Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Day 10 - More Valley Stuff

Wind Turbines in the San Gorgonio Pass
The entrance to the Coachella Valley from the east is through the San Gorgonio Pass which is a narrow valley between two of the highest mountains in North American.  This pass funnels wind into the valley, creating one of the windiest places on earth thus creating an ideal place for wind generation.  We decided to learn more about this so we took a Windmill Tour.

The tour guide was obviously an ex-utility person as he was full of megawatts, kilowatt hours, PPAs, and CTGs.  Judging from the questions from the rest of the tour, it sounded like all eight people were utility folks, too.  We fit right in!

There are thousands of these wind turbines in the Pass and they date back to the mid-20th century.  We drove through the farms and got out of the bus at one point to listen to sounds made by the turbines.  You don’t want to get out much in the Pass because it’s like standing in a sand blaster!  We got to visit a solar panel installation as well as two CTG units.  Utility geek heaven!!!

And, a little tidbit about utility rates.  Our guide’s electricity bill last month was over $1000.

Where's the cache?
After the tour, we got in a little desert geocaching which is very different from Midwest geocaching!  You really have to watch your step: it’s very rough terrain, there’s Jumping Cholla cactus just waiting for you, and you never know what kind of critter you might find.  No rattlesnakes so far…just hummingbirds, a roadrunner, and a ground squirrel.  (We did have an encounter with a rattlesnake on our last visit to 1000 Palms.  Note to self: need a bigger stick!)

In the afternoon we went over to relax in the Desert Springs Marriott Hotel lobby.   This lobby is like no other we’ve ever seen…it is huge!   It’s so relaxing to sit here in an easy chair with a drink and people watch.  Not to mention watching the boats come in and out…and listen to the parrots.  We are pretty much Marriott People and this place always feels like the mother ship to us.  (BTW: Marvin picked out his next birthday present while here!)
Native palms at an oasis created by
the San Andreas Fault.

Another hummingbird!
As mentioned before, the Coachella Valley is home to a long segment of the San Andreas fault line.  This is where the Pacific and North American Tectonic Plates meet.  The plates are going different directions and are creating mountains, bubbling hot springs, and earthquakes as they crash together.  If you go up in the mountains you can look down and clearly see the fault line stretch along the length of the valley.  You can also see a wide range of evidence of the fault…spanning from fences, once straight, but now crooked because the land has moved; all the way to huge rocks pushed up at 60 degree angles because the plates are smashing together.

Daily earthquake map.
Because of all this seismic activity, earthquakes are a part of daily life.  There are approximately 100 earthquakes a week here.  Most are not felt because the sand tends to absorb the shock waves.  Earthquakes are so routine that earthquake maps are in the daily paper, just like weather maps.  The quake map shown here indicates that there were about 8 quakes in the valley just yesterday.  We didn’t feel any of them.

Next up is February 29th!  We’re going to our first Flash Mob and to a show.  Can’t wait!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Day 9 - Enjoying the Valley

Day 9 – The Valley Experience

On Day 8 we started slowing down the pace and just enjoying the peace and beauty of the Coachella Valley.  Day 9 is more of that.

One of many beautiful sidewalks
Okay...some caches can be a little...
The day started out cold, 68 degrees, and with a 20% possibility of rain.  With that forecast in mind, we put on our winter clothes and headed out for geocaching in the area around our resort.  We spent  2 ½ hours walking through nearby desert and neighborhoods, geocaching and enjoying the mountain views.  We love geocaching because we learn so much about the world around us as well as spending time outdoors.

Can you see the hummer?
We can't either!!!
On our walk we saw two more hummingbirds.  We probably took 50 pictures of which only 3 three actually had birds in them. (Damn, er, cute little flitters just won’t stay in one place for the pics!)  We love the fact that the valley is home to a huge number of birds, including four different species of hummingbirds.  (13 different species of hummingbirds have been sighted here.

In the afternoon, we zipped west to visit one of our favorite places in the valley, Indian Canyons.  This Agua Caliente reservation is immediately south of Palm Springs, within walking distance.  There are numerous walking trails and oases to visit…including our favorite, Andreas Canyon.

