On the Way to Yellowstone National Park 2013

Our spring migration is officially underway.  We have chosen a route which will include many locations we have never been to before and some familiar places to be revisited.
Before I get too far along I wanted to share some photos that I took of the wild flowers in a vacant lot just up the alley from our home in Kyle, Texas.  This particular lot was covered for a few weeks in what seemed to be all yellow flowers until you got into them and looked closer to the ground where there were many very small flowers of different colors.  I have posted some of these photos on the linked album.  You will see why we enjoyed driving around our neighborhood. Just click on the picture below and you will be taken to a web album.  Our neighbors from across the street tell us that our lots looked very similar before the homes on our side of the street were built.  They, therefore, had mixed feelings about seeing the new homes going up.
I have also included a few photos of some of the rooms of our new house that we consider complete.  We really love our new digs, but as we have settled into the motorhome for the next several months we realize we still love this lifestyle and the opportunities it provides. The house is still a work in progress, but the photos included in the linked album show some of the progress we were able to make this past winter and early this spring.  I feel we did our part in providing local stimulus dollars to the Austin area economy this past fall and winter.
Our first few nights were spent in San Angelo, Texas.  We stayed two nights so we could get some rest following the harried schedule we had endured in the last week were in Kyle.  Believe me there isn’t much to stay in San Angelo for.  We broke our first rule of travel on the third day by driving in the rain.  We really broke the rule as it rained hard for mile upon mile.  Our white car was gray when we got stopped and the motorhome is a real mess.  Had it not been for a reservation, we probably would have done something different.  It took two trips through car washes to get the car clean again.  As I write this the motorhome still awaits a truck wash.  From a distance it doesn’t look too bad, but it is a bit of an embarrassment up close.
Our next stop was Carlsbad, New Mexico.  We had never been to Carlsbad and we found it to be just wonderful.  We spent our first full day at Carlsbad Caverns National Park.  We thoroughly enjoyed the park both above ground and below.  We had done some research before arriving and learned that we could take photos inside the caverns, so I took my camera.  Boy was I glad I did.  I took something like 350 pictures, many of which had to be thrown away, but that was okay.  I did a lot of experimenting in order to figure out the best way to capture the beauty of the caverns.  Using a flash seemed wrong for a lot of reasons, including the fact that the flash annoys those around you.  As important, the flash blew out the color and generally overexposed the images.  Not using a flash had its challenges because the exposure times were way too long to hand hold the camera.  I finally adjusted the ISO to a level I had never realized using film.  I was then able to get exposure times that were fast enough to get sharp images in the very low light of the caverns.  As you will see in the album there is a whole range of color temperatures of the lights used to illuminate the caverns.  I think the shutter speed ISO match-up I ended up with captured the caverns the same as my eyes did.  I hope you enjoy the few images I have shared in the album.
A bit of history if you don’t mind.  Carlsbad Caverns started forming some 250 million years ago with the creation of a 400 mile long reef in an inland sea that covered this region.  The reef formed from the remains of sponges, algae, and seashells and from calcite that precipitated directly from the water.  Cracks developed in the reef as it rose.  Eventually the sea evaporated, and the reef was buried under deposits of salts and gypsum. 
Then, a few million years ago, uplift and erosion of the area began to uncover the buried rock reef.  During the uplift that would become the Guadalupe Mountains, rainwater seeped downward through cracks and faults in the limestone.  At the same time, hydrogen sulfide-rich water migrated upward from vast oil and gas fields to the south and east.   These two waters mixed, forming sulfuric acid, which dissolved the limestone and opened up the fractures and faults unto the large chambers we see today.  As the mountains were pushed up, the level where the rooms and passages in the cave were being formed moved lower into the ancient reef rock.  
The stalactites, stalagmites and an incredible variety of other formations began over 500,000 years ago after much of the cavern had been carved out.  It happened slowly drop by drop at a time when a wetter, cooler climate prevailed. Creation of each formation depended on water that dripped or seeped down into the limestone bedrock and into the cave.  As a raindrop fell to the ground and percolated downward, it absorbed carbon dioxide gas from the air and soil, and a weak acid was formed.  As it continued to move down, the drop dissolved a little limestone, absorbing some of the basic ingredient needed to build most cave formations, the mineral calcite.  Billions and billions of drops later, thousands of cave formations had taken shape. There are many different types of formations that emerge from the dripping water.  The type of formation is dependent upon how fast or slow the water flowed and how it flowed.  In the captions of the photos I have included in the album linked below I have tried to identify some of the different types of formations.
