Friday, August 24, 2012

Colorado Springs

We arrived in Colorado Springs on Thursday, August 16, and in short order were nestled into our spot (Space N1) at Garden of the Gods RV Park. The park is large, but we had enough room for our coach and Tracker with the Falcon parked in an overflow area.

The campground has nice shade, with BBQ dinners available Friday and Sunday evenings and a pancake breakfast on Sunday morning. There was also a very talented young lady who sang during dinner on Sunday.  Even better, we also had a bar just across the street that provided more live music on Saturday night. We enjoyed sitting outside with a glass of wine listening and enjoying the evening.  (However, by the time they sang It's Time to Take My Drunk Ass Home just before closing, I was plenty ready for them to stop!)

Our visit to Colorado Springs was short this time.  We were sorry to miss my former classmate Carolyn Stinson Cochran and her husband, Doug, who were out of town.  We enjoyed them so much the last time we were here, and are so glad that the recent fires did not reach their home.

We paid a couple of visits to Garden of the Gods Park. We love this park, and were glad to have a chance to visit in the late afternoon to see the sun on the west side of the cliffs.

We also enjoyed seeing technical climbers scaling the rocks in the morning when they glowed with a rose-red hue.



The dogs accompanied me on an afternoon photo shoot, and were enjoying their outing until this young lady wearing a zebra mask showed up.  Barks of "Danger, Danger, Danger!!!" rang out from the back seat.  They knew people aren't supposed to look like that.

The Pack also enjoyed their visits to the Bear Creek Dog Park. The creek provides plenty of fresh water, and running on the trails is good for burning excess energy.

We met a number of other border collies at the park.  This old girl was a real inspiration.  She is 15 years old and likes to wait in the shade at a corner of the park near a busy intersection.  When a big truck comes by, she leaps up and races along inside the fence until she reaches the end of the block-long park. 

This is also the season for local farmers' markets. We found a good one in Colorado Springs and replenished our dwindling supply of roasted chili peppers.  Rob and Donna gave us a big bag while we were in Santa Fe, and we've added to those so we'll (hopefully) have enough to last until we get back to Texas.


And after we bought those peppers, here's one thing John did with them.  Check out this wonderful pork chop stuffed with cream cheese and Hatch green chilis!  Yum!

Finally, we stopped in Manitou Springs to sample some of the famous healing waters, which tasted like club soda. 

Fortunately, we were just in time for the finish of the finish of the Pikes Peak Run. Here is one of the runners crossing the finish line. He doesn't look like he just ran to the top of the mountain and down again, does he?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Shot in the Dark

Leaving Taos, we expected to be in Colorado Springs by evening. Not so! Thank goodness our schedule is flexible enough to allow us to stop when we find a reason to do so.   Before we left the area, there was one more thing we wanted to see, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in nearby Angel Fire. Constructed by his parents, Dr. Victor Westphall and Jeanne Westphall, the memorial was originally built to honor the memory of U.S. Marine Corps First Lieutenant Victor David Westphall III and his fellow soldiers who were killed at Con Thien, South Vietnam on May 22, 1968.

The memorial was dedicated on May 22, 1971, the third anniversary of Lieutanant Westphall's death. The memorial is now administered as a park by the State of New Mexico. Under the agreement with the Westphall Foundation, there is no fee charged to visit the memorial, and the chapel remains open 24/7. The memorial is striking architecturally, and it and the exhibits inside are a worthy tribute to the memory of all who served and died in that war. Please take the time to visit if you are in the area.

Because we spent so much time in Angel Fire at the memorial, we got a late start on our trip north on Wednesday, August 15. Fortunately we stopped in Cimarron, NM, on our way. In their excellent visitors center, we picked up information about the area, including a brochure from the NRA Whittington Center outside Raton, NM. We decided to overnight there instead of pushing on to Colorado Springs. It was a good decision! The Whittington Center is situated on 33,000 acres just 10 miles south of Raton. The RV park has 200+ sites situated on a hilltop with magnificent views of the surrounding prairies and mountains.  Here is a photo of our campsite.

In addition to hiking/biking trails and wildlife, the Whittington Center has 14 shooting ranges for everything from skeet and trap shooting, to pistols, to black-powder rifles, to long-range hunting rifles. Here are images of a pronghorn on one of the skeet ranges, and a doe we displaced from the pistol range.

We had a great time. Before we left on Thursday morning, John and I took time to shoot a round of skeet, then practiced our pistol skills. Here is a shot of the target from his last clip.  It's not bad (better than mine by a long shot!) but who can concentrate on a range with this view!

We only wish we had stayed longer. But then, that gives us a good reason to return.  We want to have our coffee watching more sunrises like this one.


Sunday, August 19, 2012

Time in Taos

We traveled to Taos on Sunday, August 12. Shortly before the afternoon shower, we were camped in Sierra Village RV Park in Taos Canyon. The park is small, with lovely flowers, fruit trees (the plums were delicious....too bad the pears weren't yet ripe) and a group of friendly campers. The park has a nice outdoor kitchen where guests can cook their own food or meet for a potluck dinner. There are also covered areas for crafts or other activities.

