Christmas at Sunset House

Christmas at Sunset House
Christmas at Sunset House

Friday, October 18, 2019

10-18-2019 The Acoma Pueblo, Last Days of the Balloon Festival, and a 4 day run home

October 10 Thursday

Keep in mind that in addition to all the extras we enjoyed at the Fiesta, every single morning we were enthralled anew with the excitement of the Dawn Patrol, the early morning glow, and the balloons rising gently as the sun rose over the Sandia Mountains.

Thursday was an especially beautiful day, with the “Special Shapes Rodeo” event.  We were on the field by 6am, along with 90,000 or so other people, on a morning that wasn’t quite as cold as predicted, but still chilly.

The morning air is absolutely electric with all the excitement, and we enjoyed hot chocolate and some yummy donuts while waiting for the show to begin. No need to go overboard with those huge breakfast burritos again.

Wandering around the field as the balloons begin to fill is fascinating.We loved watching them up close, hearing the whoosh of the burners, and the excitement of the pilots as they prepare to fly.  Sadly, this was the second morning of our visit that the weather didn’t cooperate and there was too much wind for the balloons to lift.  Still, they were filled and standing in the field, blowing around and sometimes even “kissing”.  It was a great experience and we didn’t mind that the balloons didn’t take off so we could enjoy them up close.

We returned to the tent in time for a hot breakfast with plenty of time to board the Red Bus at 11 AM for the trip west to the famous El Pinto Restaurant and the Acoma Pueblo.

The grounds of El Pinto are beautiful. What was once a working ranch is now a huge restaurant capable of seating several hundred people at once.  We had a buffet lunch with lots of choices. There were some rellenos and enchiladas that make my mouth water as I remember those flavors of New Mexico.

We spent time relaxing in the  shady patio after lunch before we once again boarded the bus for the 90 minute ride west along I-40 toward the Acoma Pueblo.  There are many pueblos in the Albuquerque area; some quite lovely, some a bit touristy, and some completely inaccessible except on feast days. 

The Acoma Pueblo is off the beaten track several miles south of the highway surrounded by colorful canyons and mesas.  The Pueblo is actually located high on a mesa although the village where most people actually live is on the flatland at the base of the historic pueblo.

We stopped at the visitor center and boarded a shuttle that took us up the hill for a tour of the Pueblo.  It was almost completely empty except for a few Indians (don’t forget New Mexico Native Americans like to be called Indians) peddling their arts.  The pottery was gorgeous with beautiful detailed designs filled with meanings about the earth, the rain, and the clouds.  Not being a collector with buckets of money, I opted for a very small flat pot made by an artist who talked about living down below in “town” but coming up to his studio to work.  He liked the quietness of the place with no electricity or running water.

We were surprised to see cars tucked into small spots on the crooked dirt roads and a few TV antennas poking up from the adobe walls.  In spite of the incongruity of some of the modern day intrusions, the pueblo felt quiet and beautifully ancient. 

Once back at the visitor center, I perused the maps of the routes of the people who native historians say came from Chaco to settle at Acoma.  Once again, the thought that the Anasazi disappeared was discounted as a construct of the white man historians.  The Pueblo people call them their ancestors and claim that they are directly descended from the Anasazi.

Of all the sights that we enjoyed near Albuquerque, I think this was my favorite because it was out in the middle of nowhere and so very quiet.

October 11 Friday

We had another quiet morning accompanied by the balloons rising over the MoHo.  We had arranged to meet with Mary Ann and Gail in the afternoon for a visit and a meal.  When Mary Ann asked what we might be interesting in doing I said without hesitation, “Something without people!”  We met at their lovely home and they took us on a drive up the Turquoise Trail to the back side of the summit of the mountain we had visited before by tram.  What a gorgeous drive!

They then took us to a back road on the east side of the mountains,where we found a sweet little walking trail that gave us beautiful skies, silence, and the fragrance of a pinyon and ponderosa forest.  After waiting patiently in the MoHo for many days while we left with our group, Mattie loved being out walking as much as we did.

