Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Only a fool would be on this road under these conditions!

Sunday, May 21
Before the night was over, I was extremely sorry that I decided to move to Fenton Lake State Park instead of waiting until morning. First off, I got a fairly late start, stopped in Espanola to access Internet to pickup email and post to my blog. It was nearly 6 p.m. when I continued my drive.

Having to ask for directions in Los Alamos because the highway I needed was “missing” took precious time. By the time I turned onto NM road 126, the access to Fenton Lake, it was getting dark, and rain started. Next I saw a sign saying the dirt road was under construction and not recommended for things such as motorhomes. I waved down a vehicle that was coming from that road and was assured that I was near Fenton Lake, and the road was passable. I drove on.

Between the increasing darkness, the rain and all the heavy road-building equipment parked along the road, I did not see the park sign. By the time I realized I had passed it, there was no safe place to turn around on this narrow, wet, slippery, muddy road. I had no choice but to continue – very slowly. Not only was the road too narrow to turn around, there was no safe place to pull off the road. Being in the mountains, the road was very hilly and had hairpin curves. Most of the time I was only going 5 or less miles/hour. To keep myself as calm as possible, I was praying and singing hymns!

By 9 p.m., it was dark and still raining, and I was tired and stressed to the max. And I was scared. This made continuing on impossible to me. I had been sliding around on the road; usually there was a drop-off on one side and a muddy trench on the other. Even the muddy ruts made by other four-wheeled vehicles were a problem – my dual back wheels couldn’t simply stay in the ruts.

The road at this part was part of the intersection with Forest Road 20, so it was a bit wider. Not the best place to spend the night, but I had to. It was still raining. I parked, had a glass of wine, cheese and crackers, and tried to sleep. I did – sort of.

When morning came, I continued on my way. It has stopped raining, but the mountain road was still extremely slippery. More 5-mph driving. It took just over one hour to reach paved road. All I wanted was to go home; and that’s what I did. Needless to say, I was tired. And I was feeling blessed to be safely home. Thank you, Lord.

So my four-park adventure turned into just a three-park one.

My next trips will be via Amtrak on June 3 to the San Diego area for granddaughter Danielle Pray’s high school graduation, and then via airplane on June 25 to Indiana for granddaughter Melody Titcomb’s wedding to Derrick Cottrell. My next blog entries will have graduation and wedding photos.

Thanks for 'traveling' with me via this blog!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Lots of surprises at El Vado Lake State Park

Monday, May 14.
The Chama Library had computers to use and I was able to download some of my book editing work. My two email accounts had a total of 700 messages – nearly 650 of them “junk email along with far too many forwarded things to have time to deal with”.

I was impatient to get to El Vado Lake State Park. The park information I had said there were only 19 electric/water sited, and I sure wanted one. The nights are still getting down in the mid 40s; the days in the 80s – weather where I am glad to have electricity.

Ha ha! How silly to think the park might be full! It was totally empty! No RVs anywhere. It was just a wide expanse of grasses, a few young trees, picnic tables and ramadas. I had the entire park to myself.

I wanted a lake-view site, and #19 looked good to me.

Cat went out to explore, I fixed lunch and walked to the water’s edge for my picnic. Between the ramada support and a nearby tree, I put my hammock up and spent the early afternoon reading “The Wrong Stuff” by Phil Scott. This is a pictorial review of aviation history told through its most creative disasters. It shows pictures and stories of early, odd and unusual-looking flying machines – many of which never got off the ground.

Mid afternoon thundershowers and wind sent Cat and I hustling inside Jeremiah. And shortly after that I met Gene and Katie from the El Paso area. They had arrived to camp and fish.

Tuesday morning I explored around the park and also got some work done. A serious rainstorm came in with fury and lasted about an hour. As evening was setting it and I was fixing some dinner, I caught a glimpse of some large white thing flying – grabbed my binoculars just in time to see it disappear from sight as it was landing on the water. I dashed outside, then quickly came back for my camera. Good thing, too! I hurried through mud and wet grass to the lake edge and saw it and quickly took photos. It was a swan! What? A swan in New Mexico? Yes, indeed! And here’s the picture to prove it. Back in Jeremiah, I checked the picture in my bird books and identified it as a Trumpeter Swan.

On Wednesday I unloaded my bike. My destination this morning would be the El Vado RV Park on NM highway 112 – about 12 miles roundtrip. A new acquaintance, Curtis Campbell, and his parents bought this RV park about a year ago and they’ve been renovating it. He encouraged me to spread the word to my RVing friends, and to come and check it out.

