THE SOUTHWEST

A VISIT TO THE DESERT SOUTHWEST

 

I’d been planning this trip for several months with the eye toward seeing places I will probably never again be close to.

Let’s get real here.

At my age I now look at life through the prism of, “This will probably be the last time I do this.” But being younger we have the luxury of deluding ourselves into thinking we’ve got plenty of time to go here or there. Let a few years slip through and the picture is totally different because time takes a big bite of your life and you’re facing an ever smaller pie of life to eat from.

So it was time to review the “bucket list” and take some stuff out of it.

Before I took off, the list of places to go and things to do looked a little long. Now it’s 8 items shorter: (in no particular order of precedence)

The trip took these off the list:

1. Petrified Forest/Painted Desert
2. Monument Valley
3. Canyon de Chelley
4. Horseshoe Bend
5. Vermillion Cliffs
6. Horseback riding
7. Natural Bridges NP
8. Antelope Valley

I priced taking my own car or flying and renting a car. But given recent news about the TSA those differences ended up not mattering much. It took three days to get to Gallup, NM and I didn’t stop for much.

Pictures can be viewed here.

Having reserved a motel in Holbrook for two nights I took a drive through the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert on arrival and the next morning headed to Meteor Crater. They think it was formed over 50,000 years ago by a rather large “rock.” The hole is impressive, being almost a mile around and 1000 feet deep. It’s visible from far away as the ejecta formed a small rim of discolored material easily contrasted against the normal desert background.

Astronauts trained here and some mining also took place. The first miners were digging for pieces of the meteor itself, not fully realizing the physics behind its impact. Tunnels and mine entries are still visible although you better have an 800 MM lens to see them.

At over 5000 feet in elevation and early in May the weather was quite good. Not too hot in the afternoon and cool in the mornings.

On returning to Holbrook I went back to the Painted Desert for sunset pictures with the following morning spent hiking some trails in the Petrified Forest.

Leaving the area I ran into a bunch of Harley riders. What caught my attention was a small Brazilian flag flying from the back of one of the bikes. At that moment a bunch of them were exiting a gift shop and I overheard them speaking Portuguese. Naturally, I went up to them and asked where they were from. Turns out they all were from Sao Paulo and rented Harleys to go to LA. I don’t know about you but I guess that doing something like that is NOT cheap. But Brazil is now full of nouveau-riche so it’s not too surprising.

Next stop was Canyon de Chelley.

Most of this area of the country is Navajo or Ute or some other Indian reservation. Most of the time I was in Navajo country. Dirty, filthy, unkempt, worn down, dilapidated, trashy, and economically bleak.

Is it the fault of the “white man” who keeps them oppressed? Not really. Sure, our ancestors may have treated the Indians badly but that was then and this is now. And has been “now” for decades.

So why do reservations look like crapholes?

It’s a Navajo philosophy.

I’ll explain and jump ahead a bit.

As I drove around reservation lands and in reservation towns/cities I could not help notice the trash strewn about. And the nasty little hovels called homes. This was in towns of 7,000 or so. It was worse, still, out of town and in the desert.

Rarely did I see a sign advertising anything for rent or sale.

Rarely were there any large grocery stores.

Rarely were there any fitness facilities. As a matter of fact, one day I saw someone jogging and thought, “Wow! My first Indian jogger!” That was not to be. It was a tourist.

Lots of fast food places, though.

Most Navajos are overweight. Lots of drunks and druggies. Many are dirty.

So I struck up a conversation with this white guy I saw working at a facility in Monument Valley where, up to that time, I had seen ONLY Indians. I inquired about the lack of things for sale/rent. And also asked him how it was he was working there given his “pale face” appearance.

He explained he’d married a native gal and had been there 17 years. The reason nothing is for sale is because Navajo law forbids ownership of land. So I asked how it was that houses were on the land. He told me that Native Councils will “give” someone who asks for land a one acre site to put a home. However, that bit of land is not guaranteed for life nor is it guaranteed to be willed down after death.

