only the date of the first are Zuni or Anasazi petroglyphs pre-dating that. These are higher up, as the ground level has been eroded since they were made. Another trail (which we didn't take) climbs to the top of the bluff to some Anasazi/Zuni ruins up there.
This took about an hour, marred only by a family with three unruly children. That's what comes of sightseeing on weekends, I suppose. During the week, places are much quieter because all the children are in school. So unless you meet a field trip, you're all set.
Many of the National Monuments have booklets describing the trails, and they have a very reasonable system for allowing people to use them. You can borrow them while you're there for free, and if you want to keep one (since they have a lot of information and photographs), you pay fifty cents for it. This is often on the honor system, with a stack of booklets and a coin box at the trail head. This means they don't have to charge everyone for the book and seems to work well.
After El Morro we took NM 53 east for another 42 miles along the west side of the Mal Pais lava beds. These are from the same lava flows as the beds we passed through earlier near Carrizozo. After stopping at the Visitors Center in Grants (these beds are part of El Malpais National Monument), we drove south on NM 117 along the east side. There was a good overlook point, but the view from the road was considerably inferior to what we got driving near Carrizozo (or in fact driving along I-40, as we discovered the next day). If you really want to see the lava, you have to hike it. There is a seven-and-a-half-mile (one way) trail that crosses the entire flow. We hiked in for about a half hour, then returned, which is a way of getting the feel of it without doing a seven-hour hike. (I guess you have to arrange to be dropped of at one end and/or picked up at the other--I doubt most people hike a round trip.) The hike is really quite interesting- -the trail is marked by stone cairns with a tall branch stuck in them. Supposedly some of the cairns have been there for hundreds of years. You travel from marker to marker, always making sure you can see the next before leaving the last. And sometimes it's a bit of a puzzle how to get from here to there over crevasses and craggy "boulders" of lava. I would like to go back and try going further--but unencumbered with camera and binoculars, wearing a hat, and carrying some water. (And earlier in the day, when I'm not tired and sunset isn't approaching--even a low sun is a problem as it casts shadows obscuring some of the lava features.) Oh, well, maybe next time. If you're not planning on hiking, you might as well stick with the view from I-40.
All this driving and hiking filled up the rest of the afternoon, so we checked into the Motel 6 in Grants. Grants has been know most recently as a uranium mining town. The book started when an Indian overheard two men talking about looking for some yellowish rock. He saw what they had and realized he knew where there was a lot of it. (What isn't said is whether he got much out of all this.) Dinner was at 4B's, a typical "family restaurant."
Mileage today: 190 miles.
October 26, 1992: After breakfast, we drove east 12 miles on I-40 and another 15 miles on some fairly confusingly marked back roads to Acoma Pueblo, a.k.a. Sky City. All the directional signs were hand-painted (white on black mostly, sort of like their pottery colors, though it's probably a coincidence). The largest sign was set at an angle to the road at an intersection, so it was unclear whether the arrow was pointing east or south. I managed to guess wrong, but luckily noticed a sign in my rear view mirror a few miles later indicating that Acoma was behind me. Eventually we found the Visitors Center, about 8:30 AM.
A guided tour of Sky City costs $6 a person and the only way to see it is a guided tour. Photography is extra: $5 for cameras, $40 for sketching or painting, and no video cameras allowed.
Sky City claims to be the oldest continuously inhabited site in the United States, and archaeological evidence indicates activity back to 600 C.E. (Old Orabai in Arizona also makes this claim and is known to date back to at least 1100.) Of course, it's perhaps debatable whether Sky City should be counted as inhabited now. There are ten to thirteen families on the 357-foot-high mesa, or about thirty people. But I got the impression from our guide Hope (or Dumaituitsa) that this was a rotating population; people stayed on top for a few weeks, then returned to their homes below. It sounds to me as if they're trying to keep from ending their streak more than staying there because they want to. (The whole Acoma group has 4000 people, so the percentage on the mesa is relatively small.)
One of the main features of Sky City is the San Esteban de Acoma Mission, a large (120 feet by 40 feet by 60 feet) church dating from 1629. In fact, it is the largest of the pueblo missions, and the beams for the roof had to be carried from Mount Taylor, twenty miles away. The cemetery is of interest--it's forty feet deep, as new layers were added atop the old (something like the Jewish cemetery in Prague, though the latter is more like twenty feet deep). The cemetery is surrounded by a wall topped by lumps of clay representing sentries guarding the cemetery. The wall also has a hole in the south wall for the spirits to exit through. Oh, another similarity to the Jewish cemetery is that coffins are not used. Here it's because they might trap the spirit. In Jewish cemeteries there are coffins, but they are very simple and all wood, including pegs instead of nails, so that the body is not prevented from returning to the earth.
