Since our grandson’s family would not be with us during this Christmas holiday, Sally proposed a road trip to celebrate her birthday and Christmas with her twin sister Julie in Savannah, Georgia. When older sister Jo disclosed her intention to also join us in Savannah, the trip plan was locked in.
Deciding to take our camper to make a grand sight-seeing / camping tour, we determined to stop in St Louis to visit friend Doris, re-explore the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and visit cousin Jackie in Tennessee. On the return from Savannah, we planned to bask in the sunshine throughout the warm sunny south, touring the Natchez Trace, antebellum mansions in Natchez itself and finally do some camping and hiking on the Ozark Mountains of Missouri and Arkansas.
Most of our plans came to fruition however, due to unseasonable cold weather bringing snow and ice to portions of our intended route, we had to make some changes and regrettably our shorts and sandals never were unpacked.
Driving across Kansas and stopping in Saint louis, we spent a couple of nights with our friend Doris who lived across the hall from us in Shanghai, China.
Continuing on, we arrived in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park as the temperatures began to drop and the clouds rolled in.
My son-in-law, Ben, and I recently returned from a guided horseback elk hunt with Lynn Madsen, at Yellowstone Outfitters, Afton, Wyoming. It was incredible!
Here’s what Lynn has to say about his outfit:
“Our Hawks Rest Camp is located in the Teton Wilderness northeast of Jackson…It sets off the southeast corner of Yellowstone Park between the Yellowstone and Thorofare Rivers (Area 60 on a Game & Fish map). It is one day-pack 28 miles, from our base camp at Turpin Meadows…The Hawks Rest camp holds the reputation of being the furthest spot in the continental United States from a road in any direction. Not only will you be hunting in one of the best trophy elk camps in the United States but you will also be hunting in country that looks the same as it did 100 years ago.
Our fully equipped camp consists of a large cook tent, shower tent, sleeping tents with cots, foam mattresses, and wood burning stoves along with plenty of fire wood. We are proud to say that our camps hold an excellent reputation earned by hiring reputable licensed guides, maintaining a clean comfortable camp, serving good food and supplying both good horses and mules and equipment.”
Well, our experience lived up to Lynn’s promotional material and then some. We had a “once in a lifetime” experience. Read on, if you are interested in the details.
Ben flew in from California and the following day we made the 8 hour drive from Fort Collins, Colorado to Jackson, Wyoming, where we spent the night. You can fly into Jackson’s small airport, but it’s kinda expensive and you have to pay hundreds of dollars to ship your elk meat back home, so driving seemed like the frugal option. Besides we were able to enjoy each other’s company and the lovely Wyoming scenery as we motored along.
On Monday morning October 9th we rose early, ate breakfast and made the 1 hour drive north and East to Turpin Meadows where we met Lynn, our guide, four other hunters and were introduced to our horses who would become our new and closest friends for almost 10 hours today.
Lynn provided quality, well cared for horses that are a cross between big, strong draught horses (for strength and stamina) and quarter horses (to reduce the size). They are still really big, tall horses and getting a leg up into the stirrup was my yoga/stretching challenge each time we mounted. Getting off was no issue, but is was a long way down.
Heading up the mountain, we were passed by Lynn’s string of mules bringing our gear and replenishing needed supplies. On the way in we passed several sets of grizzly and wolf tracks.
Taos is a town in northern New Mexico’s high desert, bounded by the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. It’s known for historic adobe buildings such as Taos Pueblo, a multistory adobe complex inhabited by Native Americans for centuries. A longtime artist colony, Taos also offers many galleries and museums showcasing regional artwork, including the Harwood Museum of Art and the Taos Art Museum.
Arriving in Taos, after checking in to our lovely “Casita”, we headed for Ranchos de Taos, south of Taos City proper, to the St. Fancisco de Assis mission church and a wonderful late lunch of chile rellenos (and the best red chili sauce I have ever encountered).
The Burch Street Casistas
San Francisco de Asis Mission Church is a historic and architecturally significant church on the main plaza of Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico. Built between 1772 and 1816, it is one of the finest extant examples of a Spanish Colonial New Mexico mission church, and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1970.