That pretty much explained it all. With no incentive of ownership there is really no reason to spend a lot of money on a place you may lose.

I asked him if he was familiar with William Bradford’s book on the Plymouth Rock Plantation founding. I mentioned that many pilgrims had died the first year because they all worked their leased plots of land for the benefit of the “community.” In other words, Bradford and group were engaging in Utopian Communism. After the first year they gathered in a meeting and decided maybe they should sell the land outright and let people grow what they wanted and sell their produce on the market. They didn’t really go hungry after that and the colony eventually blossomed.

Yet the Navajo nation, with all this natural beauty in it, never seems to evolve. Go into a town and you’re hard pressed to find a hotel. If there is one the rates are outrageous, the service lousy, the employee attitude sullen and apathetic. They could do bed and breakfasts, build hogans for people to spend the night, etc. Except of course, they can’t because much of the Rez has no electricity or running water other than in the small towns themselves. Roads are dirt tracks fit almost exclusively for 4 WD trucks. Go 100 yards outside the limits and you’d think you were living in the 19th Century.

He admitted that that was exactly how he lived. Anyone needing water needed to go into town (sometimes miles and miles away) to fill a couple of 55 gallon barrels and then return (this in an area where gas prices are already sky-high and to get around you need a gas-sucking 4WD.) Electricity? Yeah! Right! Maybe some battery lights. If you are lucky.

To compound matters, the Navajo Nation may have a lot of land but below the ground they have no mineral rights.

In other words, if oil or natural gas, coal, uranium, gold, etc. were found they could be forced off their land. Coal is available readily and easily mined. The Navajo Nation, though, gets nothing for its extraction. Except an allotment equal to a pick up bed’s worth per month.

When I asked him why no one was endeavoring to change any of those treaties, especially now the way our society is and how many Americans would readily demand Congress do something to revoke those old treaties, he had no response ….. as if they were happy to live like this.

Anyway, on with the travelogue.

The only decent place to stay at Canyon de Chelley was the Holiday Inn at over $110 a night. There was one other hotel (basically the same price but not as nice.)

Canyon de Chelley’s a nice park and it has a couple of drives you can make around the rim. To travel at the bottom requires a “guide.” That’s code for a tourist racket that separates you from your money.

There is one trail you can walk on (forbidden to walk anywhere else without that guide) and it takes you down to what’s called the “White House.” It’s a cliff dwelling not very high on the cliff but interesting, nevertheless. About 1.25 miles long and a several hundred feet down making the return trip in hot sun a bitch.

At various places along the rim drive you can spot old cliff dwellings and occasionally see some petroglyphs from those that lived here several hundred years ago. Navajo was not a written language so existing petroglyphs can’t be read. They are just symbols. However to see them requires one hell of a telephoto lens. Which my little Lumix had. I dropped the resolution down to 5 MB and what was a normally equipped camera with a 600 mm lens got turned into an almost 800mm lens. Add a tripod and the photos are crisp and clean.

I tried imagining what it would be like to live in those cliff dwellings given their relative inaccessibility. Even worse was trying to imagine what would happen to older members of the tribe that could not negotiate the nasty climbs or drops to get to them. I imagine they were left to die.

From there it was on to Monument Valley. Home of John Ford westerns with John Wayne. Newer westerns. Science fiction movies. And Forest Gump.

Here’s a short list:
Stagecoach, a Ford film with John Wayne
Fort Apache
Searchers (another Ford film)
Doctor Who
Easy Rider
2001 Space Odyssey
Eiger Sanction (Clint Eastwood)
Mission Impossible II

Read more about the films shot there by going here.

It cost $5 per person to get in and the visitor center is VERY nice. Has a very pricey hotel there, too, and nearest other hotel is miles away in Kayenta.

One can also drive down into the valley for a spine cracking, suspension busting 17 mile round trip. I did it three times. S-L-O-W-L-Y.

WOW! What scenery. No wonder so many movies were shot there. Stark, barren beauty abounds at every turn.