View of the valley floor
Indian Canyon
First stop was the Trading Post high up on the mountain.  From here you get a wonderful view of the valley floor, plus you learn what’s going on in the canyons.  Several signs around here, helping you learn proper etiquette for desert hiking.  One says to keep your small dogs on a short leash, because of the mountain lions.  Over here, another says to beware of rattlesnakes.  These signs really give you a warm fuzzy before you begin your hike!

As said above, Andreas Canyon is our favorite.  The trail is beside a mountain stream which has created an oasis though the canyon floor.  The stream is from melting snow from the San Jacinto Mountains above and so it’s quite cold.  The stream rushes and gurgles through the rocks and simply gives you a feeling of peace and harmony.  This particular stream was one of the key inspirations for the stream and pond in our back yard in Decatur.

Around us are steep canyon walls, with rocks of every hue and color perfectly balanced along the cliff sides.  Yes, they are beautiful…but since this is earthquake country, one can’t help to wonder just how well balanced these rocks really are!  You always have to have quakes in mind when in the canyons.

We come to our reading rock.  This is a huge rock in the middle of the stream with water rushing beside it.  (video is the view from the rock) We love to sit on this rock and read and just be.  This is what the Indians loved about this valley. This is happy. This is contentment.  This is peace.  (Just so long as those dern earthquakes don’t drop a boulder on our noggins!)

Here are some pictures of hummingbirds at the Trading Post feeders.  We've been there when they've had 40 or 50 hummers at a time, but today there were only a few.  None of these are the ruby-throated hummingbirds we see back east.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Day 8 - Slowing down

S-L-O-W-I-N-G it down.  Time to relax and enjoy.

Started our day with a walk around the resort.  Headed west first…with a great view of Mount San Jacinto.  This mountain rises almost 10,000 feet from the valley floor.  No foot hills here…just up!

The resort is hosting an auto show and auction. Duesenbergs, Masseratis, Corvettes, Thunderbirds, Bentleys….you name a classic car and it’s here.  The cars added highlights to the scenery of palm trees, bougainvillea, and waterfalls throughout the resort.  Will scatter a few shots of the car show throughout this post.

We walked to the west end of the resort and turned back wandering though the resort and learning our way around.  They say that sometimes you learn best by error.  With that in mind we followed a paved path up through some hills and towards some more villas.  Wrong…it was a golf cart path and those weren’t villas, they were homes.  We ended up in a gated community where every house was a different shade of tan and every yard had the same variegated petunias in the front yard.  The entire community is color-coordinated, almost down to the cars driving through. 

Try as we might, we could not find a way out.  We’d walk down a promising lane only to end up at a padlocked gate.  Backtrack, then repeat!  At this point I must note that this was a morning walk, and everyone knows that Mona is the consumate morning person and she dearly loves challenges early in her day!  After trying several different routes  and using the iPhone GPS we finally found our way out.  (Yes, we used the GPS for the wrong ways, too.  Unfortunately, from the GPS you can’t tell that the gate is locked!)  All was not lost…we got to see some beautiful homes and two hummingbirds…and we got our morning walking done…just a little longer walk than we had expected!

A new Maserati and a new Bentley...
Fit companions for our 1999 Olds!
After lunch I geocached while Mona got her hair cut.  Come to find out, I had never logged my find of "Dead end here?" so I had to refind it and log it.  This cache is the inspiration behind my caches: "Road to Nowhere", "C-Cubed" and "23 Flavors". 

Afterwards we went to Ralph’s to stock up on groceries.  Ralph's is the Culinaria of Southern California.  Gotta love Ralph's!

A little about Coachella Valley.  It was a typical desert valley inhabited primarily by about 1000 Cahuilla Indians.  The Indians’ villages were centered around the oases created by the fractures in the earth created by the San Andreas fault. Palm Springs got its name from these oases.  (Did you know the plural of oasis before now?  I didn’t!)   In the summers, the tribes would move up the mountains to escape the scorching heat.  They lived off the land and it was a hard life, but peaceful.  Peaceful, because no one else wanted this arid land.