One reason people prefer to live "below" is that there is no running water on the mesa top, all water is collected from natural cisterns which catch the rain water, and the only electricity is from generators. Of the cisterns, only two out of the five have potable water (the others are too close to the homes and streets). There is one tree on the mesa top (a cottonwood), and one rose bush. While the dwellings still have the traditional ladders outside, they also have stairs inside. The kiva, however, retains its traditional roof entrance and has not been modernized.
Like all pueblo people, the Acoma are matrilocal. In addition, inheritance of the house is through the youngest daughter. If there is no daughter, it goes to the youngest son. If there are no children, it is returned to the clan to be given to the closest relative. This rarely happens. Currently on the seventy acres of mesa top, there are four hundred to five hundred homes. (Remember that there are only ten to thirteen families, and you can see why I'm not sure this counts as "continuously inhabited.") The main reason people live on top of the mesa seems to be to sell pottery to the tourists. I wasn't counting but we seemed to pass between ten and thirteen pottery stands. I doubt this was coincidental.
Though we rode up in a bus on a road built in 1957, we all decided to take the old stone stairway down. It was tricky in a couple of places, but there were lots of hand holds carved in the cliff that helped. I can see how it would have been difficult for enemies to attack Acoma up that.
Visible from the top of the mesa was also Enchanted Mesa. Legend has it that the Acoma used to live on this mesa until a violent storm destroyed the stone staircase that provided the only access to the top. One legend says only a grandmother and granddaughter were atop the mesa when this happened; another says there were more. Of the grandmother and granddaughter, some claim they leapt to their deaths rather than starve up there. Some say that when the wind is blowing, you can hear the cries of those trapped on the mesa in it. In all the versions, the current Sky City was founded by those who were not on the mesa when the storm came.
The tour took about an hour (in the summer, they're forty-five minutes, but things aren't as hectic now). We also looked around the small museum in the Visitors Center before leaving at 10:30 AM. The road back to I-40 was better marked (going from west to east one exits I-40 at exit 96 and rejoins it at exit 108, so it's a different road).
Going east on I-40 another 48 miles to Albuquerque, we followed NM 448 and side roads to Petroglyph National Monument. This is a very new National Monument, created in 1990. The Visitors center was completed only two months ago and the signs directing people there still call it "Indian Petroglyph State Park." There are three trails among the petroglyphs. The easiest is a five-minute walk past three or four clear petroglyphs (and others less clear). The toughest is a climb up a one-hundred-and-fifty-foot hill past dozens of petroglyphs. Again, a booklet helps pick all the major figures out. All three trails took about an hour.
We returned to I-40 for another 4 miles and then took I-25 north for 52 miles. Traffic into Albuquerque on I-25 was very heavy, which seemed strange for 1 PM. And so it was--George Bush was speaking in the Albuquerque Plaza at 2 PM. I'm glad we hadn't planned on seeing Albuquerque today.
In Santa Fe we exited I-25 and took US 285 north for 34 miles, then NM 68 for 46 miles to get us to Taos, arriving about 4 PM.
After checking into the Super 8 Motel--surprisingly fancy for the price, with hand-crafted furniture--we drove to the plaza. The technical term for Taos is "artsy-fartsy." It's full of cute little shops and art galleries with price tags which are neither cute nor little. It's fun to walk around, but it's not the sort of place where I would shop. There were a couple of places in our price range that had some nice pottery or jewelry, but on the whole I found it less than engaging.
Dinner was at El Patio de Taos, just off the plaza. Some of the scenes in EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE were filmed here. I had a chicken tamale; Mark had chiles rellenos. (They also had a duck enchilada on the menu.) Considering how expensive the stores are, the prices ($10 to $15 for entrees) seemed very reasonable.
Mileage today: 266 miles.
October 27, 1992: It was 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius) outside when we woke up. In Flagstaff the highs were in the 70s and the lows in the 40s; here it's the 60s and the 30s.
At home Mark gives me breakfast in bed the 27th of every month since we were married on the 27th (of August). Here it consisted of handing me the water bottle.
Real breakfast was at El Taoseno, popular with the residents (judging from the number of Taos plates in the parking lot--New Mexico license plates indicate the county where they were issued). There was a sign on the door saying that it would be closed tomorrow for cleaning; I didn't notice, but Mark said it needed it. The food was okay, though. People out here must drink their coffee black more than back east, since they always ask if you want cream before bringing it (and half the time it's non-dairy powdered creamer anyway).