The road I took was the same one I came in on – and I swear there weren’t so many hills the other day! On my way back I saw a cedar tree alongside the road that evidently was recently struck by lightning.

After lunch I took a walk to Pinon Point – a primitive camping peninsula. As I rounded the point, I startled a flock of ducks and huge fish started jumping!

On the way back I saw what I thought was a duck with strange black and white markings. I took some pictures and since have identified it as either a Clark’s Grebe or a Western Grebe. And I saw two osprey nests – occupied ones.

The sky was threatening when Gene and Katie got back from their trip to Chama – and they announced that they were moving to Heron Lake. So, I’ll have my private park and game preserve to myself again.

They hadn’t been gone more than 15 minutes when the wind started roaring, rain and fairly large hail was coming down, accompanied by lightning and thunder. It lasted about 30 minutes, leaving a gentle steady rain.

In walks around the park this week, I’ve noticed trash, and decided that I would do some cleanup. By noon I had cleaned most of the Grassy Point camping areas, and I had a large bag of assorted trash.

And during cleanup, I came across a fairly patch of lilacs in bloom. When my cleanup was finished, I went back to the lilacs and picked me a fragrant bouquet for my rolling home.

Thursday evening’s surprise came just shortly after sundown – a small herd of deer walked by – a 5-point buck with only a left antler – was in the lead, followed by at least five others. It was too dark to get any photos.

Friday afternoon friends Larry and Viola drove up for a weekend of fishing and hiking. Larry eagerly got his fishing pole and headed for the boat dock area. He was hoping to catch a fish before Viola did. But, nothing was biting. Viola and Larry grilled hamburgers for our dinner and we made plans to hike the El Vado to Heron trail. You’ll recall that I saw the Heron trail head and decided it was not a good idea for me to hike it alone.

After “drowning a few more worms” in the early morning, the three of us set out on the trail – advertised as 5.5 miles one-way. The trail started off as fairly easy – but then a lot of trails seem easy at first. It definitely was not an ‘easy’ trail. Up and down, up and down, over bedrock, through dirt, across the suspension bridge that crossed the Chama River and finally up the stairs to the Heron trail head. Just over 6 miles later we had oohed and aahed our way to the other end. There were lots of things to take photos of.

Probably the most awesome sight was there a huge boulder decided to move down the treed hillside. It cut a huge swath, dug a trench, and didn’t come to rest until it dug a large enough hole that it could go no further. We found out later that this occurred in 2005.

We also saw a huge pine tree that had exploded from a lightning strike earlier this week. The tree splintered, sending spears of wood everywhere.

Then we walked about another ½ mile to the dam overlook – bathrooms, water and a place for lunch. We were sure pooped! We had hiked nearly 7 miles – and still had to hike back! Ugh! My lack of recent hiking was apparent and Viola – in her own words – said her butt was dragging.

I did get Viola and Larry to pose by the trail sign before we started our return hike.

It was a tough hike back. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Sore feet, tired legs (Viola and I) – it was just the thought of cold beer and a hot shower awaiting us back at camp. In all we hiked about 13 miles.

While Viola and I propped our feet up and enjoyed our beer, Larry, the ‘energizer bunny’ headed off to fish. And he succeeded in getting a fairly large German brown trout and a huge carp.

The trout was gutted and cleaned and joined the Rainbow trout, that I was given last weekend, on the grill. Viola turned them into a very tasty dinner.

Sunday morning after coffee and breakfast we went to the El Vado dam where Larry and Viola again drowned worms. The Chama River was cascading down the spillway – a pretty sight. With no luck fishing, we headed back to camp. Viola and Larry headed back to Albuquerque about noon.

I again had the park to myself – with the exception of John and Carol, who had arrived for about three months as park volunteers here. I tidied up Jeremiah and decided to move to Fenton Lake, stopping on my way to get on the Internet.

It has been a great time here at El Vado.

Goodbye Navajo Lake; Hello Heron Lake

The good about Navajo Lake:
Once I figured out the maze of park roads and loops – and moved to #4 – I saw how cleverly they laid this park out to make good use of the available land while giving a fair amount of space to each RV. This is a very popular large lake; fishing is reportedly good. I had a lake view and easy access to the beach. And the birdwatching was super. For the first time I saw an American goldfinch, Green-tailed Towhee, and Brewers Blackbird. My hummingbird feeder was popular from before sunup until after sundown. I met some nice people and enjoyed the company of Hilda, Sylvia and Jesse for two days. And I had good Internet and telephone access. There was no charge for my week’s camping since I’m a park volunteer.