Bougainvillea on a Villa
That changed in the late 1800s when the railroad came through.  The government decided to “share” the valley with the Indians and the railroad.  The U.S. divided the valley into something resembling a large checkerboard of squares with one mile sides.  The Southern Pacific Railroad got the black squares and the Indians got the white.  Also in the late 1800s artesian wells were discovered in the Palm Springs area.  Further investigation found that the whole valley was sitting on top of one of the largest underground aquifers in the United States, with enough water to supply the valley for an estimated 100,000 years.

Fast forward to “now”.  The valley is now home to over 600,000 and the population is one of the fastest growing in the nation.  Virtually all of the original native Indians are gone.  They became incredibly rich by leasing their squares of land and by building casinos.  They come to Palm Springs for important religious occasions, but the rest of the time they are scattered in other exotic parts of the world like New York, Rome and Paris.
Opposite side of Bob Hope Drive
Without irrigation

One side of Bob Hope Drive
With irrigation
Irrigation abounds in the valley.  Wherever there is irrigation the land is lush with emerald green grass, waterfalls and palm trees.  Where there is no irrigation there is stark brown desert.  One side of a street can be a lush tropical heaven while the other side is burning desert.  Most often, this contrast still follows the checkerboard pattern created by the U.S. government back in the late 1800s.

One more interesting note about this area is the speed limits.  The primary streets are named after celebrities: Dinah Shore Way, Bob Hope Avenue, Gerald Ford Drive.  The speed limit on these primary streets in the urban areas is 55 mph!  You can get from one side of the valley to the other very quickly!

Back to us… We had a nice quiet afternoon…caught up on laundry, read and people watched out on the balcony.  Watched a little of the Academy Awards and had shrimp, cheese, bread and wine for dinner.  R-e-l-a-x-e-d!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Day 7 – Mona’s Birthday

Yep, Mona’s birthday….the reason we decided on this trip was so Mona could celebrate her birthday in Palm Springs.  Started the morning 50 miles south of Phoenix so we still had some miles to travel.

Up to this point, most of our travels have been in the Chihuahuan Desert, the high deserts of New Mexico and eastern Arizona.  Now, we’re in the Sonoran Desert which is the low desert and which receives more moisture than the Chihuahuan, thus it can support more and larger plants, like the saguaro. 

Mona and friend
Saguaros dominate the desert landscape throughout central and western Arizona.  They can grow as tall as 45 feet and come in an incredible variety of shapes and sizes.  It’s certainly not hard to pick out which cactus is the saguaro…it’s the tallest one out there!  Saguaros typically have arms…did you know it takes about 75 years for the saguaro to develop its first arm?  These plants commonly have a life span of over 150 years. 

Saguaros are a big deal around here.  It’s illegal to deface or kill one.  And, you must have a special permit to move one…even if it’s in the way of your new home!

We love driving in this area.  The desert is beautiful and dotted with the saguaros and yellow sage is blooming along the highway.  As we near Phoenix, we came through a little pass and suddenly, there is a beautiful city, surrounded by rugged peaks.  It’s breathtaking!  The view only lasts a moment, so no photo.  If you want to see this view you’ll have to drive there yourself!

Outside of Phoenix, we begin to head due west.  We’re in the homestretch for Palm Springs.  We’re seemingly surrounded by craggy peaks of every shade of red, brown and green.  It seems everywhere we look it’s another Remington painting and you almost expect to see a stage burst out from behind a pass with Indians barreling down upon it! 

We cross the Colorado River and the border into California…the Promised Land!  We’re still in the Sonoran Desert, but the saguaros are gone.  What the heck?!!?  Who took the saguaros????  We’re still trying to figure that out!

Saguaros or not, we’re loving the scenery.  Just wish a picture could capture it, but of course, no picture does it justice.  That’s why we have artists like Sheryl to paint it for us!

Loving the scenery and truly enjoying the ride.  The phone rings, and like a fool I (Marvin of course) answer it.  Its Charter Cable service and they say we owe them money?  Huh?  What?  We disconnected from them two months ago and in fact they owe us money!  “Sir,” the agents says, “May I have your Charter pin number?”  I take a few guesses, but I’ve apparently forgotten it.  “Sir, then I’ll need the account number from the upper left side of your bill.”  Me, “I don’t have my bill, I’m in a car in the mountains enjoying a vacation which you are disrupting!”  Charter, “I’m sorry sir, we can’t complete this transaction without the number.”  Me, “Hey there, are you listening?!?!  I’m in a car…and YOU called ME!  …isn’t that ID enough?”