Dinner was at their home with a delicious curried vegetable soup and bread.  They gifted us with a lovely good luck chili ristra and sent us on our way early enough to beat the night traffic to the balloon field. We so enjoyed the quiet time and the wonderful break from the busy-ness of our time with Adventure Caravans.

October 12 and 13, Saturday and Sunday

The last day of the Fiesta passed in a blur without much to mark it as any different as the previous days.  We saw the dawn glow, the Mass Ascension, had breakfast in the tent, and spent the rest of the day cleaning and packing the MoHo preparing for our exit from the field the following morning.

We enjoyed the farewell dinner in the tent with our fellow travelers, exchanged photos and addresses with Laura and Elsie, and said goodbye to other folks we had met during the ten days at the Fiesta.

We knew that we had to be off the field by 10 AM and had no reservations or plans for where we might spend the night on Sunday.  We decided to return to the beautiful Sandia Resort and Casino and take advantage of the open free parking in the huge lot overlooking the Rio Grande Valley. 

I wanted very much to return to the incredibly good buffet that we had enjoyed there during the previous week.  A quiet day, a delicious afternoon supper, and a short time with the slots was just enough.  Watching the full moon rise that night over the mountains was spectacular.  By Monday morning we were ready to roll in earnest.

We headed north toward Farmington knowing we could easily camp at the Homestead RV Park even without a reservation.  We had visited Chaco Culture in 2014 and knew that the road west included 21 miles of rough dirt road to reach the park.  Still, knowing we probably wouldn’t return to New Mexico any time soon, we decided to park the MoHo at the highway and venture west in the Tracker.

There is no easy description of that road that covers the intensity of the washboards and the ruts.  Somewhere way out there, a crazy racket emanated from the underpinnings of the Tracker and we thought maybe we might be stranded.  After a bit it subsided, never to go completely away.  The brakes were doing goofy things but lucky for us, they held up until we got back to Grants Pass.

Chaco was as wonderful as we remembered and while we didn’t hike the same paths we enjoyed the visitor center and drove the scenic loop route among the ruins.  It was good to be there again even though it was only for a short afternoon.

Our night at Homestead was uneventful and our goal the next day was to reach Capitol Reef National Park and possibly boondock just west of Fruita where we had seen a group of people boondocked on our way south two weeks previously. 

We took our time along Highway 95, enthralled with the canyons, the river, the cliffs, and stopped for a short visit to Natural Bridges National Monument just off Highway 95.  We drove the loop, admired the arches from above, and I remembered my hikes into the depths of those canyons many years before.  The trails were icy and the air was cold so I didn’t mind skipping the hikes that we didn’t have time to do.

Our goal was to get home as quickly as possible since the snows were threatening to close the roads on our route over the Sierra Nevada mountains north of Reno.  As we approached the eastern boundary of Capitol Reef, I saw several rigs parked at the Fremont River Crossing that leads to Cathedral Valley.  It only took a minute for us to decide to try to boondock there and sure enough there was plenty of room for us in spite of the half dozen or so rigs scattered about near the crossing.

Once again the night was gorgeous with clear skies, a beautiful moon and intense quiet.  The next morning we left early and followed the same route west that we had taken on our way to Albuquerque, traveling through Utah and Nevada on highway 50, camping again at the Border RV Park.  On our return route, we knew that we didn’t have to settle for WalMart in Fallon, Nevada and chose to park at the Texaco in Fallon. 

What we didn’t know until I went into the store to be sure it was ok to park was that the station belonged to the local tribes,and if we hadn’t checked in the tribal police would have made us move.  There were only a couple of other rigs in the lot that came and went during the night and I was grateful I didn’t have to worry about being bothered by someone banging on our door.

The next morning we checked the weather, saw that the snow was holding off for another few hours, and made a fast beeline for Susanville. We crossed the mountains on Highway 44 and Highway 89 and then we headed north on I-5 near Mt Shasta.  We arrived home just a few hours before the snows came to the mountains behind us. 