The not-so-good about Navajo Lake:
The weather wasn’t cooperative at all. I had expected early May to be much warmer, and the rain, hail, and a bit of snow kept me housebound more than I wanted. Kurt had offered to teach me the basics of fly fishing, but the weather kept us from it.

Monday morning, May 7. Before making the decision to move to Heron Lake State Park, I checked the weather on the Internet – a chance of more winter weather including rain/snow predicted in the Chama area (this town is about 20 miles from Heron Lake State Park). I called Ranger Anthony Marquez at Heron Lake for his weather report. He said it looked good and that if there were any rain it wouldn’t be until late afternoon. I packed up and left for Heron. It was about a 100-mile drive.

What a beautiful and pleasurable drive to Heron Lake. This is definitely off-season for camping; the camping area was practically deserted. I easily found the Willow Creek and Blanco camping areas – but no sign of the lake. Space 12, a back-in site at Willow Creek was spacious. I parked between some tall trees that afforded privacy and the site looked fairly level. Of the 23 sites here, I was one of three RVs. Boo-hoo, no lake view, and no obvious trail to the lake.

And no Internet or cell phone. This, plus the fact that the park is practically deserted, results in forced solitude; which in turn gives plenty of time to reflect on memories. A passage from William Least Heat Moon’s book Blue Highways said:

Memory is a kind of accomplishment. It is the only thing one can call truly his own. Memory is each man’s own last measure, and for some, the only achievement.

I met Patricia and Ed from Albuquerque. They come up frequently to fish. The other RV, that came in shortly after I had parked and set up, had a couple of men and a German Shepherd dog.
One of the first things I do when setting up is get my bird feeders out. I could hear a few birds, but none came near. I found a few more on my walks – saw a Black-billed Magpie for the first time. This large – 20-inches – bird is boldly marked with black and white; looks like he has a tuxedo on. I could hear another bird – two whistles and a slightly descending trill – and finally got a glimpse of it – I think it was an Spotted Towhee; another first for me.

I interspersed writing with walking and reading. As I settled in for the night on Tuesday, I started thinking about moving to the Blanco camping area.

Wednesday morning, as soon as it warmed up a bit, I walked to the Blanco area. According to the park map, most of the 37 sites are reservation only, so there would less just 8 to choose from. Yea! I found a good site #58; well worth going through the unhook-move-rehook process. Both areas have spacious sites and fir, pine and juniper trees.

As soon as I arrived and before I could get set up, Cat jumped out to explore. I really like this site – there are plenty of birds, I saw a deer run behind Jeremiah. I’ve yet to meet up with any of the Rangers here; I guess they see my campsite registration that signifies that I’m a park volunteer and so haven’t stopped by to collect a camping fee. (They, too, honored the free camping for volunteers – so no payment was needed.)

As for more wildlife – the big poster at the restroom building warns: “You are in cougar country.” That was not good news because I’ve heard about a 5.5-mile trail alongside the Chama River between Heron and El Vado Lakes, and I was hoping to hike it. Rather than just dismiss this, I decided to at least find the trailhead and then evaluate the possibility of hiking it by myself.

I met my RVing neighbors: Steve, a Habitat for Humanity volunteer, and Betty and Ted Pierce who came here from Albuquerque to fish.

You may be thinking, “Carol is always meeting people.”
Yes, I am. Being alone on the road makes me ready to meet someone when I stop. Traveling solo is a great opportunity to meet people and make new friends.

Wednesday afternoon thunderheads formed and headed this way, bringing rain. As the sun was lowering to set, the sky turned a fiery orange. I grabbed my camera and headed out for this Kodak moment. Here’s my reward:

Once it warmed up on Thursday, I set off on lightly traveled NM highway 95 to bicycle to Heron Dam, and hopefully to find the Chama River trailhead. It was a very hilly five-mile road to the dam. Remembering my Yuma bike spill, I take safety precautions – I have my helmet on and my tall orange flag waving to alert drivers to my presence.

Along the way I spotted what looked like a nest high atop a platform that was secured to a telephone pole. Coming closer, I could hear noises and then could see a white head poking out. At this point I had to climb a fairly steep hill, requiring me to get off and walk my bike. (Note to self: get back into bicycling shape!) The big bird came swooping out of the nest fairly near me. What a beautiful, large, black and white bird; what is it?

When I got to the dam overlook, I found a poster advertising “Osprey Days” at Lake Heron. (The 2007 Osprey Days are July 13 – 14) It also had photos of ospreys in flight. So that’s what I saw!

