Friday, September 25, 2015

Road Trip - Los Alamos, NM

Vintage photo of the Los Alamos Main Gate
Los Alamos is the town our government built in New Mexico to create the first Atomic Bomb during World War 2. Originally the Los Alamos Ranch School for boys founded by Ashley Pond II, the land was bought in 1942, the people relocated and the scientists moved in.
Secrecy was paramount, with all mail sent through a Post Office box number in Santa Fe.  Even drivers licenses were filled in with the Santa Fe address and a number for the name. The entrance was gated and guarded at all times.
Today, Los Alamos is still the home to the Los Alamos National Laboratory which sits on the mesa to the south of town. Busy and secretive, it is still the government at work on things they don't want us to know about.
The town itself is small, with no big-box stores, probably due to the land area being already filled in. We passed the High School and Library, the Aquatic Center and the Senior Center and lots of homes. A small town, it is full of modern history and stories of technical conquest.
We toured the Fuller Lodge and the Los Alamos Museum next door and the ancient Pueblo on the lawn beside it, behind bath house row. A little known detail that I liked about the Ranch School was they required each boy to become a First Class Boy Scout to graduate.
We also saw the Bradbury Science Museum which has full sized models of the Atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and watched a film about it.
While the Atomic bomb was developed here, it was detonated at the Trinity site 220 miles south near Socorro, NM.  That is another site for me to see.
Right across from the Post Office on Central Avenue is a strip center with the finest fresh bagel and sandwich shop I have ever enjoyed.  Save room for a meal at my friend Ruby K's Bagel Cafe.
Los Alamos is about 45 miles from Santa Fe.  Go north on US 285 and 84 NM 502, go left (west) and follow the signs to town.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Road Trip - Tsankawi

Center of Tsankawi
Tsankawi lies about 12 miles north of Bandelier National Monument on NM 4, and is located at a gravel parking area along the highway. It is still a part of Bandelier National Monument. Hike down the trail and pay an entrance fee at the shelter, or post your Bandelier pass on your dashboard. The trail runs about 1.5 miles and should take about 2 hours. Carry drinking water.

Top of the second ladder with a view north and back to the parking lot
More ruins
Tsankawi is the remains of a mesa top pueblo, home to the Ancestral Tewa Pueblo people. This Pueblo is not reconstructed, and will not be, at the request of the San Ildefonso Pueblo people, descendents of the Tsankawi people.
While that may not sound appealing, it really is because when you arrive there you actually have to look closely at the area and think like an archaeologist. It is really cool!
The trail climbs to a spot with a ladder, where you climb onto the "lower Cliff" on top of a stone platform. From there continue along the path to the right where you come to a trail junction, go left.  Climbing higher you soon notice troughs or steps worn from the rock, some perfect for stepping up to the next ledge. These trails were carved by the feet of Ancestral Pueblo people walking up and down the mountain to tend fields and carry food and water to the Pueblo. Soon you reach another ladder to climb to the "high cliff". Once you climb this ladder, you continue walking up the mountain and finally reach the top.
Off to your left in the valley below you can see some ruins. This is the ruins of the Dutchess Castle, built in 1918 to teach pottery skills to the modern Pueblo peoples.

Dutches Castle ruins
Tsankawi ruins, cisterns, kivas and stone walls
Continuing along the trail you will pass through a narrow area, then reach a plateau on top of the mesa.  Before you lies Tsankawi, buried in piles of sand, stones, cactus and shrubs.  The walls have fallen, many that were 2 stories tall, Kivas have filled in and the path climbs through the piles of stone. in some places you can see straight lines of stone walls, in others there are many depressions, some made to retain rain water like a cistern. There were once 275 ground floor rooms here, and a large central plaza where Ancestral Pueblo peoples cooked, worked on pottery, processed food and played games.