We just made it to the Ranchos Plaza Grill, before they closed on Sunday, for a wonderful meal of chile rellenos and enchiladas smothered in the most flavorful red chili sauce I have ever eaten. Although I am no expert on New Mexican Cuisine, the restaurant was recommended by the owner of our casitas (who happens to be a professional chef) as well as a number of knowledgeable local “foodies”. The famous heirloom red chilis come from the town of Chimayo. They are crushed rather than ground and are simmered for hours with fresh ground pork, yielding deeply complex flavors with just enough heat to keep things interesting 🌶🌶🌶
The old plaza and hacienda still stand next to the mission church. Today the Hacienda houses the The Ranchos Plaza Grill, a Northern New Mexican Restaurant.
After a stroll around the historic Taos Plaza to settle our dinner, we head back to our casita to prepare for tomorrow’s adventures: The Taos Pueblo, mission church and the Hacienda de los Martinez.
We booked a tour of the mission church and the Taos Pueblo with a young Taos Puebloan woman who provided her unique perspective on the Taos Pueblo, it’s history and the role of the Roman Catholic faith, historical relations with the Spanish and modern Taos Pueblo life.
Mission Church: The present San Geronimo, or St. Jerome, Chapel was completed in 1850 to replace the original church which was destroyed in the War with Mexico by the U.S. Army in 1847. That church, the ruins still evident on the west side of the village, was first built in 1619. It was then destroyed in the Spanish (Pueblo) Revolt of 1680 but soon rebuilt on the same site. St. Jerome is the patron saint of Taos Pueblo.
Taos Pueblo (or Pueblo de Taos) is an ancient pueblo belonging to a Tiwa-speaking Native American tribe of Puebloan people. It lies about 1 mile (1.6 km) north of the modern city of Taos, New Mexico, USA. The pueblos are considered to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the United States. This has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Taos Pueblo is a member of the Eight Northern Pueblos, whose people speak two variants of the Tanoan language. The Taos community is known for being one of the most private, secretive, and conservative pueblos.
The north-side Pueblo is said to be one of the most photographed and painted buildings in North America. It is the largest multistoried Pueblo structure still existing. It is made of adobe walls that are often several feet thick. Its primary purpose was for defense. Up to as late as 1900, access to the rooms on lower floors was by ladders on the outside to the roof, and then down an inside ladder. In case of an attack, outside ladders could easily be pulled up.
The Pueblo is made entirely of adobe — earth mixed with water and straw, then either poured into forms or made into sun-dried bricks. The walls are frequently several feet thick. The roofs of each of the five stories are supported by large timbers — vigas — hauled down from the mountain forests. Smaller pieces of wood — pine or aspen latillas — are placed side-by-side on top of the vigas; the whole roof is covered with packed dirt. The outside surfaces of the Pueblo are continuously maintained by replastering with think layers of mud. Interior walls are carefully coated with thin washes of white earth to keep them clean and bright. The Pueblo is actually many individual homes, built side-by-side and in layers, with common walls but no connecting doorways. In earlier days there were no doors or windows and entry was gained only from the top.
Approximately 150 people live within the Pueblo full-time. Other families owning homes in the North or South buildings live in summer homes near their fields, and in more modern homes outside the old walls but still within Pueblo land. There are over 1900 Taos Indians living on Taos Pueblo lands.
Taos Pueblo Doors and Windows
Our guide informed us that the Spanish brought the technology to create the wooden doors and windows, which are now employed in the Pueblo. Blue doors welcome good spirits and influence, red doors ward off evil. I loved the variety of colors and textures.
Hacienda de Los Martinez
Martinez Hacienda, also known as Hacienda de los Martinez, is a Taos, New Mexicohacienda built during the Spanish colonial era. It is now a living museum listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is located on the bank of the Rio Pueblo de Taos.
Now owned by the Taos Historic Museums, it is a living museum honoring the contributions of the early Hispanic settlers in the Taos Valley.It is particularly focused on life during the 1820s under Spanish colonial rule. For instance, the weaving exhibits display wool died with vegetable based tints. And the hacienda’s interior walls are white washed with tierra blanca, which is a mixture of micaceous clay and wheat paste.
It is one of the few remaining Spanish colonial haciendas that is open to the public throughout the year in the United States.
It hosts the annual Taos Trade Fair in late September to reenact Spanish colonial life and celebrate the trade among mountain men, Native Americans and Spanish settlers. Demonstrations are performed of blacksmiths, wood carvers and weavers.In addition to a working weaving room, there is also a blacksmith shop within the museum.