We drove counter-clockwise (widdershins, for all you Britons) around the "Enchanted Circle," starting by driving east 31 miles on US 64. This goes through some areas that must have had brilliant foliage a week or two ago, but by now most of the leaves had fallen off the trees. Still, there were occasional bright slashes of yellow across the landscape where some stand of trees was still holding on to autumn.
We drove through Palo Flechado Pass at 9107 feet and then stopped briefly at the D.A.V. Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Angel Fire. The Visitors Center was closed or we might have asked why they chose to have a Christian chapel rather than a neutral one. It was originally build by the Westerphall family as a memorial to their son, but I would have expected that when the D.A.V. adopted it, it would have grown to include Jews and other non-Christians as well.
We left the Enchanted Circle and continued east on US 64 for 24 miles to Cimarron. Cimarron was once a rootin'-tootin' Wild West town full of gunfights and other excitement; the dining room ceiling in the historic St. James hotel has twenty-two bullet holes in it and that's just since they put up the most recent ceiling in 1903. Now Cimarron is a sleepy town of 888 people whose major social spot is probably the local video store. The St. James Hotel is there, having been recently renovated and re-opened as a hotel. It's also for sale, indicating a possible lack of business. There are three rooms on the first floor open as exhibits of typical rooms: the Bat Masterson Room, the Pancho Griego Room, and the Jessie [sic] James Room. Somehow I doubt the electric blanket in the Jessie James Room is authentic to his period.
Returning over the same US 64 to the Enchanted Circle, we continued clockwise through Bobcat Pass at 9854 feet and Red River, your archetypal ski town with pseudo-Alpine store fronts. This was in, not surprisingly, the Red River Valley, though whether it is the same one as in the song I can't tell.
We continued around NM 38 and NM 522 for another 45 miles, then took US 64 west for a short side trip to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, which is the second highest bridge in the national highway system at 685 feet above the river bed. (No, I don't know what the highest is.) We parked the car and walked across the bridge, which was quite unnerving--685 feet is a long way down.
By the time we returned to the main road and then Taos, it was 2 PM. This was partly from the trip to the bridge, but mostly because we had to drive somewhat slower on these roads than on the main roads we had been driving. So we decided to skip Taos Pueblo (having seen two other pueblos) and drop in to the Kit Carson Museum in the short time remaining before we had to leave.
The Kit Carson Museum is pretty much what you would expect: memorabilia from Kit Carson as well as other objects from his era. The two items worth noting might be that the museum was restored by the Masons (of which Carson was a member) and that there was an exhibit for the New Mexico Trappers Hall of Fame. The concept, at least to Easterners, may seem a bit strange. They included various types of traps, with a prominent note that steel-jawed leg traps are now illegal in New Mexico. (By the way, a referendum to ban them in Arizona just failed, another example of why I prefer New Mexico.)
Rather than take the main road back to Santa Fe, we took what is called the High Road, east 15 miles on NM 518, west 5 miles on NM 75, and south 32 miles on NM 76. This took us through high forested mountains and picturesque villages such as Truchas (where THE MILAGRO BEANFIELD WAR was filmed) and Chimayo. Chimayo is known somewhat for its weavers but more for El Santuario de Chimayo, the only miraculous shrine in the United States. Vince Staten, in UNAUTHORIZED AMERICA, calls it the Shrine of the Discarded Crutch because the side chapel walls are hung with crutches et al that people have left there.
We rejoined US 84/285 south and got into Santa Fe just in time to join rush-hour traffic. At least George Bush wasn't in town.
We checked in to the Motel 6 (a bit run-down, with an out-of-focus television and a somewhat flakey heating system) and had dinner at Tortilla Flats, recommended by both the desk clerk and someone on the Net, but not much different than the Chi-Chi's chain at home.
Oh, earlier I mentioned video stores. Maybe it's the lack of any other entertainment, but it seems like every tiny town--meaning a corner with a gas station and a trading post or general store--has a video rental store or videos in the general store, frequently with a name like "Video Casa."
While I'm digressing, I need to comment on the Official Sound of this tour. On our Southeast Asia trip, it was the sound of Steve's lens cap falling on the ground. On this trip, it's the camera, lens cap, and binoculars hanging around Mark's neck clacking together while he walks--sort of a shake, rattle, and roll. (I'm sure Mark has included comments about me in his log.) And the Official Phrase is, "What are my options?" This was first asked at Walnut Canyon by Mark as we prepared to climb back up the 185 feet. My answer? "March or die."