Remember you can view pictures here.

After the first trip I then headed on the highway into Utah, towards Mexican Hat, for the iconic Monument Valley shot —- a straightaway of the road leading into the valley with the “mittens” and other landmarks in the background.

Milepost 13 is also the place where Tom Hanks, as Forest Gump, stopped his cross country run.

Found out from talking to the locals that a remake of “The Lone Ranger” was just filmed there.

Guess who’s playing Tonto?

Johnny Depp. I almost puked. Looks like another movie to miss.

Anyway, on return, took sunset photos and early the next morning went back into the valley for sunrise shots.

Then in the afternoon I went back once again; this time for a horseback tour. Never really ridden a horse in my life (with the exception of getting on my grandfather’s horse while visiting Brazil in 1967. It never went anywhere.)

Anyway. HOOO-EEE! What an experience. At first all we did was a slow walk but the horses were antsy. Occasionally we’d bust into a trot. After a couple of hours we went into a full-fledged all out, mane flying in the air, hoof pounding gallop. HOLY CRAP!!!! It was a blast.

Good thing I had long legged jeans or I’d have been in a world of blistered hurt.

Monument Valley adventures over I drove to Page, AZ.

In case you ever drive out to this area and turn on the radio, tune to 660AM. It’s the All-Navajo channel. You’ll get your fill of native music. Some actually not that bad.

Checked in with the motel then went to the tour company where I’d booked my Canyon X photography tour. The lady was a font of knowledge and told me about places to see I’d not thought of. I also booked a tour of Upper Antelope Canyon. So I stayed in Page for 5 days.

Drove around a bit getting my bearings and that evening I went to a lookout to catch the moonrise. AWESOME. HUGE!!

The next morning I went to Horseshoe Bend early in the morning (photography not that great as I’d arrived 20 minutes too late to catch the moon on the bend.) Then it was a short drive into Vermillion Cliffs and a return to Horseshoe Bend as the sun was higher and not hiding much of it in shadow. Back to town for lunch and a return for sunset photos.

As for Horseshoe Bend: yes, 3 times to catch the right light. Often times taking a picture on vacation amounts to nothing more than luck due to the restraints of time and weather. Fortunately I had good weather except one place where I needed it to be good and it wasn’t. But I had run out of time and couldn’t stay another day.

At Horseshoe Bend I was limited by time of year and position of the sun on the horizon. It’s always something. And the walk wasn’t much fun given most of it was on soft sand. But the views were incredible.

And I met a couple from Holland. When I told them I was a fan of Geert Wilders a look of horror came over the women’s face. She’s liberal. Teaching liberal arts or something useless like that. Go figure. I should have gotten her name so I can look for it when the goat fornicators begin lopping off heads there. Stupid people dead set on believing multi-culturalism is good for a country.

The following morning, Monday, it was Upper Antelope. My recommendation is to take the photography tour assuming you have the kind of camera that can be put on a tripod and also have the exposure settings capable of long exposures at low ASA (to avoid a lot of grain.) If not, take the cattle class tour or, better yet, don’t even bother as I do not think your eyes will be capable of seeing it as the camera does. I could be wrong but do your own due diligence.

All I know is that although the photography tour costs more your guide will make sure you are in the right spot to catch the sun’s rays coming through the Canyon. Quite a few times we were in places and shooed away the cattle class tourists so we could get our pictures.

Fair to them? Too bad. I paid twice as much and should not have them in my photos.

It took about 3 hours. Everything in the Upper and Lower Canyons are controlled by the Navajos. The Upper has the light beams and the Lower does not (at least most of the year.) The Lower also has fewer tourists and I was told we could enter unescorted after paying our $26 to get in for 2 hours.

The tour company I used is called Overland Tours. They only do Upper Antelope and Canyon x. Lower Antelope is another company.

My Upper Antelope tour cost $50 (normally $80) and other companies offer cheaper photo tours but your group is much larger and jockeying for position is a real pain. We had two in our group. I got the cheaper price because I’d booked another tour with them to Canyon X. It’s further away, privately owned and access very restricted. Canyon X cost $160 and it was 5 hours and included a box lunch and water. All we had to pack in was cameras and tripods.