We were pleased to have in camp two very talented wood carvers. Mitch Anthony is shown here with what will become "Mrs. Paul's Fish Stick," a walking stick with a fish as its handle. 

Dandy Whitener showed me several pieces he is working on. The "castle" is made from the bark of a cottonwood tree and the old man's head from a pine knot. 

Sierra Village also has a short "nature trail" behind the camp which is great for exercising the dogs. (And people, "straight up" the side of the mountain!). There are also more great hiking trails a couple of miles from camp. We let the dogs carry their packs on those. Since carrying packs means they're "working," they stay on the trails much better than if just off-leash.

We went into Taos for some sight-seeing. The first images were shot at Saint Francis de Asis church (San Francisco de Asis) just outside of town in Ranches de Taos. This is an active church as well as a National Historic Landmark. Constructed in the 18th century of adobe bricks, it is known as one of the most photographed of the Spanish Colonial churches.

Photos are not allowed in the church, but we were able to view a short video and to see the church's famous "Mystery Painting" on display in an adjacent building. 

The painting is a life-size depiction of Christ standing on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was donated to the church a number of years ago. The "mystery" involves what happens when the painting shown above is viewed in total darkness. The water in the painting glows faintly, and over the left shoulder of the figure of Christ, the shadow of a cross appears. The paint has been tested, and does not appear to have any phosphorescent qualities, so how the water glows in total darkness and why the shadow of a cross appears is a mystery. We viewed the painting in a darkened room, and could see the phosphorescence and the shadow, and remain puzzled as to how these effects occur.  Whether it was the power of suggestion or something else, I can't say.

We also paid a short visit to Taos Pueblo. The pueblo is considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited community in the United States. The two main structures, Hlaauma, or North House and Hlaukkwima, or South House, are thought to be well over 1,000 years old. They are made up of many individual homes built in layers, sideby side, with common walls and no connecting doorways. We were told that the structures look much like they did when the conquistadors first arrived, except that they now have doorways. Originally the only entry into the homes was by ladder through an opening in the roof.

The exteriors of the buildings are plastered annually with adobe to prevent deterioration. The Pueblo maintains a restriction on running water and the use of electricity within the sacred village, and some of the cooking is still done in fireplaces. However, wood stoves and propane fuel is used in many of the homes.

The cemetery is where the original San Geronimo Church once stood. It was built around 1619 by the Spanish priests using Indian labor. We were told that the people of the Pueblo were forced into Catholicism and slavery in order to become "civilized." This eventually led to the Pueblo revolt of 1680 and upon its success, the freedom of the Pueblo people until they were reconquered by the Spanish in the 1700s. The San Geronimo church was destroyed by US troops in 1847 after townspeople and a few natives tried to overthrow the government and killed the territorial governor, Charles Bent. Its ruins can be seen in the image above.

Again, we hated to leave Taos. It seems there are always more things to see and do than we have time for. But that's what will bring us back here again.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Some More Santa Fe

We had planned to stay only a week in Santa Fe. However, we were having so much fun that we extended our visit for an additional seven days. The weather cooperated, and both the days and nights were cooler. We also had a couple of brief showers to settle the dust and cool us off for a bit. Here is a photo taken by our friend, Geri Lowry, after one of the storms. You can see our truck and fifth wheel at the end of the double rainbow.

We made a couple of excursions downtown with Geri and Bob. We ate more good food...some at the Coyote Cafe outdoor terrace. We also stopped for coffee at Aztec, a coffeehouse that has been a Santa Fe institution for decades. 

We spent an interesting afternoon exploring the new Santa Fe History Museum. Exhibits follow New Mexico's history from the time of the conquistadores through statehood and beyond, and are well worth a visit. In addition, there was a fascinating exhibit on the Saint John's Bible. Commissioned by Saint John's Abbey, the Bible took ten years to produce, and includes the work of a number of calligraphers and artists. The text is the same as the New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition, but the illustrations area modern-day interpretations of the scriptures.  It is the only handwritten and illuminated Bible commissioned by a Benedictine Monastery since the advent of the printing press more than 500 years ago.  We viewed a number pages from the Saint John's Bible, which are approximately 24" x 30" and quite remarkable. If you are interested, coffee-table size reproductions are available on Amazon.

Rob and Donna Pecherer joined us for dinner at Santa Fe Steamer, where we discovered that all good seafood is not found on one coast or the other. Rob is a long-time friend (I don't dare say "old" friend) who lived in Austin a number of years ago, and Donna works in the education field. She is also the author of a number of short stories, and writes under the name of Tower Lowe. Check Donna out on Amazon; her stories have gotten great reviews and are available as e-books. Or, you can visit her blog, The New Mexico Chronicles, at to learn more about her stories. 

Our second week in Santa Fe involved daily visits to the dog park, and to the arroyo behind our RV park. Here are a few shots of our daily excursions, and of some of the many dog friends the Bagley Pack made while we were there. 