Finally, the agent got together with his supervisor and they decided that they could do this without further identification (geeze, thanks) and we didn’t owe them anything.  That’s 15 minutes of my life I’ll never get back!

Okay…back to vacation!  We’re going down this steep incline and suddenly we see patches of emerald green, bordered by huge peaks.  At last, Coachella Valley!  Our home away from home!  We’ve been coming here for 14 years, but have never driven here and this is the first time we’ve seen this beautiful sight!  We’re in awe!!!

We are at the eastern end of the valley and we want to be at the western end…those who know us, know that it’s a must to go first to the Blue Coyote when arriving here.  Look out Palm Springs!  As we approach our turnoff from I-10 we are in the midst of one of the world’s largest wind turbine farms.  There are about 5000 windmills in this area, scattered throughout the San Gorgonio Pass.  This pass is between two high mountain ranges, the San Jacinto Mountains and the San Bernardino Mountains, and it funnels the coastal air into the Coachella Valley.  Because of this funneling effect, it’s one of the consistently windiest places in the US….perfect for wind farms!  But, no time to stop and ogle, Blue Coyote is howling our names!

Blue Coyote
Where you can hear the call of the wild!
Palm Springs is packed with a car show and an art show….had to park blocks away, but walking in Palm Springs is fun anyway.  Lots of people, Art and spectacles.  Reach Blue Coyote and practically shout out as we walk in the door, “Dos margaritas, Por Favor!”  The waiter knows us and rushes to comply.  Finally, finally, finally we sip that nectar from the Aztec gods….Ummm…Ah…Ohhhh……Palm Springs at last!

The drinks start to surround us with a pleasant fog…but wait!  It’s Mona birthday!!!  We’ve got birthday stuff to do!  Off we go to Palm Desert and to check into our villa at the Westin Mission Hills.  It’s right on the golf course, so entertainment will be free and it’s very close to the Agua Caliente Casino where we’re seeing Melissa Manchester tonight.  And, where later in the week, we’ll be paying our share of the reparations to the Agua Caliente tribe of the Cahuilla Indians.

 Mona has chosen the CafĂ© Des Beaux Arts on El Paseo tonight.  Superb French food, attentive service, great wine, it’s like being in Paris in the desert!!!  We have an excellent sidewalk-side table and a great view of the moon and Venus.  Happy happy birthday!

Now, back across the valley to the Aqua Caliente and The Show (that’s the name of the theater inside the casino.) We’re here to see Melissa Manchester…a pop star from the eighties who took time off to raise her children and who is now back on the road.  She’s a great singer/songwriter, but more than that, she’s warm, she’s funny and personable.  We’re in the third row and it’s like we had a conversation with her.  What a great way to end the birthday evening!

But wait, the evening isn’t over?  You’d like a glass of wine on the balcony?!?  Oh..okay!  Time to find some wine.  Took us several stops with no luck.  We finally end up at Ralphs (our favorite desert grocery store) and they generously allow us to purchase a bottle of chilled white.

We finish the birthday with a glass of wine on the balcony watching the stars and listening to the wind in the palm trees.  Yes, this is a happy birthday!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Day 6 - Arizona

Started the day heading west on I-10 out of Las Cruces.  The temperature was in the 50s, but the winds were 25 mph and gusting to 50.  Not as bad as yesterday, but the winds demanded concentration on the driving, especially through the passes. 

Oh, by the way, yesterday’s mystery plant was identified by reading through a small book on desert plants.  It’s a soap tree (Yucca elata) and was used by Indians for many things, including soap!  Here’s more information:  (You never know, someone might actually be interested!)

More fun roads!
First stop of the day was the Shakespeare Ghost Town near the Arizona border.  Mona got to drive on some very interesting roads (reminiscent of Taos sans the snow) but she persevered and we made it safely….only to find the town was closed.  (How do you close an entire town!?!?)  Damn!  But it wasn’t a total loss.  There was cache nearby so we decided to find it.  Signs in the area said that it was infested with rattlesnakes, but we decided it was too cold for them….luckily we were right…at least we didn’t see any! 