Since it was not until the following morning I took the rest of the day off to grab lunch and thin out my pictures plus read email, etc. back at the motel.

Early the next morning it was a 45 minute 4WD kidney pounding to Canyon X. Beautiful place. Again, there were only 2 of us. The other guy was a bit older than me and blind in one eye (or so he claimed.) So what kind of pictures was he taking? Well, for one, he had a Hasselblad with a digital back. He shot everything at ISO 50 …… with an aperture setting of F22. Given the darkness of the Canyon, some of his shots would take a minute or more to expose. He was not a “professional” in that he sold his photos (as far as I could tell.)

So I can only imagine he had one hell of a good eye left because, for the most part, unless blown up and studied closely, the average person would be unable to tell the difference if he’d raised the ISO to 200 and the F-Stop to F8. Especially given the optics of a Hasselblad.

In effect he delayed the tour so I bitched at the guide that I wanted to move on ahead as time was being wasted waiting on him and I had pictures to take. We moved on and told the other guy what we were doing and that he could catch up.

The hike in was a bit interesting as we scrabbled over rocks and dirt downward into the Canyon. The exit was not fun as the day was hotter and the climb a bitch.

But it was a great experience.

Remember you can view pictures here.

Back in town I headed northwest into Utah to go check out the Toadstools. Interesting formation of rocks looking like ….. toadstools. Their tops were generally a harder material and the “necks” and base a softer sandstone. So the sandstone erodes leaving the cap on top. Come back in a hundred years and existing toadstools will be collapsed and new ones in their place.

Again, a hike to get in there and back out. I sure got my exercise the last few days. Must have hiked 8 miles a day. And little of it on level compacted ground.

As it turns out, by the end of this little vacation I ruined a pair of brand new sneakers. Completely destroyed the heels. And trashed two tripods.

I wanted to go to “The Wave” at Coyote Buttes within Vermillion NP but they limit entry to 20 people per day. Half at a lottery months ahead of time and the other half as walk-ins. To try my luck would have entailed wasting a whole day: first, driving 95 miles to the lottery location, then 95 miles back and wait by my email to see if I was successful. If I won I could go the following day (entailing a 45 mile drive and quite a hike in.) With 100 people per day trying as walk-ins I did not even waste my time.

Had I won, I’d have had to deal with this:

The Wave is challenging to find. In an effort to maintain the natural integrity of the region, there is no formal trail to The Wave. Most hikers are guided to The Wave either by GPS or a prominent landmark known as “the Black Crack,” which is widely visible within the Coyote Buttes region. The Wave lies directly below the Black Crack. Hikers must choose their own route across the open desert, which requires traversing exposed sandstone, sand dunes, and sandy wash bottoms. It is not uncommon for hikers to get lost and never find The Wave.

A formal guide sheet for navigating to the Wave is now provided to every permitted hiker by the BLM. The guide is designed for use with compass, GPS, or visual navigation. The are six checkpoints each for the outbound hike to the Wave and the return to the trailhead. Each checkpoint includes a marked color photo of the terrain ahead, azimuth, latitude, longitude, UTM, nothing, and easting. While less reliable, hikers may also observe many footprints in sandy areas and informal cairns on the slick rock. Visitors are well advised to closely study the guide sheet before starting their hike.

Since I wasn’t going to do that I decided to take a boat at Lake Powell to Rainbow Bridge Arch. It’s located 50 miles by water from the marina near Page and takes about 2 hours to get there. The boat kicks ass!

However, booking the trip was a nightmare. The company wants you to do so 48 hours in advance. I could do it online or by phone. When I called and said I couldn’t do it 48 hours in advance and asked them if they had open seats I was told there was nothing they could do but that I could try going online and seeing if there were vacancies by attempting to book under 48 hours.