Worn pathways on the way down, made by the Ancestral Pueblo people
Petroglyphs along the trail
The trail continues to another ladder that leads down and to the right. Follow this trail past petroglyphs and cavates back to the lower stone platform, down that ladder and back to your car.
We noticed Tsankawi on the way in to Bandelier, but did not stop until the return trip.  It is at the crossroads where you travel to from White Rock to Los Alamos on NM 4.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Road Trip - Bandelier National Monument

Pueblo Tyuonyi ruins, one of several Ancestral Pueblos at Bandelier National Monument
Bandelier National Monument is a 33,727 acre park preserving Ancestral Pueblo sites and keeping the area safe which has hosted human activity for over 10,000 years. The Frijoles canyon area holds the Tyuonyi Pueblo, Long House and talus houses of cliff dwellings. Bandelier holds over 3000 documented Ancestral Pueblo sites with very few restored. The main loop trail is only 1.2 miles long and is partially handicapped accessable.
The Ancestral Pueblo people, once called the Navajo word Anasazi for "Ancient Enemies", came to this land around 10,000 years ago, starting as hunter-gatherers, roaming the mesa tops above the canyons where they eventually grew the 3 main plants of the time: corn, squash and beans, and hunted small animals for meat and hide. 

Swiss Cheese-like holes in the soft volcanic tuft
And carved Cavates in the tuft
The mesa top is called Pajarito (for little bird)  and was formed by two violent volcanic eruptions of the Jemez Mountains 14 miles to the west about one million years ago, now the site of Valles Caldera National Preserve. Each of the two eruptions were 600 times more powerful than the 1980 eruption at Mount St. Helens.

Looking up the canyon walls
Morning light on the cactus
The soft volcanic tuft now looks like Swiss cheese along the Frijoles Creek area.  Trees and shrubs grow well in the canyon alongside the permanent stream and draw wildlife. The reliable water source must have been very important to the Ancestral Pueblo people, providing drinking and cooking water, plus water for plants.

Canyon wall houses
Inside the Cavates with the metates
The 400-room Tyuonyi Pueblo housed about 100 people. There were 3 kivas inside the walls and only one entrance. Ground floor rooms typically stored food and turkeys, with family housing above. Most rooms were either entered via a rooftop ladder, some by a small doorway. Ceilings were wood logs covered with earth and mud, random awnings shaded some homes.

Roof entry
Ladders, ladders everywhere
The south-facing canyon walls, warmer during the winter, held 2 story Pueblos with 2-3 stone built rooms, with one or two rooms carved from the cliff face using stone tools. Cavate ceilings were blackened with soot to harden the stone and make it less crumbly. Horizontal rows of holes show where the roof beams were placed. The walls and floors were mud plastered, requiring constant maintenance.

More Cavates, more ladders
The beginning of the Long House along the cliff, note the holes in the wall for ceiling posts
And steps with helpful modern handrails
The Long House ruins go almost half a mile along the cliff face.  One painted wall was uncovered and is now on display. Petroglyphs are cut above the roofs into the cliff with carvings of turkeys, dogs, lightning and parrots. Yes, parrots were traded here, along with copper bells as part of an extensive trading network from Mexico to the US Central Plains. The petroglyphs seem to have much deeper and specific meanings to the native people who carved them, and may be considered another language. Ideas were traded here too as there are significant construction techniques found in the big kiva that mirror those found at Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde.

Found hidden behind plaster, this wall shows how it had been painted at one time
The petroglyphs are hard to see, but they are above the holes in the wall
More petroglyphs
And more, here you can see the circles clearly

The parrot petroglyph in the cleft
Alcove house is a steep climb 140 feet above the creek floor on ladders and stone stairs on the north-facing cliff wall. We did not climb there today, but expect it is much like Balcony House at Mesa Verde.
500 people were living here at the peak on the Pajarito Plateau around 1325 CE. Most Pueblos ranged from 150 to 500 rooms, some contained 1000 to 1500 rooms.
It has been 450 years since people lived in the Pueblos at Bandelier, and they had lived there previously for 400 years, growing food, raising children, and living life. Modern Pueblo peoples still visit the site and respect their elders. There is so much more to explore here and I'll be back to spend more time at Bandelier.