What is The Thing?

Back on I-10.  Kept seeing signs about “The Thing” at exit 332.  Had to stop and check it out.  Paid our dollar each and wandered through the three buildings, seeing things like Hitler’s limo, till we finally came upon The Thing.  Shades of Roswell!

Boot Hill - Graves of the cowboys
killed in OK Corral Shootout

About an hour off of I-10 is Tombstone, famous for the gun fight at the OK corral.  First stop was Boot Hill with about a hundred graves.  Amazing how many say, “Shot”, “Killed” or “Murdered”. 

Then on to the corral itself.  Several little mini-museums in the complex with lots of interesting exhibits about the Old West.  (You would not believe what we learned at The Crib museum!) Finally, we made it to the corral.  It’s a space about 18’ x 30’ and there are 8 animatrons depicting the 8 fighters, 4 “lawmen” and 4 cowboys.  Each is placed as they were during the battle as described by witnesses.  It’s amazing how close they were to each other…less than 10 feet apart.  The gunfight lasted about 30 seconds and there were about 25 shots fired.  Three cowboys were killed and their graves are on Boot Hill.
O.K. Corral Shoot Out

We got to see a 45 minute mini-play of the gunfight at a stage adjacent to the corral.  Very realistic and what we liked best was how it depicted the cowboys as normal people…a little drunk, but normal human beings.  The highpoint of the play was Doc Holiday…if you’ve seen the movie “Tombstone” you would know this character immediately.  He played the part just like Val Kilmer…poems and all.  (Didn’t hear anything about Huckleberry though.) 

Had lunch at Big Nose Annie’s…girlfriend of Doc Holliday…in the original building.  Not the best food in town (which is realistic, I suppose) but the staff were all in period costumes and there was Art and memorabilia all around.  The table next to us was full of loud cowboys talking about politics and the good old days...made the experience all the more realistic!

Visited the courthouse and learned about silver mining and Faro.  Odds in Faro are hugely in favor of the house…no wonder it’s not legal anymore.

Hot Shot!
Last stop in Tombstone was Big Iron.  This little place is where you get a chance to fire a Colt 45 with paint rounds.  This was Mona’s first time with a big gun and she is an amazingly good shot!  I’m thinking of a link up with Tiffany at the STL firing ranges!

Back to I-10 heading towards Palm Springs.  Just after we got through Tucson Mona got to see her first saguaro cactus.  I told her to keep looking at them to see them wave.  She’s still looking!

Nice evening.  78 degrees, new moon with Venus and Jupiter shining brightly.  Palm trees swaying in the gentle breeze....ahhhhhhh!

Next is birthday day…and Palm Springs!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Day 5 - Wow! Look at that!!!

This just in...
Aliens cheat at cards!
Started the day by walking outside and enjoying the weather. Then went alien-geocaching...found some...geocaches, not aliens. Did a little alien-shopping (You can't just pick the first alien you see!) and then hit 285 south for Carlsbad.

Roswell is said to be three hours from anywhere....Carlsbad is even farther! Finally arrived just in time to catch the elevator down 750 feet. We bought the audio self-tour and started out into the dimly lit darkness. Less than 5 minutes later we were both saying, "Wow! Look at that!" Now, from me, that doesn't mean much...I have very little caving experience and am easily impressed. But from Mona (Cave Woman Froman) that's saying a lot! She's been to most every cave I've ever heard of and about ten more. She was in awe of Carlsbad....and so was I. It is virtually impossible to describe what the "decorations" look's just too outer-worldly/fairy tale-ish.

A little geological history. This part of New Mexico was once the coast of an inland sea. Layers upon layers of sea animals died and formed a limestone reef. The sea evaporated, the reef was buried, and then a bubble of sulfuric acid formed the cavity. Add a few million years of drops of water percolating through the soil and then dripping into the cave forming stalactites, stalagmites and columns.  They call the various forms of these “decorations” and they are classified as “popcorn”, “soda straws”, “draperies”, etc. I will post several pictures, but they can never come close to showing the grandeur of this cave. 