How messed up is that? Surely in the year 2012 the people at the agency at the marina could be able to do this themselves. But, no! So I went online and booked. And got a seat. AFTER I had given them my credit card number did I find out that it might take 7 days to get confirmation and boarding pass!!! WHAT THE HELL!?!?!?!

Further reading revealed they also had a paragraph stating if it was less than 48 hours prior to the trip I could contact them via the web for an expedited pass. So I did. No luck. Was told to try later. Tried calling the company….no answer. Tried again at night and found my pass. Except I needed to print it! Yeah! Right! I’m in a hotel and I just happen to have my printer with me. BASTARDS!!!

So I tried calling again. No luck. Waited a few hours and tried again. Got through. Explained the stupidity of their system and asked why I could not just show up, present my ID and they could confirm my reservation? After all, it works for airline companies. No reply to that, of course. But the lady did ask what hotel I was staying at and she’d fax the pass to the hotel.

I finally got it.

So when I showed up the next morning (again, anyone not making it a habit to arrive early would have been doomed) and after paying $15 to enter the marina …. there were no signs pointing to the location of the boat. I could see lots of boats out there but no signs indicating where to check in. So I asked a security guard. You would think that on entering the marina a sign would indicate where to go. Especially given how many people show up. But I guess many arrive as part of a package and are bused in. Many others stay at the resort in the marina. A few morons like me drive in.

Before boarding the boat I unloaded to another passenger about what a pain in the ass the process was. On the boat I saw her again and we chatted. I asked what she did. She said she just arrived to start working for the tour company!!!!! She was taking the trip to see what it was like so she could tell future passengers. She appreciated by bluntness and promised to tell them. Who knows?

As with anything else, timing is everything as it relates to the sun’s position. Arrival got us there about 10:30. Because walking under the bridge would be offensive to Navajos we were not permitted. And under the bridge is where I needed to go in order to get to the other side of the bridge for the photos I needed. So I was thwarted. It didn’t help, either, to have morons standing around gawping at it and then deciding they wanted to eat their sandwiches under it making photography even more difficult. But patience won out as the fat bastards needed to get out of the sun and into the shade of the boat. So they left. Jesus H. Christ! What self-centered idiots. Got what I thought might be good photos but to do it right one needs to rent a boat and do it alone. That means you can get there when you want and walk under the stupid bridge if you want.

I guess atheists really get their panties in a wad about that. 🙂

The last day there I drove out to Vermillion Cliffs early in the morning, stopped at Navajo Bridge and checked out the rock houses just past Marble Canyon.

And then it was Friday, the day I told Tony I’d meet him at his houseboat in Halls Crossing, Utah. It’s about 90 water miles from the marina and close to 250 car miles.

Funny how when things go wrong and you are in a foul mood because of it, you never really think about the “serendipity” of the occurrence that pissed you off.

As they say, “things happen for a reason.”

And that was no more evident than when I was headed out of Page, AZ to see Tony.

I had told him I would be taking a 2 hour tour of the Lower Antelope Canyon and factoring in the one hour time change (AZ does not observe DST but Utah does) and the 5 hour drive up there I would be arriving somewhere around 5 PM.

I arrived at Lower Antelope at 8AM. Whereas Upper Antelope is best seen near noon (or when the sun is highest) because it is much narrower at the top, Lower Antelope is best seen early in the morning or late in the afternoon. I go to pay the guy (remember, this canyon can be walked relatively alone and the crowds are less) and he looks at my camera and says only people with DSLRs can go unescorted. I asked for an explanation given my camera can take photos almost as good as any DSLR and he said it was company policy. The logic of it failed me and I asked again receiving a response that I could go in with a group. I told him I was not paying the same as those with DSLRs and getting stuck with a bunch of people herded in and out. I took my money back and drove away.

Buttheads!

So, I definitely do NOT recommend the Lower Antelope unless you mind being “cattled” around.

Now, back to that “serendipity” thing.

On leaving, I called Tony when I got to Mexican Hat (cell phone coverage is bad past that point) and told him I would be arriving 2 hours earlier. So we agreed to meet at 3 PM.