I also found the sign to the Chama River trailhead, turned off the highway – and since the road to the trailhead went downhill, I locked my bike to a gate and continued on foot. The trailhead was at the cliff edge! It starts with a “spiral” staircase made by the Adult Conservation Corps in the ‘70s. It was made of wood, so instead of being curved, think right-angles. I don’t like heights, so it was even difficult for me to look down toward the river – it’s a long way down there. Yikes! Not a trail to take by myself – cougars or no cougars. I’m adventurous but not willing to take unnecessary risks.

Back at my campsite Betty and Ted gave me their fishing report: they had caught five good-sized trout – four Rainbow and one Brown – and gave one to me (headless and gutless, thank goodness). Now’s when I wish I had a grill.

My evening snack was popcorn and, since I made more than I wanted, I tossed the rest outside Jeremiah for some critter to enjoy. It was still there early Friday morning; but not for long. I heard the ‘caw’ (either a crow or a raven – can’t tell them apart) and watched the large black bird tackle them. First he (or she) seemed to be swallowing them whole, then he started stuffing his ‘mouth’. He had at least three kernels showing between his upper and lower beak at one time – and each time he tried to add another kernel, one would fall out. He gave up trying for more and flew off!

Mid morning I headed out on my bike again, this time in the opposite direction. I had traveled this road in Jeremiah on Monday – and my recollection was that the road was pretty flat. Hah! Not so at all. So I alternated coasting down hills, pedaling on the flats and walking it up hills. What a beautiful ride. I rode for about five miles through ranching country, then turned around at the former village of Rutheron (about five miles) and headed back to camp.

On one of my Friday afternoon walks around the Blanco and Willow Creek loops, I discovered that there were only four RVs in the 60 total sites. Later in the day quite a few Boy Scouts and their adult leaders arrived to spend the weekend at a leadership outing. They are from Rio Rancho.

One of my trip projects is to keyboard past – pre-blogging – adventures. In one of my 1990 adventure diaries while on an Amtrak trip, I wrote:

What do I want from the rest of my life? It is up to me to decide, then to take the steps needed to get what I want. I can’t just sit back and wait and hope for someone to make my dreams come true – it is up to me! I’ll spend the rest of my trip being more specific and listing the actions steps that are necessary.

On Saturday morning I decided to get some writing done; I still had a few articles to write for the Personal Chef magazine. From time to time I took breaks and walked around the park. More folks have arrived. There was a notice about a ‘Stars in the Parks’ program this evening. One of the park volunteers, Dan Martin, stopped by in his golf cart and offered to take me to the program. All the scouts came, as did a few of the campers. The telescope was intriguing – I had not seen that design before. The program was good, and when the telescope time started, I was amazed how well I was able to see Saturn and its ‘rings.’

PHOTO of telescope

My body was itching for some physical activity on Sunday, so mid morning I headed out on my bicycle. My goal was to ride to the park’s marina and then on to a different marina where the Albuquerque Sailing Club keeps boats. I had a nice visit with a couple from Los Alamos who were assigned to ‘marina sit’ for three days.

As I was doing some computer work, one of the New Mexico thunderstorms arrived to cool off the afternoon and early evening.

Monday morning: This morning I will unhook, dump waste tanks, and drive to the small town of Chama for groceries and hopefully to find Internet access to post to my blog and pick up email. From there I’ll drive to El Vado Lake State Park. It is about 6 miles away – as the crow flies; but, including a short addition to Chama, it will be about 45 miles by road.

Well, I discovered a problem as I was getting ready to go – my slide would not retract! Hmmm!

As Voltaire reportedly said, “No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking.”

A mental rundown of possible problems finally led me to believe the chassis battery might be dead. How come? After unloading the driver’s seat (which serves as storage for my computer printer and the cat carrier) to check if the engine would start, - it wouldn’t – I discovered the problem: I had left the ignition key in the ‘auxiliary’ position.

Thank you Ford and Winnebago!!! Jeremiah has a ‘battery boost’ switch for just such occasions. (I had to use it once before when I left my headlights on one night – yes, I should have noticed it, but didn’t.) So, depressing the boost switch, the engine started right up, and then I was able to retract my slide. Whew!

It’s been a good week here at Heron. And I’m a happy adventurer!

“Happiness is not a condition; it’s a decision.” – Writer Patti Lawson

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Winter returns to northern New Mexico

May 5 – 6

Friends Hilda, Sylvia and Jesse arrived Friday evening to spend the weekend. Jesse brought his motorboat in hopes of exploring the many coves of Navajo Lake from the water. The weather report painted an unfavorable picture – at least for Saturday.

