April 30, 2015

4/29/15 - Monument Rocks NNL

I read in one of the many brochures I pick up along the way that there are "8 Wonders of Kansas". (Unless you're from Kansas, I'll bet you can't name even one!) One of them is Monument Rocks National Natural Landmark. Actually, I didn't realize there was such a thing as a National Natural Landmarks either, but this was the first one. It's #7 on the list.

Just north of Scott State Park (selected by National Geographic as one of the 50 best state parks in the US--from another brochure!) where we were staying are a group of chalk monoliths that you don't expect to see in the Kansas Plains.

Kansas saves a lot of money by not paving county roads. Since George washed the truck yesterday, he wasn't thrilled when we made the turn. Just to prove Kansas isn't totally flat...
We saw these yellow rock piles out in someone's field. Not what we were going to see...but interesting.
Then there they were--giant stand-alone chalk formations patiently waiting for Kansas tourists. No visitor center. No passport stamps. Not even a single brochure.
So we walked around these rocks and took pictures. Then we crossed the road and walked around some other rocks and took more pictures.
They're pretty big. (That's me down there taking one of the other pictures.
Isn't this pretty?  If you know what it is, let me know.
This one's called "Eye of the Needle". It's a pretty big needle.
Monument Rocks are pretty cool, but if this wasn't Kansas they wouldn't count as a wonder. Well, maybe they would, but probably not in the top eight.

You know the drill--more pictures of Monument Rocks NNL here.

April 28, 2015

4/22/15 - NRA Whittington Center

I don't usually say much about RV parks, so this will be an exception. The NRA Whittington Center near Raton, NM, is not a typical RV resort. It was established in 1973 by the National Rifle Association for shooting sports, education and wildlife management. It's not connected with the NRA anymore--except for the name. We came to visit Capulin Volcano NM; most people come for the training or the hunting.  

April is definitely off-season, so we practically had the whole campground to ourselves. (We paid $3 extra per night for the West Campground because I wanted to see the antelope that (supposedly) wander all over.  Ha! No such luck...We saw 3 jackrabbits and a few mule deer.  I wanted PRONGHORNS for neighbors!!) 
Pronghorn Antelope (NOTE: picture taken outside campground)
Inside the Center is a big lobby, and as you would expect from a place that's big on guns and hunters, there are lots of mounted animal heads. (If this makes you queasy, go straight into the gift shop. Since I'm married to an ex-cop/hunter, I'm more or less used to it--although I did once have a sweatshirt that said "Fair is far; arm the animals!") 
On one side of the gift shop is the Bud & Willa Eyman Research Library.  Inside the library are bunches of cabinets containing bullets and shotgun shell collections. (No, I don't know why anyone would want to collect them either.)
On the other side of the gift shop is the Frank Brownell Museum of the Southwest. I thought it would be either a history of the NRA, or a history of competition shooting, or a history of guns. It's sort of a little bit of everything.  They have a bunch of guns, old ones and competition ones.  They have displays on everyone that lived in the area, Indians, Spanish, Civil War, Old West, Mountainmen.
(The museum has the most obnoxious doors I've ever seen!  You get too close to them in either the gift shop or the museum, and they open.  Noisily.  Frequently.  Whether you want them to or not. Then everyone in either room looks to see what's going on.)

George forgot his camera so I loaned him mine. I took 3 pictures in the museum, then handed my camera to him because I knew he was more interested.  (Terrible glare from all the windows--makes it hard to see some of the exhibits and makes for miserable pictures.)
I like this one.  It reminds me of the cap pistols my brother had when we were little kids. I thought the engraving on the silver guns was because they were toys.  Apparently cowboys liked a little bling too.
By the way, the Santa Fe Trail went through the property here.  There's an official Scenic Historic Marker and a roadside exhibit.

Click for more NRA Whittington Center pictures.

April 27, 2015

4/25/15 - Great Sand Dunes NP

We've been to other sand dunes--Kelso Dunes at Mojave Natl Preserve in California, White Sands Natl Monument in New Mexico, Oregon Dunes Natl Recreation Area on the Oregon Coast, and Indiana Dunes Natl Lakeshore.

Now it was time to go to the greatest of them all (yes, pun intended). Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in Colorado has the tallest dunes in the United States.