On the way to Hall’s Crossing I went back through Monument Valley, through Mexican Hat, and up through Moki Dugway, a road carved into the mesa by uranium companies. Most of it is unpaved (about 4 miles), with no guardrails, and not very wide. It rises close to 800 feet from the valley with the approach road paved and the road at the top paved. Once at the top one can take another 5 mile dirt road to Muley Point for fantastic views of where the river’s carved through the earth. I did not go as I was headed to Hall’s Crossing but knew I’d be returning this way to head back home.

As the road approached Natural Bridges NP I saw storm clouds on the horizon and thought, “hmmmm, this might not bode well as Tony’s houseboat is moored 3 miles from the marina.”

Arriving at the marina I saw him approach in a rubber dinghy powered by a 2 horse motor. I looked at the sky, looked at the dinghy, we introduced ourselves and knew we had to hustle.

Made it to the houseboat, met his two fishing buddies, Larry and Phil, and popped a beer; the first drink I’d had in over two weeks. Having tied one on the night before the other three were judicious in their imbibing.

An hour later the winds from the storm hit making nasty little waves o the lake. If we’d have been in the dinghy there’s no telling what might have happened.

So there you have it: a bad event in the morning having been realized to stave off a possibly worse event in the afternoon. Serendipity, indeed.

We were in a sheltered cove so none of it bothered us. We spent some time trading stories. Tony’s friends are into ham radio so we talked about that, politics, how much we think Obama is a jerk-wad, photography, families, etc.

The storm passed and Tony fried up some of the striped bass that were caught earlier. YUM YUM YUM!!!

I grabbed a sleeping bag and slept on the roof of the boat. MARVELOUS!! Stars everywhere! Not so pleasant was the need to relieve one’s self in the middle of the night. It required carefully walking down the stairs to the deck and leaning over the side without falling in.

In the morning Larry and Phil went fishing and Tony and I climbed to the top of this huge rock. Must have been a good couple of hundred feet (or so it seemed.) A photo is in the photo album.

With Tony’s family arriving the next day and two other fishermen arriving that afternoon, I took my leave of them all. Phil gave me a ride back to the marina. He had an old Sears boat with what looked to be one of those old motors sold in Montgomery Ward catalogs. I think he said it was from 1956. Ran good, though.

Tony had told me of a couple of places to visit on my return home so when I got to the van I dug out the map and plotted my course. First stop: Natural Bridges NP. Did quite a bit of hiking (naturally) and saw all the bridges. A great place to visit but better planning for photographs might have enhanced it. Unfortunately I did not know what direction the bridges faced so it was luck of the draw. Not bad, though.

I camped along the road just a few miles from Muley Point because I knew it was all dirt and the signs say it is impassable after a rain. The red dirt was soft and I could imagine that with a little water it’d turn into a deep slimy mess even a 4WD would struggle to get out of.

The next morning I awoke to clouds. Nice and cool.

The good thing about this trip is that most of it is in the high desert. Mostly above 5000 except Lake Powell (about 3700 feet) So mornings were cool and afternoons warm. The sun could be brutal but a little shade made things better almost immediately.

Made it into Muley Point and was the only one there. Clouds frustrated my photography attempts and since I had to keep going, I headed out. First I took a good look at the heavens in the hopes the clouds would blow away but it was only getting worse.

Next stop: Gooseneck SP where the river had carved through the mesas and made what would look like goose necks if viewed from the air. Again, cloudiness frustrated my photographic attempts so I headed out of there.

I drove to 4 Corners, NM/UT/AZ/CO. Took a few photos and even one of myself, something about as rare as hen’s teeth. Couldn’t help it though. Placed my feet on all four states.

Last stop of the day was Durango, Colorado where I had planned to ride the Durango to Silverton narrow guage steam train. I’d called ahead to book tickets and asked to get a seat for best ….. go on, guess …… photography. The lady was very helpful and I just needed to show up. No printing of tickets ahead of time was required!!!