Whew.  Even as I review the photos, after three weeks out and ten days having a wonderful time in Albuquerque, the 4 day trip home is still a bit of a blur in my mind.  Anyone who has read this blog for long will no doubt recognize that horse running to the barn way we have of going home after a trip.  It was a truly wonderful trip, a great experience, and we were so very happy to be home again and settle in for the fall.

 


Thursday, October 10, 2019

10-09-2019 The Turquoise Trail to Santa Fe

Here is the blurb from the website for the Turquoise Trail between Albuquerque and Santa Fe:

“Venture off the freeway and onto the Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway, and you'll see what we mean. The Scenic and Historic Area encompasses 15,000 square miles in the heart of central New Mexico, linking Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The drive is approximately 50 miles along Highway 14. Enjoy a breathtaking view from atop Sandia Crest, then drive back into history through the mining towns of Golden, Madrid, and Cerrillos, now coming alive with art, crafts, theater, music, museums and restaurants.”

As you can see from the photos I took, we didn’t see very much of the beautiful Turquoise Trail from the big red tour bus that took us on the route to Santa Fe.  Mo and I decided that when we return to Albuquerque someday we will take our time to explore the beautiful byway and the little mining towns along the way. 

Photos like these will remind those of us who dislike tours of exactly why we usually dislike tours!  Still, we had to get to Santa Fe, and this route was definitely more fun than driving north on I-25.  Either way, the views from the bus would have been less than stellar.  Madrid especially seemed like it would be a fun place to visit, but according to our guide it is another cute small town that has strayed from its roots to become another “art” community with lots of galleries and expensive coffee.

One good thing about a tour bus can sometimes be the guides, and in this case we did learn quite a bit about the surrounding landscape from our guide.  She talked most about the area surrounding Albuquerque and some of the problems that limit growth, including the lack of water for the ballooning population, and the lack of actual physical space, since most of the area around the city is Tribal land, with no space to expand.  We listened to some extensive information about the importance of xeriscaping, using what the desert had to offer, and about the high price of living on the west side of the Sandias versus the east side where we were traveling.  It was moderately interesting and helped to pass the time as we approached Santa Fe.

Our first destination in the old city was the beautiful San Miguel Mission. Built between approximately 1610 and 1626, it is considered the oldest known church in the United States. The church was damaged during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 but was rebuilt in 1710 following the Spanish reconquest of New Mexico and served for a time as a chapel for the Spanish soldiers.

The wooden  altarpiece, which includes a wooden statue of Saint Michael dating back to at least 1709, was added in 1798. Though the church has been repaired and rebuilt numerous times over the years, its original adobe walls are still largely intact despite having been hidden by later additions. The interior was beautiful with rustic beams and an alcove where you could see the original 300 year old adobe walls.

On a small side street next to the mission was what is thought to be the oldest house in New Mexico, and yet internet searches vary as to the actual location of the “oldest house”.  I think what we saw was a store front, and it was so crowded we never made it inside.  I don’t think we missed much. Somehow between the crowded church and the tiny street, Mo and I became separated, and I spent quite of bit of time searching for her.  She just told me she DID get to see inside the oldest house and it was interesting.  Thanks, Mo.

We then meandered just a few blocks to the famous Loretto Chapel.  I had read about the “miraculous” spiral staircase in the past, but didn’t realize that it was right in downtown Santa Fe.  In spite of the claims of its miraculous nature, it really is an amazing bit of woodworking. 

Legend has it that the builders must have forgotten to build a staircase to the choir loft, and the Sisters of the Loretto Chapel could find no one who could manage the complexity of building a staircase in the small space.  Legend says that to find a solution to the problem, the Sisters of the Chapel made a novena to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. On the ninth and final day of prayer, a man appeared at the Chapel with a donkey and a toolbox looking for work. Months later, the elegant circular staircase was completed, and the carpenter disappeared without pay or thanks. After searching for the man (an ad even ran in the local newspaper) and finding no trace of him, some concluded that he was St. Joseph himself, having come in answer to the sisters' prayers. The visit to the chapel was a special time for our new friend Elsie, who is a devout Catholic who attends daily Mass.