Miles of sun, desert and mountains.
After a few hours caving we hit the road for Las Cruces, NM via a two-lane highway through Texas.  No services for 140 miles…luckily the speed limit was 75 so we zipped through there pretty quickly.  More high desert scenery and started seeing these plants which seem to be a blend of a palm tree, Joshua tree and a yucca plant.  Gotta find out what these are!
Palm, Joshua, Yucca Plant
What is it?!?!

 In the middle of this desert we came along a wide expanse of snow!  No, wait…it’s salt!  It’s a salt flat south of the Guadalupe Mountains.  We think this is a result of the inland sea (mentioned about) evaporating.  More research is required!  Come to find out...there was a twelve year war fought over these salt flats, between US and Mexican forces.  A famous part of the war was the surrender of 20 Texas Rangers to a force of 500 Tejuanos.  This is the only time in history that Texas Rangers surrendered. The Rangers were subsequently found to be unfit to be Rangers..because they couldn't beat 500 to 20 odds.  Geeze!

Came into El Paso the back way, just in time for rush hour traffic.  Due to some interesting routing we missed going to Juarez, Mexico by this much!  Got to see the border at the Rio Grande….startling between the buildings on the USA side versus the Mexican side.  Sad that mere separation by a small river  brings such separation in life.

Rolled into Las Cruces about 6:00.  We were still tired from caving so we walked across the highway to a winery/pizza place.  Dumb luck, that!  Fantastic wines and wonderful pizza…very similar to PWs.  Found our way back across the highway, while stargazing, and crashed.

Headed for Tombstone today.  Hoping to pick up a drawl and a bow-legged walk!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Day 4 - The Truth is out there!

As posted on FB, we started the day with an incredible Santa Fe breakfast at our hotel.  Unbelievably delicious!  We didn't eat again till after 6 PM.

The Miracle Staircase
After breakfast we went next door to the Lorretto Chapel. This little chapel is famous for its stairway to the choir loft.  When the church was first built there was no way to access the choir loft.  Several carpenters were called in to build something, but they all concluded that a ladder was the only answer.  The nuns decided to hold a novena to pray for a solution.  On the last day of the novena a man showed up with a donkey and some tools.  After several months, the staircase was completed and the man left, taking no payment and to this day, no one knows who he was. The spiral staircase has two 360 degree turns, is fully self-supporting and has no nails.  It is truly beautiful and a masterpiece of design, engineering and mystery!

(Note: As we entered the chapel, I (Marvin) noticed the clerk had a slight smudge of something on his forehead.  Being the polite person I am, I started to lean over to whisper to him about his blemish.  Just in time, I realized what day it was.  Whew!  Almost added to the “dumbass” reputation initiated on the road to Taos!)

Next we visited the Georgia O’Keefe Museum.  This amazing woman produced over 2200 works and this museum has about 1100 of them.  About 200 pieces are on display at any one time.  We’ve always thought of large flower paintings as her primary work.  In fact, she was a prolific abstract artist with much of her work focusing on the New Mexican desert and the plants in her garden.  She was quite an outspoken person and didn’t like people to write about her paintings. She wanted people to see them.  She hated what art critics wrote about her paintings as they contrived interpretations of what she meant when she painted the piece.  Oh, the reason she painted those big flowers?  She was inspired by the big buildings being built in New York City.  Lots of people were noticing them and she wanted people to notice her work….hence, big flowers!

Indians selling their wares
outside the Palace
 Next was the Governor’s Palace.  Lots of history about New Mexico and Santa Fe.  There were several cutouts in the floor with glass over them.  Under the glass were the excavated ruins of the original adobe palace and the artifacts found during the excavation were on display in the museum.  History is strikingly different around here.  Back in Illinois, we trace our history through the settlers who moved in from places like Kentucky and Ohio.  Here, they trace their history back to the conquistadors, then the Mexicans who ruled here for some time.  Also, the history here is much more interwoven with the history of the Indians who were much more active in terms of battles and trade.