Mileage today: 245 miles.
October 28, 1992: J.B.'s for breakfast, then north 16 miles on US 285 and west about 20 miles on NM 502 to Bandelier National Monyment. They were doing construction to improve NM 502, which delayed us somewhat, but the road probably needs it. On the edge of Bandelier we saw a group of three mule deer right beside the road. We've seen mostly cattle, sheep, and horses on this trip, but also a fair number of deer.
At Bandelier we took the self-guiding trail past the closest ruins (the "Ruins Trail"). The only other possibility was to include the Ceremonial House, but this involved an additional hour and climbing up 140 feet on four wooden ladders. That's about the equivalent of four stories for each ladder. We decided the main ruins were quite sufficient and they provided us with the opportunity to climb ladders into them with ladders of a reasonable size. Climbing up into one of the caves carved out of the volcanic tuff and sitting there looking out over the canyon gives one such a sense of peace that one could stay there for hours.
But we didn't, although the two hours we spent did give us a little bit of everything: some ruins, some petroglyphs, and a nature trail. As far as animal life went, though, we saw more off the nature trail than on it. In addition to the mule deer mentioned earlier, there was a tarantula by the largest kiva and lots of birds living in and around the ruins. On the nature trail we saw a flicker (sort of like a woodpecker) and a squirrel with very long bushy ears. This is probably the best place for birdwatching we've been, except for the aviary at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, which doesn't count.
In addition to the trails mentioned, Bandelier National Monument has several longer trails to other ruins. Since we're probably not in shape for an eight-hour hike, and since we're trying to do a bit of everything, we stuck with just the basic trail. However, we did take the long version of it rather than the abbreviated version. (This was also what we did at Sunset Crater.)
We had originally planned to go to Los Alamos first and then Bandelier, but one of our books said that photographing the ruins was best done with the morning sun, so we had switched the two. And a good thing it was, since it had been sunny at Bandelier but almost as soon as we left it clouded up and started raining, and continued to rain on and off for the rest of the day. Luckily Bandelier is our last scheduled outdoor activity of any length, so as far as weather, we've been very lucky--unusually so for us. Our Spain trip (worst rain and flooding in fifty years) and our Scandinavian trip (heat wave in the high 80s in Denmark, snow in Norway, cold rain on the fjord) are much more typical for us. Here we had the same temperature range as in Scandinavia, but we expected it.
We left Bandelier National Monument for Los Alamos but I managed to misread one of the signs and we drove west about 10 miles to Valle Grande, a giant volcanic caldera. At this point we realized we had made a wrong turn and went back, eventually finding our way to Los Alamos. Maybe the minimal signage is a hold-over from the days when Los Alamos was a top-secret site.
Any any rate, we arrived at the Bradbury Science Museum about 12:15 PM. And in answer to your first question, no, this is named after Norris E. Bradbury. We started with a twenty-minute film, "The Town That Never Was," about the Trinity project from December 2, 1942, when they achieved nuclear fission under the squash court at the University of Chicago, through the years of secrecy at Los Alamos, and up to July 16, 1945, and the explosion of the first atomic bomb and Oppenheimer's quote: "I am become Shiva, destroyer of worlds."
In fact, Oppenheimer's quote may be the only negative thing the museum says about the atomic bomb. Missing are any photographs of radiation victims--they do show the physical destruction of Hiroshima, but it looks no worse than Dresden. While I don't expect a heavy emphasis on the horrors of nuclear war, a little more balance might be in order. I should also mention that a lot of the work these days at Los Alamos National Laboratories (lanl.gov for those on the Internet) is totally unrelated to weapons research or even atomic research. For example, there is the Human Genome Project to map the entire human DNA. As an off-shoot of this, LANL also maintains the World Health Organization's database for AIDS viral sequencing, used to track the various strains and to focus efforts to find a vaccine. A lot of information about the current work is in a video called "Los Alamos in the News," which shows recent television news clips about LANL.
As you might suspect from the above, a much higher level of knowledge is expected of the visitor than at most museums. One of the explanatory videos at an exhibit on materials science had section headings of "Material Boundary Tests," "Pressure Contour Mapping," and "Deformation of the Finite Element Mesh." There were some exhibits that explained things on a more basic level, but it was all clearly aimed at a scientifically literate group. I suppose this lets out George Bush as a visitor since he just said Clinton couldn't possibly have studied the CAFE standards because they have square roots in them. The "education President," huh?