Carlsbad Cavern was first explored by Jim White in the early 1900’s.  In 1915 black and white pictures taken by Ray V. Davis, who accompanied White on a cave trip, were displayed in the town of Carlsbad, NM.  Those photos created a draw to the caverns that has only increased in intensity.
Some things to ponder and possibly keep you up at night:  Jim White entered the cavern via the natural entrance (there is a picture of that in the album linked below).  He had a lantern for light.  He had no way of knowing how deep he would go.  He had no way to map his route other than his memory.  He had numerous opportunities to get lost, but somehow was able to not only find his way out, but also lead others to the exact places he had visited.  Once you travel a few hundred feet into the cavern it is really, really dark.  When making the entry through the natural entrance one travels vertically 750 feet to get to the level where the elevators take you.  The bottom of the cavern is at least another 80 or more feet below.
The walk down into the cavern to the 750 foot level takes about an hour and a half while walking about a mile.  There are several guided tours that take visitors to different rooms of the cavern.  The tours are guided for several reasons.  One reason is to limit the damage done to the formations by human interaction. Another reason is that for some areas of the cavern special gear is required, such as hard hats and headlamps and gloves.  Visitors have to literally crawl through tight passages to get into the more secluded areas.  We took a guided tour that didn’t require any special gear.  While sitting in a room some 830 feet below the surface our ranger guide turned off the lights so we could experience completed darkness.  It was really something.  The ranger kept a constant dialog going while we sat in the dark, which probably helped keep our sanity.  It was really dark down there.  She must have kept us in the dark for five minutes or more.  Our guided tour covered another mile of the cavern.  We followed that with a self-guided tour of the Big Room which covered yet another mile of the cavern.  It is nearly impossible to imagine how big this cavern is.  The lighting within the cavern is naturally very low intensity and very much targeted to the various formations.  You get the sense that you are walking through poorly lit tunnel, but the views are just magnificent.  I have babbled long enough.  Follow the link below to the album where I have posted a small portion of the images I captured.
For more information about Carlsbad Caverns National Park click in this link:  www.nps.gov/caves
When we emerged from the caverns we had some time left so we took a drive on a one way scenic drive of the park and found a few more things to capture images of.  On our way back to Carlsbad we encountered a really neat rainbow.  My photos didn’t work as well as I wanted, so I am admitting here that I enhanced the image that appears in the album you just looked at.
We finished our day with dinner at a wonderful restaurant located in one of the first commercial buildings built in Carlsbad.  The building was built as a bank but it has evolved over the years to become a boutique hotel and restaurant called The Trinity Hotel.  The food was wonderful.
The next day we went to Living Desert Zoo & Gardens State Park.  I wanted to go here specifically to do some more training with my new long lens.  I must say that these animals were in cages that in my view are way too small for them.  In the case of the Bald Eagle the cage size doesn’t matter much because the bird has only one wing.  However, with the small cage sizes I was able to get really close-up shots of these birds.  The real challenge for me was that the cages also had small openings making it impossible to get clean shots.  However, my new lens performed quite well indeed.
I spent a good amount of time trying to follow and capture flying birds overhead.  I was marginally successful.  What I learned was that it is really hard and the birds really need to be pretty low in the sky to make for meaningful images.  You will see none of those.
We enjoyed the park, but it has a long way to go to be like the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson.
Again we found a great restaurant for dinner.  This one is in an old house and has a small but varied menu. The name of this restaurant is Yellow Brix Restaurant.  We opted for salads and appetizers and were not disappointed.
In the end we were surprised that a community the size of Carlsbad is able to support two really good restaurants and there was an Italian restaurant we didn’t get to try.  So, there could be three.  There is also a great barbeque joint, Red Chimney Pit Bar B Que where we ate at our first night in town.  It too was darned good.