Last on our Santa Fe visits was the St. Francis Cathedral Basilica.  It’s absolutely stunning inside and very reminiscent of European cathedrals and in fact, was modeled after St. Chapelle in Paris.  It was Ash Wednesday so we only had a few minutes between services to visit.

Reluctantly, we left Santa Fe.  This is a wonderful wonderful city!  Incredible art.  Fantastic food.  Beautiful landscapes all around the city.  And, virtually every person we encountered was gracious and helpful beyond our expectations.  This truly is a city worth a longer visit!

 Next, a three hour drive across the high desert to Roswell. 

Back on the high plains, drifting along in Big Red.  (High Plains Drifter…get it?)  Anyway…as we steadily descended from 6300 feet to about 4000 feet, the temperature steadily increased…finally reaching the magic 72 degrees about an hour outside of Roswell.  The scenery was wide expanses of high desert with an occasional mountain peak placed here and there for interest.  We saw a few cows, three deer, and about six other vehicles, okay, maybe seven.  As we neared Roswell we started seeing circular irrigation farms,  The Roswell area sits atop one of the largest artesian wells in the nation, allowing them to use irrigation to grow grain crops.  We’ve flown over this area many times and viewed the “crop circles” and it was really a different perspective seeing them up close and personal.

On a side note:  We love to listen to music in the car…usually on radio stations.  In this area, you hit scan to find a station and you might find one…if you’re lucky.  We anticipated this and before we left we had a kit installed on our radio so we could connect our iDevices.  (Big Red is a 1999 Intrigue, built waaay before the iPod age.)  This has been a life saver…we have access to our entire music collection on a device that fits in the palm of your hand.  Highly recommend this!

Upon arriving in Roswell, we went straight for the International UFO Museum and Research Center.  Along the way we saw many businesses with signs welcoming UFOs and aliens.  This city really gets into UFOs!
Aliens welcome here

Welcome at our hotel!
We paid our $5 each, got our ID stickers and began seeking answers.  The first display is a map of the world with colored pins denoting each UFO sighting.  There were clusters of pins throughout the world, none in Decatur, but a couple in St. Louis.  Upon closer examination, you could see that there had been pins in Decatur.  Finally, you read the caption below the display….this is a MONTHLY plot of sightings!  Each month, they take all the pins down and start again.  About this time Scully…er, Mona, walked up and we began our investigation in earnest.

The first side of the museum is focused on the 1947 Roswell Incident.  It has a timeline that tracks the events of the incident and has signed affidavits from witnesses throughout the event…beginning with what was found in the field and what the American military response was.  Did you know the first press release from the military stated that they had recovered the debris from a flying saucer?  The next day they retracted that release and began saying they had been mistaken, it was a weather balloon.

NOT welcome at Walgreens
(apparently, they have had
 some incidents!)
The military went to extreme measures to close off the site and to ship whatever they found to Las Alamos and places like Area 51.  There are many affidavits from military personnel who guarded the debris, transported the debris and examined it.  (There are over 600 affidavits regarding the incident, all leading you to believe that there was much more than a balloon out there!

Reportedly, there were four crew members on the saucer and one was found alive.  There are drawings based upon what the military nurses described and chilling stories about what happened in the military hospitals.  (I can tell that even Scully…er, Mona….is becoming more and more convinced!)

The other side of the museum provides lots of exhibits on UFO sightings throughout the world and throughout history.  One of the more interesting exhibits is of an ancient Mayan burial carving which appears to depict an astronaut in a space ship.  Lots of strange stuff on this side of the museum!  (As if the Roswell Incident isn’t strange enough!)

Scully, er..Mona, and friends!
Here’s a link to the museum’s home page:

We won’t try to convince you one way or the other on the existence of UFOs, but as for Scully…er, Mona, and me…The Truth Is Here!

P.S.  Sheryl, Where's Daffy?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Day 3 - Tuesday in the Land of Enchantment

We started the day by driving from Santa Rosa to Santa Fe.  We climbed steadily to 6000 feet and got to see the incredible scenery of the high desert.  Would love to take that drive again!

Arrived in Santa Fe and walked around the plaza a little then went into a hotel to ask directions to the visitor center. Instead, the hotel concierge gave us detailed information on Santa Fe as well as a map highlighted with directions to Taos. We decided to go to Taos first, and then come back to Santa Fe in the afternoon. Off we went! 