Naturally there were also historical tidbits mixed in with the science. For example, the secrecy led to everything having code names and even Los Alamos itself was kept a secret name. New arrivals were just told to check in at 109 East Palace Avenue in Santa Fe (now Tara Tucker Linens) and all mail was sent to P.O. Box 1663 in Santa Fe, which was also used on drivers' licenses and birth certificates. (In fact, driver's licenses didn't even list names, but just numbers, to the confusion of many state police when they stopped people.) One company wrote to someone requesting a catalog: "We have sent over a hundred catalogs to your address. We don't know what you are doing with them, but we are not sending any more."
We spent two hours at the museum, finishing about 2:15 PM. We drove around Los Alamos a bit, but none of the buildings (except Fuller Lodge) seemed to date from before the 1950s. The Los Alamos County Historical Museum was in Fuller Lodge, one of the buildings from the Ranch School that occupied Los Alamos before the government evicted them in January 1943. (The reason the government picked New Mexico is reflected in Saberhagen's observation as cited on page 8.) Among the its graduates the school numbers Gore Vidal and Bill Veeck. The museum covered more of the history of the area than just the atomic bomb project, though that figured heavily in the exhibits and indeed in the area. For example, they had sample Burma Shave signs that said, "We don't know / How to split an atom / But as for whiskers / Let us at 'em." There was also a lot of wartime memorabilia: ration books and such. And they had the letter Oppenheimer's secretary wrote asking for a nail for him to hang his hat on, and the followup letter thanking them for the nice coat rack but saying "Oppie" still wanted his nail.
This took about an hour, then we returned to Santa Fe, mostly in the rain. But when it cleared we could see that what had been rain in Santa Fe was snow up in the mountains, the first snow of the year.
We stopped by Mail Boxes, Etc., to ship home most of the books we had bought. Alas, this only encouraged us to buy more. In fact, we immediately went into a Hastings in the same shopping center and bought a book of Western writing. Hastings is one of a new breed of store that carries books, music (cassettes and CDs), and videos--a sort of all-purpose entertainment store. We had dinner at the Red Cloud Cafe; I had vegetarian tamales. Back home you usually can't get tamales and if you do, they're always beef. Here, you have a whole variety.
Mileage today: 124 miles.
October 29, 1992: After the usual J.B.'s breakfast we drove in to the Plaza area of Santa Fe, arriving way too early for most of what we wanted to do. It was 8:30 AM and the museums opened at 10 AM, so we walked around the area. The Loretto Church with its "miraculous staircase" was open, but now it's run by Best Western and charges $1 admission. The story is that after the church was finished, they discovered that they hadn't built a stairway to the choir loft. An itinerant carpenter showed up and with only rudimentary tools built a spiral staircase that goes through two 360-degree turns with no center support and wooden pegs instead of nails.
About 9 AM some of the stores around the Plaza opened so we had a chance to go in instead of just looking at high-priced merchandise through the windows. There were also vendors setting up in front of the Palace of the Governors (the historical museum). This is a somewhat controversial program. The museum licenses the vendors and insists their goods be highquality and made by them personally, including hand-grinding of the paints for the pottery. The controversial point is that they also insist the vendors be American Indians, and there have been (and probably still are) court cases about whether it is legal for the museum to make this restriction.
There is a monument in the Plaza commemorating the various battles in New Mexico. One side commemorates battles against "savage Indians," but the word "savage" has been chiseled out.
The Palace of the Governors opened at 10 AM. We got the $6 combination ticket good for all four state museums for two days, rather than the $3.50 single admission. There was a guided tour at 10:30 AM, so we spent a half hour looking at the exhibits before it started. They had a portrait of Father Lamy, whom Willa Cather wrote about in DEATH COMES FOR THE ARCHBISHOP. His main achievement seems to be his making the Church in New Mexico more by rebuilding churches in the European style and importing European priests. This reminded me of the missionaries in James Michener's HAWAII. One of them has asked for more missionaries to be sent and was told that the idea had never been to keep supplying missionaries and ministers from the United States, but rather to start ordaining Hawaiians. The missionary recoiled in shock at the idea that Hawaiians would ever be ordained as ministers, and the impression the museum gives is that Father Lamy might have reacted in a similar fashion. If so, I'm not sure why he's honored for this.
One of the things on display was a bilingual ballot. New Mexico requires all ballots be printed in both English and Spanish, and one also hears more Spanish on the radio and television and sees more bilingual labels in museums. On the whole, New Mexico seems like a state that handles diversity well.
We also saw a small New Mexico flag that had been on the moon with the Apollo 11 astronauts. Since I don't think either of them was from New Mexico, I guess they took up all fifty state flags.