Frank Ortiz Dog Park

The Arroyo behind our RV park
The Bagley Pack and a couple of friends
Our beautiful neighbor, Yodi

Cute as a ...Button
Frida Kahlo


and a bunch of Bichon Frises
And, of course, we continued to be fascinated by the aerial antics of our friends the Cooper's Hawks.

We hated to leave Santa Fe, but look forward to reconnecting with the friends there, both old and new, whose company we enjoyed. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Spectacular Santa Fe

We arrived in Santa Fe on Sunday afternoon, July 29, and in short order were set up in Space # 35 in Los Campos de Santa Fe RV Resort. This is the park where we stayed three years ago when we were here. It is small, with a friendly staff and congenial neighbors. It's not unusual for "regulars" to spend several weeks at a time here. The park has a nice area for walking dogs, plus a shady picnic area and pavilion. In addition, the Arroyo De Los Chamisos Trail, a paved biking and walking trail, runs from south of the RV park all the way to the plaza area downtown. 

A real bonus at the RV park this year has been the opportunity to observe up close four lovely juvenile hawks. (We think they are Cooper's Hawks (Accipiter cooperii). There are two other hawk species that are similar, but the Cooper's hawk is a year-around resident of this area while the others are not.)

The four must have been hatched nearby, because they are perfectly at home here.  They fly among the RVs at all times of the day, and often perch in trees or on the fences or power lines as close as 20-30 yards from our coach. The preferred prey of the Cooper's Hawk is small birds, and the adults are very agile in pursuing their quarry through trees and bushes. The youngsters, however, are recently fledged and often are anything but agile in making their way through the trees. Here is one of our large feathered friends dining on one of its smaller cousins in a tree adjacent to our rig.

The hawks aren't the only ones who have dined well during our stay. On Monday night we had a rare treat. We went out to dinner with good friends from Plano, Cindy and Sonny (aka Sandy) Sandell and their two grandchildren, Andrew and Sarah. In a stroke of luck, the Sandells were passing through Santa Fe on the way home from a Colorado vacation, so we were able to get together and catch up.  Cindy and I met in second grade, and have been fast friends for (gasp) over 60 years!  In addition, Cindy, Sonny and I all graduated from Hamilton High School together.  

The restaurant we chose, Vanessi, gets a high recommendation. It has a lively piano bar, and the food in the restaurant is very good as well. The pianist even asked Sarah (age 8) to play when he learned she is taking piano lessons. It was a real treat for all of us.

On Wednesday, Santa Fe friends Rob and Donna Pecherer introduced us to another delightful restaurant, Marisco's La Playa. They specialize in seafood with a southwestern flavor, and we enjoyed the margaritas as well as our dinners.  Then on Friday, Rob and Donna invited us to their charming 100-year-old adobe home for dinner.  It just doesn't get much better than this!  Here is Rusty, the resident cat, showing off for our visit.  She is quite a charmer.

Our stay here has been great. As usual, we have made frequent visits to the Frank S. Ortiz Park on the edge of town. On arrival there, we are greeted with the music of jingling dog tags and the ballet of a dozen or more dogs chasing balls or swirling in ever-widening circles of exuberance. The park offers 200 acres of high desert terrain, with many trails winding throughout. It is a fantastic off-leash dog area. Regular visitors to the park provide waste disposal bags and water for the dogs. It's a great asset to people traveling with pets, as well as to Santa Fe residents.

We've done some of the usual tourist things. Since this isn't our first visit to Santa Fe, we have already seen many of the most popular attractions. On our last trip, however, we missed seeing the lovely Loretto Chapel with its amazing spiral staircase. 

There are two mysteries associated with the spiral staircase in the Loretto Chapel, which is located near the Plaza on the Old Santa Fe Trail. The first is the identity of the builder, and the second is how it was constructed.

As the story goes, when the Chapel was completed in 1878, no one could find a way to access the choir loft from the Chapel except by ladder without interfering with the interior space. Legend says that the Sisters of the Chapel prayed to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters, for a solution. After praying for nine days, it is said that a man appeared at the Chapel with a donkey and a box of tools looking for work. Months later, the elegant staircase was completed. One account says that the only tools he used were a saw, a T-square and a hammer. the entire staircase was assembled using wooden pegs rather than nails. However, the carpenter disappeared without a trace before the Sisters could even pay him or thank him for his work. His identity was never learned.

The staircase has two full 360 degree turns and no visible means of support. Experts have also said that the wood used in its construction is not native to New Mexico, and where it was obtained.  We were told that when it was originally built, the staircase (and the choir loft) lacked railings and bannisters. Those were added sometime later, but just imagine what the staircase must have looked like at that time, and what a challenge it would have been to climb!

We wrapped up our first week with a visit to the Santa Fe Farmer's Market with our friends Geri and Bob from Granbury, TX.  Here they watch a demonstration chef preparing some amazing chili peppers we all enjoyed sampling. 

The market is held downtown in the Railyard district on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and attracts mobs of Santa Fe residents and visitors alike.  It's a feast for the senses.  Organic produce, beautiful flowers, growing plants, local honey, herbal oils and salves.....the list just goes on and on.  The wide variety of produce comes from the area around Santa Fe, and has been on our table almost every day since our arrival.