From Carlsbad we ventured on to Albuquerque, New Mexico and Kirtland Air Force Base.  We have been here before, but admittedly neither one of us could remember much about the city or the base.  I finally recognized the Family Camp, but only barely.  The last time we were here we took the tram to the top of the mountain.  This time we went to Petroglyph National Monument where there are some 20,000 images pecked in stone.  Some are recognizable as animals, people, and crosses, others more mysterious.  All are inseparable from this landscape and from the spirits of the people who created them.  We took the Rinconada Canyon Trail hike of about 2.2 miles.  While we saw a lot of petroglyphs that were obviously very ancient there was what appeared to us to be a lot of vandalism in the area as well.  There was what was supposed to be a cell phone guided tour of this area that just didn’t work.  At each of supposedly several numbered stops the visitor is supposed to call a number and then dial in the stop number to get the information for that specific stop. There was only one problem, there were no numbered stops along the trail.  We spent a good bit of our hike trying to decide whether we were looking at ancient petroglyphs or modern graffiti.  We did see some neat stuff and my linked album below has a sampling of what we felt were authentic petroglyphs.

Archeologists believed Ancestral Puebloans made most of the 1200 petroglyphs in Rinconada Canyon four to seven hundred years ago.  We should have done a bit more research before we started our hike.  I think I got more out of the literature we got at the visitor center than I got from the hike.  Had I paid more attention to the literature before starting the hike I believe I would have gotten more from what I saw.  I am guilty of relying on technology that didn’t work out.  My bad, so to speak.  Again, for more information, go   to this link:  www.nps.gov/petr
Our next stop was Taos, New Mexico.  Taos is an old New Mexico town with a lot of charm and attracts millions of tourists each year in all seasons.   We had traveled through the area a few years ago and wanted to get a better look, therefore, the return visit.  Of great interest to both of us was the Taos Pueblo, a Native American village which holds the distinction of being one of the oldest occupied villages in the country having been inhabited for over 1000 years.  We took a guided tour of the village led by a high school student and Taos Pueblo Indian. We enjoyed the tour and learned a good bit about the culture of the Pueblo Indians and the trials they have endured over the centuries.  We were allowed to take photographs after registering our camera with the tribal government and paying a registration fee.  There is a long list of rules regarding photography including no photos within the church or of any of the natives without their permission.  Our guide told us we could take pictures in the church so long as we didn’t use a flash, so I got a few from within.  I tried really hard to not include any of the villagers in my photos of the Pueblo.  Any people I did accidentally capture are unrecognizable, so I feel I met the intention of the rule.  Lastly, the rules said the photos had to be for the consumption of the photographer and could not be sold.  My posting them here seems to fall within that guideline, so I ask that even though the images on my web albums are generally not reproducible in any medium other than over the internet, don’t attempt to copy and print them.  Not only would my copyright be violated, but we would collectively be in violation of Pueblo Law.  Thank you.
While in the area we also took a driving tour and we quickly understood why this area attracts so many visitors.  There are numerous ski operations as well as a variety of other winter sports.  The scenery is to die for.  And of course there are a lot of good entertainment opportunities including many bars and restaurants.  We agree that Taos is a must stopover place for anyone traveling through the region.
The next several days were spent in the southern end of the Colorado Rocky Mountains well west of Interstate 25.  We had skimmed the edge of this area when we were volunteers at Lathrop State Park outside Walsenburg, Colorado, and had wanted to come back and really explore the area.  So, we picked a few locations where we could camp for a few days and use as temporary bases from which to take day trips to see what there is to see.  While we were in the area we experienced at least three seasons and maybe four if you ask Connie.  We had rain, sleet, hail and snow to contend with as well as some pretty high winds.  These conditions were easy enough to deal with as we were driving around in the car most of the time.  