One peculiar item was a large copy of the state seal made entirely out of goods from a hardware store: spoons, keys, knives, etc. It was made by the owner of a major hardware store right after statehood and presented to the museum.
One of the tin candle sconces on display had a Star of David design on it, which tied in with a recent article in a Santa Fe paper about the number of people in Santa Fe with a secret Jewish background. It seems that many conversos left Spain for the relative freedom of the New World (or at least distance from the Inquisition). But they retained many of their old customs and passed these on and it is only the current generation that realizes why their family puts a fresh tablecloth on the table on Friday nights, or carves four-sided tops with a letter on each side, or dresses up on Saturday.
After the Palace of the Governors, we dropped into the Museum of Fine Arts next door but spent very little time. Three of the galleries were closed, and what remained was not the sort of art that appeals to us. There was only one Georgia O'Keeffe on display, "Bear Lake" (1931). For someone who's practically the official state artist, she's awfully hard to find outside of books and appointment calendars.
We drove to the Museum of International Folk Art by way of the state capitol, built in the shape of the Zia sun symbol that is also the state's symbol: a circle with short rays coming out at north, south, east, and west. The capitol is just one of the many things that sets Santa Fe apart. It's the oldest state capital, established in 1610 as a provincial capital. It's the highest state capital, at 7000 feet. It's the only state capital with neither commercial jet nor train service. And it has its 1957 Historical Zoning Ordinance, which requires that all new buildings in Santa Fe follow strict regulations to make them look like traditional pueblo structures. The result is that no building in Santa Fe is higher than three stories and there are few of these, so Santa Fe has no skyline.
The Museum of International Folk Art is the third of the New Mexico state museums we visited. Its core collection is the Girard Collection of international folk art and toys, a collection so huge that it intimidates the would-be viewer. It's impossible to take it all in, as there are literally thousands of pieces. For example, there are a half dozen miniature towns, each with buildings, vehicles, objects, and population. Any one of them would take a while to appreciate fully, yet there is so much more that beckons. Eventually we had to give up on trying to see it all. They also had a temporary exhibit on folk art from Turkey and another of Hispanic folk art.
We spent about an hour and a half in this museum, then at 2 PM walked across the parking lot to the last of the New Mexico state museums, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture. This was a good museum, but by now we had seen so many similar museums and displays that it was hard to find this one interesting. We stopped at the snack bar for some authentic food (pretty good, actually) and spent some time talking to the volunteer in the Living Traditions center, a sort of "hands-on" area mostly for children, but with things for adults as well.
At 3 PM we left Santa Fe and started for Albuquerque. Rather than take the interstate we decided to follow the "Turquoise Trail," a more scenic route. This is actually NM 14, which passes east of the Sandia Mountains (the interstate passes west). On the east side are scenic hills and "ghost towns." One example of the latter is Madrid (pronounced MAH-drid), which used to be a real ghost town until lots of artists moved in and set up shops and galleries. There are still some of the old houses abandoned at the edges of town, and the town is picturesque, but it's not a real ghost town.
About 30 miles south of Santa Fe, the Turquoise Trail turned off NM 14 onto NM 536, which climbed and wound its way up the Sandia Mountains. After about 10 miles we came to a fork in the road. The left road continued up to Sandia Crest; the right traveled down the west side to Placitas. While it might have been nice to drive to the top, there were several considerations against it. One, the road to Placitas included 8 miles of steep, winding dirt road. Two, it was another 10 miles of winding road up and then back down to this same point, as there is no road to the Crest on the west side. Three, it was almost dusk, and while that's supposed to be very beautiful from the top, driving back down these roads in the dark didn't appeal to me. The only way to avoid the dirt road would be to backtrack down to NM 14 and that would get us to Albuquerque very late. (As it was, we got the last room at the motel we wanted.) So we decided to skip the Crest this time around. (If you want to see dusk from the Crest, taking the tram up is probably a lot safer!)
So we started down the dirt road, full of potholes and ruts and scenery I couldn't really appreciate without risking becoming part of it. We did stop (briefly!) to get a picture, but the road was so curvy it wasn't possible to stop for very long. There were cars going in the other direction, reassuring us that we weren't headed for a dead end and also that, if we had a breakdown, someone would probably come along. It was sort of the grand finale to all our driving, because the remainder will be city driving in Albuquerque.
We checked into the Monterey Motel on Central Avenue (which used to be Route 66). This was the nicest place we stayed the whole trip and only about $40 a night.