The park itself is at an elevation of over 8,000', and in the mountains, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect.
We started with the Visitor Center, got the Passport stamps, bought some postcards, watched the video. Clouds looked really iffy, plus it was cold and windy, but I was dressed for it. George was in his signature shorts, altho he did opt for a windbreaker. (George wears shorts almost all year, but he usually wears shoes. His feet are scary white!)
Before we could get to the dunes, we had to join the migration and cross Medano Creek (not pronounced like you think: accent is on first syllable). This seasonal creek is only a few inches deep, but it's snowmelt from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains up there so it's frigid! Next month little kids will be playing in it, but now all I want to do is get to the other side.
Medano Creek is one of the few places in the world that has "surge flow", where the water pulses and makes little waves. Tickles...
On the other side, there are a lot of little rocks that hurt my tender feet, so I sat down and put my shoes back on. I have no idea where the rocks come from; there are none in the creek. I guess you get what you pay for--we have a Golden Age National Parks Pass, so we didn't pay anything at all.
High Dune on First Ridge is 699' high, but you have to walk a mile and a quarter up a sandy ridge to get there; Star Dune is tallest at 755', but it's 6 miles round trip. Those dark clouds were moving our way fast, so we decided not to aim for the top. I wanted to at least get up on top of a ridge. I let George lead the way. (Once upon a time, his daughter Judy told me to stop taking so many pictures of her dad's butt. I told her I let him lead because that way the bears would get him first. No bears here but I let him go first anyway.) 
It's Saturday, so there were lots of families and kids playing on the dunes. Some college kids had hiked up on a ridge so they could sled down. We watched for a while and their equipment wasn't cooperating. At this point, they just started rolling! (I'm pretty sure my son would do this, and he's way older than college age!) These little kids had sand sleds.
The mountains you can see over the dunes are the Sangre de Cristo, same range we saw in New Mexico. Second shot is what they looked like 15 minutes later.
And half an hour later when we were down and back across the creek, it looked like this:
With discretion and valor coming to mind, we decided it was time to pack it up and head back to the RV--and hope there wasn't a problem going over the (almost 10,000' high) pass on the way. Spring might not be the best season for Colorado.

Note to my brother John: Sorry, no dune buggies or ATVs allowed on these dunes. I guess you'll just have to stick to Oregon.

More pics of Great Sand Dunes NP 

April 26, 2015

4/21/15 - Capulin Volcano NP

I knew there were volcanoes in New Mexico--we've already been to El Malpais National Monument . I just didn't know there were so many! Northern New Mexico's prairie grassland is full of mesas, extinct cinder cones and shield volcanos, so the landscape is different than any we've seen before.  Capulin Volcano National Monument is considered "a superb example of a cinder cone volcano".

The two-mile long road up to the rim is a 360 degree spiral, 1,300' above the plains. You can see part of it here.
Elevation at the parking lot is 7,877'.  The Crater Rim Trail is a one mile-loop around the perimeter of the crater rim, with an elevation gain of 305'.  (Sorry for all the numbers, but sometimes you can't relate until you see them.)  The trail does keep going up and up and up, but it's not terribly steep, mostly...that's when you stop, gaze out at the High Plains and the other volcanoes and take lots of pictures. Just remember that the air at 8,000' is so thin it's actually transparent!
It's early spring and most of the vegetation is dormant.  The green is pinyon and ponderosa pine and juniper.  If you're not wheezing from the altitude, you get a chance at heavy breathing from the pollen. I think a lot of the ugly grey shrub is the capulin plant the volcano was named after. They used the Spanish name because naming a volcano "chokecherry" would be pretty silly.