Our travel days with the motorhome were all non-eventful.  We thoroughly enjoyed the several days we spent in the area except for the bit of poor planning on our part.  We had planned a circle route from our base camp at Monarch Spur RV Park outside Monarch, Colorado.  We were to travel in a counter-clockwise direction up US 285/24 to Colorado 82 west to Aspen and beyond then south on Colorado 133 and 135 and eventually getting back to the RV Park.  The plan included a bail out option at Aspen should the going be too slow due to stops to take in the scenery, watch birds and take pictures.  We were doing well as we approached Colorado 82 and actually had visions of making the entire circuit.  Well, as it turns out the road across Independence Pass is closed in the winter and doesn’t reopen until Memorial Day Weekend.  So, some five miles short of the pass we encountered a barricade on an otherwise cleared and dry road.  We found several cars parked at the side of the road and decided to join them and take in the surroundings.  Soon two women were seen cycling down the road on the other side of the barricade.  When they got to their car we asked how the road was and were told that it is dry all the way to the pass.  So, why is it still closed?  That was when we learned that it doesn’t open until Memorial Day Weekend, just several days after we were to be gone.  Oh well.  We did get a few good pictures of the snow-capped peaks in the area.  The album linked below summarizes our time in this beautiful part of Colorado, but I have to admit it doesn’t do it justice.  There was more to see than time to take pictures.
Memorial Day Weekend was spent in the Greeley, Colorado area visiting my sister Mary Ann, her husband, Jerry and their extended family of son, Christopher, daughter-in-law, Colleen and grandsons, Colton and Cooper.  It was a good reunion and an opportunity to rest a little for what was to follow.
From Greeley we drove towards the Black Hills of South Dakota.  Not wanting to drive too far in any one day we picked Lusk, Wyoming as our stopping point on the way to the hills.  We picked Lusk due to its position about half way to where we were heading and by the fact that there were no other RV Parks anywhere any further along the route without stretching the day’s drive too far.  Connie had never been to Lusk and I hadn’t been in there in about 40 or more years.  I didn’t have any expectations as my memory was void of any great draws.  Linda, the owner operator of the RV Park we stayed at told us about the Stagecoach Museum in town, so we decided to go see it.  The museum is housed in the former Army National Guard building.  So, the building was almost as neat as what is in it.  One of the few memories I have of Lusk is that I knew a guy from my days at the University of Wyoming who was from Lusk.  He was a roommate of a friend of mine from Buffalo, Wyoming, where I was when I started at the University.  Mike Lyon later joined the Coast Guard and we ran into each other while I was attending Navy Nuclear Power School at Mare Island Naval Shipyard in the San Francisco Bay area.  I hadn’t seen nor heard of Mike since then.  At the museum I found several years of high school annuals from Lusk High School.  I found the 1969 publication and looked Mike up and found him.  That got me wondering what became of him, so I Googled him and tried to find him on Facebook both without luck.  I bet I had you leaning forward there didn’t I?  I was hoping for a better story from this too!
Well, I started this article several days ago and wanted to get it out while it was short and had a manageable number of photos.  We have had absolutely miserable internet access for most of the trip to date and uploading photos burns way too much of our limited data while using our devices as hotspots.  So, the article has grown and the photos are numerous as you may have already seen.  Therefore, I am stopping here and getting this out.  Our time in the Black Hills, which continues for the next several days, will be included in the next post.
Stay tuned, there are some really neat images to be included in that post.



6 thoughts on “On the Way to Yellowstone National Park 2013”

  1. I enjoyed the blog, especially about Carlsbad Caverns. I was there over 20 years ago and probably took the same tour as you did. What a place! A friend and I stayed at The Lodge, a very nice historical hotel. I’ve also been to Alb. a few times (twice to experience the Balloon Festival). Sometimes I feel like I’m re-living my vacations through you and Connie!

  2. Great blog and photos! We visited Carlsbad a few years ago and really enjoyed it, too, though we didn’t take one of the guided tours. Amazing place! Susan

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