True to the report, Friday night brought rain and cold weather. Saturday morning was a variety of weather: overcast at times with rain, hail and snow flurries; and a bit of sun at scattered times. The three of them headed north with the intent of having lunch in Silverton, Colorado. I chose to stay here and get more editing work done.

When they got back, we hiked to the nearby cave – and took pictures.

Jesse grilled burgers and Hilda and Sylvia brought the dinner fixings for a delicious meal. We invited Kurt to join us and had a great time laughing our way through the evening. They surprised me with a birthday cake – including a few candles. We ended the evening with a game of Mexican Train Dominoes.

Sunday’s weather was no better. Sadly, there would be no boating this weekend!

Weather permitting, I’ll drive to Heron Lake State Park tomorrow.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Four State Parks in May 2007

Navajo Lake State Park, northwestern New Mexico

The tangle of park roads had me somewhat frustrated. They didn’t look so confusing from the map I got at the Visitor Center, but driving around looking for a suitable site is another story. On the map the Loops had names: A, B, C, D, E, but as I drove around, the loops were not identified. Also on the map, some of the rectangles signifying sites were numbered; some were not. Many sites had odd configurations, probably because the park was laid out in the ‘60s when large RVs were not common. And many of the sites were available only by reservation.

After trying to figure out the layout, I gave up and parked at site #31. I had to back into a tight place, level, hookup, get my slide out and then organize the inside. THEN I decided to walk around. Wouldn’t you know I would find a better site? After all my work to get settled in 31, would it be worth it to move? It was 5:30. I debated with myself – move or don’t move. I moved.

Site #4 is a ‘full hookup’ site: electricity, water and sewer. It is the only non-reserved site in the A Loop, and formerly was the camp host site. I’m glad I moved.

My first three full days here have been one adventure after another. I’ve met several campers, including Kurt. He’s a single RVer that doesn’t fit the ‘single male camper’ mold. Instead of a ‘beat-up Ford Econoline-type vehicle with a cot and hot plate in back and hoping to find a quality woman’ guy; he pulls a two-year-old Airstream trailer with a Hummer. Kurt is very familiar with the park, including the hiking trails and the communities in the area. And he is interesting to talk to.

He’s been my tour guide. On Wednesday we to the town of Aztec to tour the Aztec Ruins National Monument, then to Bloomfield to tour the Salmon Ruins (a part of the San Juan County Museum Association). Both are fascinating places. Researchers theorize that construction of the settlements by the Ancestral Puebloans (not by Aztec Indians) began in the late 11th century. The trails took us through rooms in formerly two- and three-story structures that were made of sandstone walls with log-braced ceilings.

After lunch in Bloomfield, we returned to the Navajo Dam area where we walked along the San Juan River. This river is rated as one of America’s top ten trout fishing waters. The river flows through scenic sandstone canyons. Fishermen routinely catch kokanee salmon, rainbow and brown trout, channel catfish, crappie, northern pike, bluegill and large- and small-mouth bass.

We startled a beaver that refused to pose for a photo. I did the best I could, but this camera-shy critter wouldn’t come fully out from the river’s vegetation. Look carefully in the middle of this photo.

Navajo Lake is formed by Navajo Dam. It is an earth- and rock-filled dam that is nearly a mile long. Spring runoff is quickly filling the lake – New Mexico’s second largest lake, and the dam operators have been releasing a lot of water into the river.

Thursday morning (my birthday) started with a hike – measured by smiles, not miles – took us to a sandstone cave that will eventually erode to be two or three natural stone arches.

As we slowly picked our way uphill toward the cave, we were entertained by birds, wildflowers, and interesting rock formations. The cave has a huge opening and is fairly shallow. It was interesting to try to figure out what animals had been there (found furry pieces of a slow or dim-witted rabbit), what bird/s might have nested in cave wall crags, and who scratched out the image of a human.

On the hike back from the cave – Kurt led the way and inadvertently stepped right over a rattlesnake that was stretched out, warming up half-in and half-out from under a rock. I saw it and froze in my tracks while alerting Kurt. After I skirted the snake, Kurt borrowed my hiking stick (aka snake stick) to nudge the snake from a safe distance. After a few gentle pokes, the snake was sufficiently irritated to come fully out from under the snake and rattled furiously at him. The rattle on this quite large snake had eight segments. Whew!

Thursday evening I sat, overlooking the lake while sipping wine, reflecting on the day (it was great – had several birthday cards and phone calls), my life and celebrating my decision to adventure in a motorhome.