There is, of course, a lot of lava rock.  And some dead juniper, which makes the best props for pictures. And the view of the Raton-Clayton Volcanic Field down below is amazing.
On a  clear day, you can see the Sangre de Cristo Range of the Rocky Mounains.  Pretty hazy today though...One of the many other volcanoes that can be seen in the distance is "Sierra Grande". With an elevation of 8,702', it's even taller than Capulin. Unlike Capulin, it's not a cinder cone; it's a shield volcano. (There's a third kind, but I forgot what they call it. It's the kind that Mount St. Helens is.)
Looking the other direction you can see down into the bottom of the crater and the plugged vent. You can also see the parking lot and the trail down into the crater. Stay tuned....
As we worked our way around the rim, the view changed.  This little crater down near the base of Capulin is called "Baby Capulin". It looks a lot lower than we are, but it's elevation is almost 6,900'! Things really look different when you're higher. (Must be like George's perspective when he looks down at me.)
Nearby you can see the lava flow (the black stuff that looks like shadows) and pressure ridges in front.
After we got back to the parking lot, we headed down into the crater. The trail is just .2 mile, and it's only uphill on the way back!  On the way down we saw these pasque flowers. Aren't they pretty, hairy leaves and all?
The vent's not terribly exciting because a lot of the lava fell down and covered it up.  Actually, it just looks like a pile of rocks.
After lunch, we hiked the Lava Flow Trail near the Visitor Center.  The most interesting part are the lava mounds called "tumuli".  They formed where the lava crust cooled some and the lava underneath created pressure that squeezed up and broke it. I think it looks like a hill of broken asphalt. 

April 25, 2015

4/23/15 - Philmont Scout Ranch

If you grew up on westerns like we did, you've heard of Cimarron, New Mexico.  On the old Santa Fe Trail, it got a lot of traffic. It was a wild and lawless town, with a feud over an old Spanish Land Grant that went on for years.

People as different as Bat Masterson, Kit Carson, Jesse James and Buffalo Bill Cody stayed at the St. James Hotel, where there are still bullet holes in the old tin ceiling tiles.
We had lunch there, although it's a little disconcerting to have a stuffed cow with a "What am I doing here?" look focused on you as you eat. (I wasn't eating beef, honest!)  

They let you wander through the downstairs lobby, go through the swinging doors and peek into some of the old rooms, named in dubious honor of their former occupants.
As you might expect in a place a like this, there are ghosts. Although Room #6 has a sign proclaiming that two men died in that room, the ghosts stay upstairs.  I'm assuming this because there's another sign posted at the bottom of the stairs with rules for Ghost Investigators. (We saw neither.)
The Old Grist Mill Museum looked interesting, but unfortunately, April isn't high season in Cimarron. It doesn't open until Memorial Day. We probably won't come back for it.
Just outside of Cimarron is Philmont Scout Ranch, the Boy Scouts National High Adventure Base. I figured you'd just sign up and go to camp for 7-12 days. Nope! First you have to get a crew of Boy Scouts plus at least 2 physically fit adults. Then you register for a lottery TWO years before you want to go. Maybe you'll go, maybe you won't...and if you do, you'd better hope the rest of the group still wants to go!

They also have a huge program for Adult Leaders.  George was there in 1990, right after we got married.  (This is where he usually announces that I left him on our honeymoon.)  Although it doesn't much look like tents now, this is a portion of one of the huge "Tent Cities" they have for the adults. I like our kind of camping much better.
The 127,000 acre ranch was donated to BSA in 1938 by Tulsa oilman Waite Phillips. The ranch included their summer home called Villa Philmonte. (I've never had a house with a name; I suppose it's because I never had a house that had 28,400 square feet!) A tour was just starting when we arrived, so we went scurrying to catch up. The rest of the tour (another couple) was still outside when we got there.
Because the house is much larger than our 5th wheel, we just kept going and going. (If we hadn't had a guide, I would have needed breadcrumbs.) Our guide was very good, and had lots of info about the Phillips and the house. It had been furnished from all over the world, and many of the pieces are still there. Some of them were antiques when the house was new--and if they weren't then, they are now.  Some of the things I liked:
Living room
Hand-painted Windows
Detail of Living room Ceiling
The guys really liked it when we got to the garage.  There are three antique cars. Here's my favorite. The tread on the tires is NON-SKID. Literally. Instead of zigzag designs or something, the words NON SKID are the tread. Is that cool or what?
We went to the museum, which was rather a disappointment. I expected either history of the Scout Camp, details of the treks, more of what we got in the mansion, even a history of the Boy Scouts. Nope--none of the above. There were minor exhibits from some of their "partners"(?), but not much. The personal library of one of the first Chief Scouts of the BSA is in one wing . Nice gift shop...

One last stop before we left. I've heard stories for years about the hike George and some of the other leaders made up the "Tooth of Time", which is the icon of Philmont. George took me out where there was a clear view of it so it would make a little more sense to me. I suppose it does look a bit like a tooth.
Here's the link for more pictures of Cimarron & Philmont:  Cimarron