Since it was so late we went to Little Anita's, a nearby chain. We should have picked this over Tortilla Flats in Santa Fe--it was much better.
Mileage today: 103 miles.
October 30, 1992: We had a very Southwestern breakfast--a fried egg over beans with chile over that and a tortilla on the side. This was at a small place called Garcia's just down the road from the motel.
We began with the New Mexico Museum of Natural History, just a few blocks from the motel. A combination museum/Dynamax ticket is normally $7.35; with the AAA discount it's $6.30. (I think the museum alone is about $4.20.) This is one of the newest of the major natural history museums and had to cope with not having a lot of specimens. They solved the problem by using their imagination--and yours.
Most of the displays are in a timeline: Origins; Age of Giants; New Mexico's Seacoast; Age of Volcanos; Evolving Grasslands; Cave; New Mexico's Ice Age; and Arid Lands, Sacred Waters. Origins is about the creation of the universe, the Earth, and life, told mostly through words and pictures with some light displays to augment them. Age of Giants has a few real dinosaur bones, but is mostly artificial skeletons. New Mexico's Seacoast is one of the most elaborate displays, a full-scale model of a small section of the seacoast as it existed in New Mexico seventy million years ago or so. (The most popular unit of measure for time in these exhibits is M.Y.A.-- millions of years ago. It saves having to decide whether to label things B.C. or B.C.E.) In addition to the model (complete with the sounds one might hear), there were several interactive parts to involve the visitor. There was a sort of evolutionary pachinko, in which you track a ball through a choice tree with decision points such as "Do you stay on land or learn to fly?" At the end you find out what animal you've become. There were also a "bee mask" and a "parasaurolophus mask" where you could look through the eye pieces and see what they saw, in the sense of seeing the world as a left side and a right side, with basically no forward vision or binocular vision. There was also a laser animation sequence. First you saw a (real) fossil of a small dinosaur in stone. Then a laser light drew the outline of the dinosaur, which got up, ran around, was chased by a larger dinosaur, and eventually collapsed and died, forming the shape of the fossil which then re-appeared.
Between the seacoast and the volcano was the "Evolator." This is a time machine which carries you through millions of years of evolution with stops along the way to look out through a viewscreen and see what the area looked like, complete with dinosaurs and early mammals. The floor moved up and down slightly to give you a feeling of motion and the whole thing seemed at least partly inspired by Dr. Who and the Tardis, including some of the special visual effects. Science fiction fans will love it!
For the Age of Volcanos, you walk through a fake volcano and see pictures and films of what it would be like in a real volcano, complete with fake steam coming from cracks in the walls. Evolving Grasslands was the least interesting, being primarily a mural showing the evolution of the horse. Cave is sort of a substitute for Carlsbad Caverns for those who can't see the real thing--probably good, but it didn't do much for us. (It is bigger than the cave at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum: in this one you walk through, while in the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum you crawl.) New Mexico's Ice Age had more models, now of mammoths and camels and sabre-tooth tigers. There was an interactive exhibit about tooth shapes, but it was broken. The tree ring puzzle (where you figure out when a particular tree slice was cut by matching the rings against a labeled set) was fun. The final part (Arid Lands, Sacred Waters) seemed more about water conservation than natural history in the usual sense and was similar to part of the exhibit in the Arizona Museum of Science and Technology.
The Dynamax show was delayed while they fixed some problem with the theater. We were supposed to see the 10 AM show, but ended up seeing it at 11 AM instead. It was about Niagara Falls ("Niagara Falls: Man, Myth, and Magic," I think) and had a bit too much of the myth and magic part, with legends about Indian maidens jumping in and being caught by the gods. It did cover some of the history, including the first person to go over the Falls in a barrel and survive (Annie Taylor and her cat Henry). If you've never heard of her, don't be surprised; though she hoped to achieve lasting fame by her feat, it didn't work very well. The last person to survive the Falls was a young boy whose family was boating on the Upper Niagara River when their motor failed. The father died (I believe), but the mother was pulled out above the Falls, and the boy survived because the life vest he was wearing buoyed him up enough to carry him over the rocks instead of onto them. (The fact that he was a boy rather than a full-grown adult helped as well.) There are two lessons to be learned from this: always wear a lifevest when boating, and don't go boating on the Upper Niagara River.
There were also a couple of notices in the museum that I didn't quite understand, which said something like, "Out of respect for our Indian visitors, we want to tell you that there is the skeleton of a horned owl in this exhibit" or, "Out of respect for our Indian visitors, we want to tell you that there are two horned owls in this exhibit." I assume the horned owl has some sort of taboo associated with it; I'm sure someone will tell me if I'm wrong.