Along the way I got to about 8,000 feet in elevation and it wasn’t quite raining or snowing. But both. I immediately wondered, “hmmmm, did I just blow $100 and not even check the weather for tomorrow?”

Checked into a motel, got on the weather channel and saw it was going to be sunny all day. HOORAY!!!!

Drove to the station to reconnoiter and make sure my reservation was OK. The ticket master also gave me instructions on where to park all day as the trip started at 8:30 and arrived back in town about 4:30.

Right on time we choo-choo’d out of town, headed upwards to Silverton at 9300 feet in elevation from our elevation in Durango at 6500 or so. A great ride and great scenery with the exception of occasional cinders in one’s eyes. Silverton is nothing but a tourist stop: restaurants, souvenir shops, etc. Skiing in the winter (if you can get there.) I’d heard only about 40 people live there year round as the snow levels isolate the town for up to a week at a time.

I highly recommend the trip. I was in car 20, seat 40. Far enough back on the train to catch the engine and some other cars around corners and far enough back in the car to not have anyone to trip over as it was an end seat.

From Durango it was time to hit a couple more spots but first I headed towards Silverton in the car in order to catch the morning’s train coming around a bend in the track a few miles out of town. Got some great shots and then headed to Chaco Culture, NM. Not sure how to describe the place other than it was inhabited hundreds of years ago in a part of the desert that archeologists still can’t quite nail down “WHY” these people lived there. No water. No crops. They suspect it was a merging of several roads where different tribes met to trade and barter. They also don’t think people lived there permanently, again because of the lack of water.

The houses were pretty impressive until one considers that in Europe, at the same time, architects were building entire cathedrals. It’s no wonder things turned out the way they did when cowboys met Indians.

But I digress.

Chaco Culture is a pretty interesting place to walk around. Emphasis on LOTS of walking. You can’t do a “windshield drive by” and expect good pictures.

And the drive in! Good Lord! I thought the car was going to beat itself to death. What HORRID roads All dirt. 14 miles of it. Washboards that made your teeth chatter like it was -20 degrees outside.

I saw much of what I wanted and originally toyed with the idea of camping there (no electric; no water; no showers.) Just “environmentally friendly” toilets. But since it was about 3 PM and 5 hours from sundown …. plus the fact it was almost 90 degrees out …. well, I made a beeline for Albuquerque.

Arriving at the hotel I grabbed a couple of pamphlets for a balloon ride. Not sure I was wanting to do it I called a company and inquired. They were reluctant to tell me where they were located and I became wary.

The next morning I went to Petroglyphs NP to engage in my favorite pastime….more walking!

But before getting there I saw a balloon in the distance. Noted it was climbing but tethered. The flyer indicated the balloon ride would be an hour or so long and that a crew would track the pilot for the landing. Now, I may have been born at night but not last night. Going straight up and down and paying $150 for the privilege is not what I was imagining. So I was glad I did not book anything. It’s always good to trust your gut feelings.

Back to the PNP. It lacks a decent marking system on its trails and finding the petroglyphs turned into a treasure hunt as many are difficult to spot due to age and lighting conditions. I made it to the half-way point and there were tons of them so I scrambled up and down boulders to grab photos. Looking at my guide sheet I saw that the return leg of the trail was nowhere near any petroglyphs so I doubled back the way I came figuring that, like everything else related to lighting and photography, it is very easy to forget to look backwards as one moves forwards thereby resulting in missed opportunities.

And it was true as I saw quite a few more on the return. Also saw this squiggly mark in the sand and thought: SNAKE!! Rattlesnake, to be exact. It was lurking under a bush and did not hesitate to let me know it was there. Grabbed a few closeups and then got on the other side of the bush and began filming, it, too. It was a fair sized snake and I admit to aggravating it a bit in order to get it to rattle its rattles. It obliged gleefully.

Returning to the car, I drove off, found a restaurant, had lunch, and headed home. With the occasional diversions on Route 66!!!

Trip over.

And remember you can view pictures here.

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