We loved the softness of the sculptures at the Loretto Chapel

Continuing our walk through Santa Fe, we came to the imposing façade of the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, and the mother church of the Archdiocese built in the late 1800’s. It was built on the site of an older adobe church, that was built in 1714 and was dismantled except for a small chapel on the north side of the cathedral.

It is a classic Romanesque Revival building with characteristic round arches separated by Corinthian columns and square towers.  The large rose window in the front of the church and the nave windows of the Twelve Apostles were imported from France.  The towers were originally planned to be topped with 160 foot steeples, but due to lack of money, the steeples were never built.  The cathedral was only recently elevated to a basilica in 2005.  Not being Catholic, the differences evade me.

The crowds were a bit daunting, so Mo and I once again decided to skip out on the tour of the church in favor of lunch a bit early at The Shed.  We didn’t have to wait very long for a table, and by the time we finished our lunch there was quite a line of people waiting to get into the popular restaurant.  Again we enjoyed fantastic New Mexican style food, highlighted with wonderful chile sauces to compliment the flavors. 

After lunch we wandered the streets a bit before returning to the beautiful cathedral on our own without the thick crowds that were there when our group first arrived.  The cathedral was impressive, although not as delightfully charming as the Loretto Chapel. 

The stained glass windows were gorgeous and the statuary was imposing, but again didn’t have the soft color and lines of the statuary at the smaller chapel.

One of the most fascinating pieces in the cathedral was the La Conquistadora, a small wooden statue of  the Virgin Mary. She was the first Madonna brought to what is now the United States.

It is thought that the statue was carved sometime during the Renaissance. The statuette is carved out of wood and is just 3 feet tall.  It would have been easy to miss. Our friend Elsie never did see it.  It is interesting to read about the statue, and to see the huge collection of clothing that she wears for different occasions. A so-called secret society, La Cofradía de La Conquistadora, maintains, protects, and preserves the icon and her belongings.

With our time in Santa Fe coming to an end, we wandered back to the famous Plaza at the Governor’s Palace where native artisans spread their wares for sale along the covered walkway.  We saw some lovely jewelry but neither of us was in a buying mood so managed to enjoy looking without bringing out the wallets.

Members of our group were beginning to gather near the meeting place in the square but there was still 20 minutes or so to fill.  I saw our guide and asked her, “If you had just 15 minutes to see a gallery, where would you go?”  She gushed about her favorite artist and pointed us down the street to the Manitou Gallery, and said she and the group would catch up with us on the way to the bus.

It was a beautiful gallery and I loved the sculptures and wandered one of the rooms exploring our guide’s favorite artist, a name I have already forgotten.  Wandering into an adjacent room, I was thrilled to find a huge space filled with art by Dale Terbush, who had only recently opened a show there at the Manitou Gallery.  I have a print of a Terbush painting that I bought at a gallery in Laguna in 1993. The painting could be a canyon anywhere in Southern Utah filled with light and shadow, clouds and lightning, red rock, a wild river, and a wild sky.  It hangs in a place of honor at the entrance to our home.  What a thrill to see prints, lithos, and some original paintings by this unique artist, including one that was more than 10 feet tall .

His style is a mixture of real landscapes and fantasy and is often wild with color. I wouldn’t want a houseful of his art, but I do treasure my canyon painting. I enjoyed visiting with the gallery owner who gushed on about what an amazing guy Dale Terbush was, saying that he painted from his heart, not using photographs or images but just from his imagination. 

We only had about 2 hours in Santa Fe, and that is almost a crime, since the city is so full of great history, great art, and great restaurants. We never saw any part of the famous Canyon Road, with more than 100 galleries along the narrow street, and colorful adobe homes with doors that could tempt a photographer for years.  We had no time to visit the Governors Palace or the Georgia O’Keefe Museum or the Museum of International Folk Art.  Santa Fe is truly an art paradise that needs more than an afternoon to experience.  Even so, I was content when we got back on the bus. 

Churches, Chapels, Art, New Mexican Food, and a Dale Terbush bonanza.  It was a lovely day.




