New Mexico 2020

2020 has been an interesting year so far. Taylor and Lucia made us grandparents in February to a beautiful granddaughter, Beatrice. Tom, our eldest son, was home from his job overseas and we enjoyed 6 weeks with him before he headed out again on his next assignment.

Once he left, Pam and I decided to take another road trip. The valley hit a new record this year of 50 days over 110 degrees, so we were ready for some cool air in higher elevations. We headed up to our place on the Rim as a first stop for a couple days to let the poor Roamer shed some of the heat it had been soaking up all summer.

The weather up at 7,600 feet was nice and cool. The forest was healthy, the sky clear of forest fire smoke and the pond was still holding a lot of water even with the below average rainfall this monsoon season.

We found a recent carcass that had been picked clean by the local coyotes and birds on our walks around the pond.

We planned to visit Bandelier National Monument on our way north this year, but New Mexico has been one of the more restricted states relative to COVID. When I called the Ranger station at Bandelier to see what restrictions were in place, I was reminded that the National Parks and Monuments are federal lands and not state lands. With this information, we then took off on our summer trek #7 to skip across New Mexico via National Monuments.

We headed for El Morro National Monument, which is just east of the Zuni reservation in New Mexico. The road through the reservation was closed so we had to back-track into Arizona and north around the reservation. The bright side was that we got to see a new section of New Mexico, arriving at El Morro after our 100-mile diversion. Typically, arriving as late as we did, there would be no camp spots remaining at the first-come-first-serve campground. However, it was nearly empty due to the lack of tourists given the New Mexico COVID restrictions, so we got a spot and had a nice first night on the road.

The visitor center was closed, but the trails at the park were open. This would be the case at many of the parks we would end up visiting. The rock of El Morro looked unchanged.

As we made our way to Bandelier, we took the back way up the Jemez River valley. We had not been this way since a trip with Lou and Nancy a few years ago. We stopped at the Soda Dam, a 300-foot dam made of calcium carbonate (soda) and travertine.

The Jemez River valley was a pretty drive.

The road continues by Valles Caldera National Preserve. This beautiful valley is the site of Walt Longmire’s house in the Wyoming TV series Longmire. I am sure places in Wyoming look similar, but this is one spectacular valley.

We arrived at Bandelier National Monument and while only two of the three camping loops were open, we were only one of about 10 folks there so finding a spot or social distancing was not an issue.

The next morning, we hiked from the campground down the Frey trail into the Frijoles Canyon valley.

The walls of the canyon are volcanic, where the air pockets of the cooling lava could be seen in the erosion of the rock wall.

This area was settled by the Ancestral Pueblo people between 1150 and 1550 AD. The multi-century drought that hit the entire southwest during this time forced the Frijoles Canyon peoples to the nearby Rio Grande after 1550 AD. The outline of the main community living quarters and kivas can be seen in the picture below. When it was in use, the many rooms around the central area were accessed from a ladder through the roof instead of a door.

Also, along the canyon walls you can see the remains of the homes that extended up two or three stories high. The holes where the structural tree timbers were mounted into the wall are still visible.

A few of the homes were rooms carved out of the volcanic rock in the side of the walls.

The inside of the room has the handprints on the lower wall left by the past residences. The upper part is black from soot of their fires inside the home.

The visitor center was closed, but the café was open for lunch. In fact, just before we arrived at the café the head Ranger told the crew that they could now serve food inside. Pam and I split a New Mexico great green chili cheeseburger while we dined in the café alone before heading back up the canyon to our camp site.

We ran across this guy on the campground roads soaking up the afternoon heat. We shooed him off the road before he ended up a little flatter from the occasional traffic.

The next day we had an enjoyable rest day at the campsite. I taped off and spray painted our utility box on our rig. Luckily, the paint dried before the afternoon rains showed up. It rained off and on for most of the evening, driving away the few tent campers that showed up for the weekend ill-prepared for the weather.

It was a nice stay at Bandelier, but we headed north out of New Mexico and into Colorado to keep our upcoming appointment for our Roamer.

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