The scenery on the High Road to Taos is breathtaking...soaring mountains all around you with snow-capped peaks on many. The road twists and turns, but is a well-paved two highway traveled by thousands of people every day.  What a beautiful drive!  Mona was driving and I (Marvin) was the navigator, but I was distracted by the mountains and was taking picture after picture. When I finally looked up we were traveling down a snow packed one-way lane....going down instead of up. We didn't meet many people on this lane, but the three we did see looked at us in puzzlement to see a two wheel drive Illinois car driving through the snow.  Finally, we decided to go 5 minutes more and if we didn't see a "High Road to Taos" sign, then we'd turn around. About a minute later we decide to turn around.

"Excuse me sir, but is this the High Roadto Taos?"
Snow packed, narrow and downhill...all factors making it tough to turn around, but Mona did a good job of it...till the car lost traction. About that time, two guys came up the road in a jeep. I asked them if we were still on the high road....they laughed....I don't speak Tiwa, but I'm pretty sure that meant "No, you dumbass white man!” (I won't point out that between us we have over 37 years of education and almost 80 years of business experience, including 8 years of land surveying.) They said, in English, to follow them. I pushed the car while Mona gassed it and we got it turned around. The good thing is we saw some local scenery we'd have never seen otherwise, and we gave the locals a fun story about dumbass white people who couldn’t read a map and who couldn’t tell the difference between a two-lane highway and a dirt road. (That's how legends are born, don't ya know!)

Visited the Taos Pueblo. This site has been occupied for over 1000 years. All the homes are made of adobe with ponderosa pine rafters. Walking through this village makes you feel as if you've stepped back in time. Nicolas was our guide...he had porcupine quills spiked through his ears. This is because his clan is the Pierced Ear Axe Clan...known for their wanderlust and adventure.

Think about it…this village has been here a thousand years and was hundreds of years old when it was “discovered” by Coronado’s conquistadores!  The building pictured was built in the 1300s and is the most photographed building in the Western Hemisphere.  (Note that we didn’t miss our chance to photograph it, too!) The remains of the original church built by the Spanish is still there.  It was burned down during a revolt against the Spanish in the 1600s.  It was rebuilt, and then burned down again in the 1840s by U.S. soldiers with about 140 people in it. 

About seven miles west of Taos is The Gorge….a huge bridge spanning a gorge cut by the Rio Grande.  You’re driving along this flat terrain and all of a sudden you’re driving across a mini-Grand Canyon!  We walked out onto the bridge and could hear the water rushing through the rapids even though it was hundreds of feet below us.

Afterwards, we visited Kit Carson’s home in Taos and walked around the square.  Then drove back to Sante Fe on the Low Road, which is along the Rio Grande most of the way.  We stopped at least ten times to take pictures, but none of them come close to depicting the beauty of the river.

Checked into The Inn and Spa at Lorretto…a beautiful adobe style hotel just off the plaza in Sante Fe.  I’m sitting in the “living room” area as I type this.  A warm fire, soft Mexican music.  Lots of comfortable leather chairs…even the ceilings are carved and painted!  LOVE this hotel!!!  (The pic doesn't do it justice, but it gives you an idea.  There are about 20 of these 10' x 10' panels in the ceiling.)

Last night we ate at The Shed on the plaza.  Met a couple new friends and had incredible New Mexican food.  We’ve been in the Land of Enchantment for two days and every meal has been worthy of a Facebook post!  We highly recommend The Shed for any Santa Fe visitors!

Almost time to start Day 4.  Doing some site-seeing in Sante Fe, then heading south.  Enjoy your day!

P.S. on the "High Road" story.  Earlier in the day we were at a scenic overlook enjoying the scenery, of course.  A car with Texas plates pulled in (coming from the Taos direction) and a young couple got out.  They wanted us to take pictures of them....and then we had them do the same.  They then took off towards Taos.  We laughed because they obviously had gotten turned around.  Later, when we were on the non-High Road road...we saw a car with Texas plates coming towards us.  It was that same couple!  That's when we started to figure out we were on the wrong road.  LOL!