When we were done here we decided not to bother with the various museums on the University of New Mexico campus; we were getting museumed out. Instead we went to a movie: 1492: THE CONQUEST OF PARADISE. It was a big disappointment, but it at least kept us from getting too far behind in seeing the major film releases. We also stopped into a Bookstar, a Barnes & Noble superstore with a very good selection, but luckily we (okay, I) bought only one book.
For dinner we went to Mr. Powdrell's Barbecue (a.k.a. Powdrell's Barbecue), which came highly recommended but Mark thought only average. Still, even average barbecue is better than no barbecue.
Mileage today: 33 miles.
October 31, 1992: This is our last real vacation day, since our flight tomorrow is at 9 AM (and it's a good thing I called to reconfirm, because the time had changed).
We had breakfast at the Village Inn and got to the Albuquerque Museum at 9 AM. This was also very near our motel, and practically across the street from the Museum of Natural History. The East Gallery of the Museum was closed, as they were changing exhibits there, but there was still plenty to see.
The main exhibit is "Four Centuries of History" which covers (not surprisingly) the four centuries of Albuquerque's history since the Spanish arrived. This gives somewhat short shrift to the area's pre-Columbian inhabitants, but the town itself is only four centuries old, so maybe they can be forgiven. They do cover the native inhabitants as well as the Spanish and Anglo settlers, so it is not one-sided.
The art section is not a permanent exhibit, but changes from time to time. This time one of the artists featured was Luis Tapia, whose work I had liked so much in the Heard Museum.
As we left the museum (about 10:30 AM) and drove towards our next stop, we could see the tops of the Sandias shrouded in clouds. The day was on the whole fairly overcast, with drizzle on and off.
Our next stop--and final "official" activity--was the National Atomic Museum on Kirtland Air Force Base. This was there due to the proximity of Sandia Labs, no doubt. The lobby had a temporary exhibit honoring Stanislaw Ulam, author of ADVENTURES OF A MATHEMATICIAN and inventor of the Monte Carlo technique for betting. Inside, the main display is the "Nuclear Weapons History Display," which covers Oak Ridge and other locations in addition to Los Alamos. We saw this in three parts, since we stopped at 11 AM to watch "Ten Seconds That Shook the World" (and were reminded of the quote signaling Fermi's success in a controlled nuclear reaction: "The Italian navigator has landed in the New World," which fit it well with yesterday's film). One interesting tidbit was the fact that Los Alamos and other locations hired only illiterate janitors so there was no chance of them reading something in the trash. They talked about how destroying the German heavy-water plants set back the German effort, but it turned out that Germany had decided to go with V-2 rockets instead of working on atomic bombs; the heavy-water plants would not have helped them build an atomic bomb in any case. And here they quoted Oppenheimer as saying: "I am become Death, shatterer of worlds" (rather than "I am become Shiva, destroyer of worlds"); I wonder which is right. The film, being from 1963, was somewhat dated. In fact, it's 50% older now than the atomic bomb was when the film was made.
We also saw another short film about the B-52, not nearly as interesting. (This was the other break in seeing the display.)
While we were here we met another couple. The husband has a company that designs museum exhibits and was on a working visit to the area to help update some of the exhibits here and at some other museums. And the wife's family is from Hiroshima, though they lived on the far side of the mountain and so weren't killed by the bomb.
And finally we walked around the outdoor exhibits (planes and rockets); by now the rain had pretty much stopped.
Since it was only 2 PM, we did what Leepers always do when they have spare time--we went to some bookstores and then another movie! (BOB ROBERTS, which I liked more than Mark did.)
Dinner was at the Monte Vista Fire House (it used to be a fire house; now it's a restaurant). I had Grilled Salmon with Wasabi Beurre Sauce and Wild Rice and Mushroom Pancakes; Mark had Honey-Glazed Duck.
All that was left now were the dregs of the trip: the final fill-up of the gas tank, checking out of the motel (as the office wouldn't be open when we left the next morning), etc.
Mileage today: 22 miles.
November 1, 1992: True to form, we had problems. All we had to do was find the airport, but the road the map showed to the airport was closed and we ended up on the interstate past the airport. Eventually we got off, turned around, and stumbled around on side roads until we found the way. (What town doesn't have directional signs to the airport?!)
We returned the car, with 4433 miles on it (it had 10 when we started), and caught our plane with no problems. We made our connection in St. Louis and got to Newark, where our friends picked us up. And then we got home.
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