Tuesday, October 8, 2019

10-08-2019 A Week in New Mexico During the Balloon Festival Part 1

I am writing this blog about the rest of our week in Albuquerque a bit late, on a quiet Thanksgiving morning at Sunset House in Grants Pass.  It has been more than six weeks since we returned from New Mexico, and writing from photos and notes leaves a bit to be desired.  This post is a labor of love, with maybe a bit more labor than love, as I attempt to recreate the whirlwind of activities that filled the rest of our week in New Mexico.

Adventure Caravans made sure that we didn’t have any complaints about too much down time.  Each day was booked solid with interesting activities, some more than others.  As I look back, and read my notes, reviewing the photos to jog my memory, I can see why I have avoided writing this post.  So much and so fast, and crunched into a very few days is a lot to put together. 

I know better, I know that cryptic notes don’t do the job and I need to actually write the blog as things are happening.  I wouldn’t exactly call this current post a “place holder”, but essentially it is a journal for me to keep things in order, to remember what we did in that busy week after our first breathtaking Balloon Fiesta initiation.

We rose at dawn each morning to watch the dawn patrol, the breathtaking mass ascensions, and see the balloons light up with the rising sun over the Sandia Mountains.  A bit of breakfast in the tent, and by 9 or 10, as the balloons returned to the field and the skies emptied, we were on our red bus heading somewhere.  With 150 people to keep entertained, Adventure Caravans had their work cut out.  There were three busses, and we had the same bus each day.  If there is anything I would say about this trip that wasn’t my favorite part, it was the number of people in the group.  It was just much too big for us.  I get it, there is no way that a small group would work in this situation, and I have to give the company great credit for managing all of us as well as they did.

On Monday morning, the 7th, we woke up feeling a bit worn from all the weekend excitement.  The sewage pump truck arrived early and with little fanfare sucked out all the contents of our tanks.  We appreciated the convenience of having two free pump-outs during our time at the fiesta, especially since it is nearly impossible to leave the camping area in a rig to go find a dump during the ten days of the show. 

By 9 we had finished our breakfast at home and lined up for our first bus excursion.  Sometimes when we are traveling with a group, I am having to deal with trying to get a forward seat due to my tendency to get carsick.  When we filled out our forms for Adventure Caravans, they had a space for “motion sickness” which I checked.  Instead of having to wait in line and fight for a forward seat, those of us who had the problem were given special passes and had the same seats throughout the rally.  Such an amazing and simple thing and I appreciated it so very much.

We rode just a few miles toward the center of Albuquerque to visit the Turquoise Museum.  The Turquoise Castle was built as a private residence by an eccentric and very wealthy Albuquerque businesswoman in 2008.  It was purchase by the family and officially opened as the Turquoise Museum in 2019.  The word “family” in the previous sentence has a link, because tracking the history of the Zachary and Lowry extended families including 5 generations who founded the museum is complicated. Prior to the move to the “castle”, the museum was in much smaller venue. Currently there is more than 8,000 square feet of museum space filled to bursting with some of the world’s rarest and most collectible pieces of turquoise and turquoise jewelry.

The educational exhibits include information about the mining, science and grading of turquoise, in addition to lapidary techniques, turquoise imitations and the purported mystical qualities of the stone.  One bit of information that stood out is the fact that only “natural turquoise” is real.  Real turquoise can be anything at all.  It is easy to be duped into buying something that isn’t natural even if it is called “real”.

The castle itself was fascinating, done in the European style of a great castle, filled with antiques, stained glass windows, a gorgeous spiral staircase, and 127 crystal chandeliers.  Hard to imagine that such opulence was only built in 2008!

As we left the main showrooms of the museum, we were funneled into a very tiny commercial area with turquoise for sale.  It was really a disservice to the museum people and to us because we had only a few minutes to get back to the bus and no time at all to peruse the fabulous turquoise items that were displayed.  The museum is near downtown and is definitely worth much more time than we were given.