Frijoles creek on its way to meet the Rio Grande
View of the cliff face from the creek
Looking back at the cliffs from the visitor center, the large kiva is on the left just past that tree
Bandelier National Monument runs shuttle buses every 30 minutes daily 9am to closing from the park welcome center in White Rock. Parking at the canyon site is extremely limited and the buses make it a much safer trip. If you are camping at Juniper Campground, drive on to the actual park entrance, pay there and setup camp in the campground.  Keep your entrance tab for the bus.  A bus also runs from the campground down to the Frijoles Canyon every 30 minutes.

Parting shots of flowers on the way out

To find Bandelier National Monument, drive north on US 285 & US 84 from Santa Fe, turn left onto NM 502 and follow to NM 4 near White Rock. It is about a 40-45 minute drive from Santa Fe.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Road Trip - Roswell, NM

Alien display inside the Roswell International UFO Museum
There are few places in America emptier than the land southeast along US highway 285 from Santa Fe, New Mexico to Roswell. Heading south through the sagebrush hills there was Clines Corners, only a store at the I-40 crossing; Vaughn, a once small town dwindling away to only a couple occupied buildings; and Ramon, another town living only from the hotels and gas stations supporting a nearby military base.
Once we crossed I-40, the land flattened and rolled easily into the distance. Endless ups and downs as far as you can see. I found it quiet and peaceful, with the views going on forever. My wife mostly slept.
It is a 192 mile, 3 hour drive, one-way. But we felt we couldn't do any better than take a full day to drive to Roswell and back as it is well south of Denver, and not an area we planned to travel again anytime soon. And we wanted to see the one and only Roswell, site of the first documented and much argued about alien encounter.

International UFO Museum and Research Center in Roswell, NM
The Capitan Mountains and Carrizo Peak loomed in the hazy distance to the far right as we drove south. To pass the time we talked about alien encounters and abductions while scanning the sky for anything "unusual".
Roswell seems to be a small, hot and dry town with a Target and a Walmart and a lot of traffic for its size. Actually, over 48,000 people live there. Today the high temperature was 101 degrees, a bit hot. It is home to Eastern New Mexico University and the New Mexico Military Academy, 2 high schools and an airport.

Little Green Men peek from almost every business in town
As we drove through town there was an alien theme everywhere you looked. The McDonald's was shaped like a flying saucer, green triangular alien faces looked out from almost every business sign, short alien-shaped statues adorned many more buildings.

Roswell Radio Station mock-up with a green teletype from the era
Our goal today was to visit the International UFO Museum and Research Center in Roswell. It is downtown, right on US 285 on the right side of the street. It appears to be an old theater that has been remodeled to hold the museum exhibits and displays. Once you pay, the tour is self guided and it can take a long time to read everything. The walls are covered with photos and displays, sworn testimonies about what people had witnessed and many pages of denials from different government officials, plus supposedly real government materials about how to handle alien investigations.

Vintage Western Chicago wire audio recorder (before audio tape was invented)

Crash site items with strange writing and metals
They have a teletype from the era like the one where the news report of the incident was stopped by the FBI, a radio station display with a rare wire audio recorder and a recording of the broadcast of the incident playing at the push of a button. A video theater plays recorded cable television UFO programs all day. An alien site mock-up with fog and lights runs at certain times. Photos cover wall after wall include sightings, various evidence, crops circles, native American art, a prop from the film "The Day The Earth Stood Still", and more. Certainly the people who have donated and collected these things are very serious.

The Day The Earth Stood Still

The great cover-up as the Government denies the alien story

Alien photo evidence from around the world

Items here include things found implanted in people

Crop Circles from around the world
The Research Center holds a library with reading and study areas and is open to anyone looking to research UFO's.
After our tour we visited an antique mall and the local art museum. The drive back was just as long and empty as the drive here. Eventually we returned to Santa Fe for the night.
Whatever actually happened in Roswell in 1947 may have been so successfully covered up and distorted by our government, we may never know the truth. Roswell is a fun and interesting place to visit and UFO's have become an important part of our American culture.

Movie props from a 1994 film about Roswell
To find Roswell, drive south from Santa Fe, NM on US 285 across almost empty land for almost 200 miles. Fill up before you go. It is well worth the trip!