Feeling a bit sad about our truncated visit to the museum, we once again boarded the red bus for the short trip to Old Town. Like many historic towns in New Mexico, Old Town Albuquerque is built around a plaza.  There are restaurants and shops, and a bandstand in the center of the square. 

Mo and I visited Old Town on our first MoHo cross country trip in 2007, and had delightful memories of a Christmas time supper at the charming Church Street Cafe, located in a house that was built during the founding of Albuquerque sometime after 1706. This would make Casa de Ruiz the oldest residence in Albuquerque and one of the oldest structures in the state of New Mexico.

We thought that going to the café first while the bus loads of tourists wandered around the square would ensure a quick lunch and we could explore afterward.  We were seated almost immediately, and our charming waiter encouraged us to order immediately, before the crowds arrived.  We did so, enjoyed our drinks, and waited, and waited, and waited.  The charming waiter was running around like crazy, and when I finally asked what happened to our meal, he was a bit short, saying, “I will deliver it when I get it!”.  A few minutes later, he humbly offered us a free cocktail, since he realized he had forgotten to place our order. 

We kept our sense of humor, especially after the amazing meal arrived, including “traditional” chile rellenos for me, accompanied by the lightest empanadas I ever tasted. By the time we left the restaurant, the crowds were huge and the wait lines were very long.

After lunch we listened to the mariachi music in the plaza for a time before wandering around the block enjoying the window displays.  This photo feels much like how I felt in Old Town, overloaded with touristy displays and too many people.  Unlike the Turquoise Museum where we felt entirely too rushed, we felt as though there was too much free time in Old Town and no place that we cared to explore among all the shops and tourists. 

Once again the group piled into the buses and we were taken just a short way north of town to the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.  There was a store, some interesting exhibits, and some dancing, but nothing that I would consider spectacular.

The dancing wasn’t specific to the Pueblo tribes, which seemed a bit strange to me.  Some of the art was beautiful, and I especially enjoyed the play of light and shadow on this mural on one of the exterior walls.

At the end of the performance, they encouraged everyone to join in the Friendship Dance, another somewhat generic dance that we see often at Native American gatherings, not specific to the Pueblo tribes. Our new friends Elsie and Laura enjoyed the dancing. Elsie and Laura are friends from Southern California who often travel together.  They were parked just a couple of spots from us at the camping area and we enjoyed their company during the rally.

October 8 Sandia Peak

We woke to cloudy skies in the west and predictions of rain for later in the day.  Thankfully the predictions were wrong, and the rains never interfered with our trip to the top of Sandia Peak via the Sandia Tramway.

We were glad to be with a tour group when we arrived at 9am on Tuesday morning.  It was a popular destination that morning during the Balloon Festival and the lines were hours long.  People were waiting three hours for tickets, and as we stood in our line to board, we heard that all tickets for the day had been sold out. Instead of the long wait, within an hour we were in a cable car heading to the top of the mountain, from 6500 feet to more than 10,000 feet in elevation in just 15 spectacular minutes.

We spent quite a bit of time trying to pick out the Fiesta grounds far to the west.  None of the binoculars scattered around the platforms were pointed in the direction we needed.

The ride to the top is gorgeous.  We were lucky that the predicted rain never came. We didn’t have a lot of time at the summit, and the only restaurant was extremely busy with a long wait.  It was much more fun to wander around and look at the gorgeous views. 

With beautiful trails extending in all directions from the peak, it looked like a wonderful place for fall hiking, but the short visit limited any hiking and we only managed to walk around a bit before we had to leave. We were warned to be sure to get on the right tram going back down because if we weren’t there when the bus left, we were on our own.  I think we had about 45 minutes at the top before going back down.

I did think that perhaps I could manage to write about our entire Albuquerque week in one blog post, but that was much too optimistic.  Up next, The Turquoise Trail to Santa Fe, visiting the Acoma Pueblo, and meeting with good friends who live in Albuquerque.

I will leave you with a shot of the beautiful night “glow”, where all the the balloons are filled and raised and lit up in time with the music blaring from huge speakers.  The video is on SmugMug, but I actually have no clue how to embed it properly here.