We found the displays fascinating and clearly depicted the deprivation, hardship and hard work to survive and thrive in New Mexico during Spanish colonial times.
Taos Art Museum at Fechin House
Taos Art Museum opened in 1994. Eight years later it moved to the beautiful and historic Nicolai Fechin home. The Museum is dedicated to the art of early twentieth century Taos. The museum is housed in the studio and home that artist Nicolai Fechin built for his family between 1927 and 1933. Fechin, born in Kazan, Russia in 1881, carved and molded the adobe buildings into a fascinating, harmonic marriage of Russian, Native American, and Spanish motifs. Fechin’s heirs have entrusted many of his art works to the care of Taos Art Museum.
The heart of the museum is a collection of paintings by the masters of the Taos Society of Artists. This group was prolific from the arrival in Taos of Blumenschein and Phillips in 1898 through the 1930s. As a result of the acclaim these artists and their associates achieved, many more artists migrated to Taos, continuing a tradition of creativity into the twenty-first century.
Chokola Bean to Bar is a small-batch, organic, crafted, bean-to-bar chocolate maker in historic Taos, New Mexico.
So reads the promo material in print and on-line, that proprietors Javier and Deborah (Vincent) Abad Etxaniz have used to describe the incredible new shop (and bespoke chocolate maker) they recently opened on Juan Largo Lane.
Each hand-made bar of decadent deliciousness comes with this descriptive wording, along with an artist statement provided by the artist du jour whose work graces the packaging – currently (former Taos resident) Erin Currier. Deborah’s background in Art History has compelled the couple to support (New Mexico/Taos Artists) by featuring their work on their packaging.
The material goes on to inform us that “every morning, the pure Alpine air is laced with the rich aroma of our freshly roasted cacao beans, inviting Taosenos and visitors to our Chokola store (just off the plaza).” This is not an exaggeration.
From San Sebastian – Basque country – in Spain, Javier and his wife Deborah (her father was from Taos, her mother is South American) are dedicated to educating people about the “Food of the Gods” and dispelling the notion that chocolate is mere candy.
Besides the house-made bars, Chokola makes delectable bon-bons, tiny pastries, mousse and hot chocolate (to go, or to sip/eat at the tables in or outside) from high-end, imported confectioners chocolate. The mousse (I tasted it too), is out of this world. Addictive even, so do be careful. Light as a feather on the tongue, but brings to mind the old dictum; a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.
That said, chocolate – especially chocolate of this quality – is loaded with antioxidants and magnesium and is very good for you. It’s the sugar that can be a problem and if so, go darker!
Mousse and bon bons aside, the emphasis at Chokola is definitely on the in-house production of the chocolate they make from the ethically sourced aforementioned beans. Run, don’t walk to this fabulous new addition to Taos’ artisanal community, and stock up on the hand-crafted bars. If you don’t eat them all yourself (not hard), they’ll make brilliant gifts to have on hand.
A family-run café in El Prado, about two miles north of the plaza, Orlando’s doesn’t cook anything too flashy, but what they do, they do well—witness the dozens of awards on the walls. Red and green chile are the standouts, but the carne adovada and taco salad are also popular with the crowds that pack the place at lunchtime. One way you can tell it’s authentic New Mexican cooking is that they serve posole (hominy stew) instead of rice on the side.
Regretfully, we leave Taos for commitments back in Colorado
NOTE: items in quotes (such as this note) are taken from reviews, promotional materials, Wikipedia, etc to provide background information on attractions we have visited. Photographs are my own.
Navajo Fry Bread, Mutton Stew and Camping on the Jicarilla Apache Reservation
Stopping at Teec Nos Pos, for traditional Navajo food. The food truck was heavily patronized by native people (signifying, I hope, authenticity). It was totally yummy and satisfying !
Fry bread is a flat dough bread, fried or deep-fried in oil, shortening, or lard. Made with simple ingredients, frybread can be eaten alone or with various toppings such as honey, jam, powdered sugar, or hot beef. Frybread can also be made into tacos, like Indian tacos. It is a simple complement to meals.
According to Navajo tradition, frybread was created in 1864 using the flour, sugar, salt and lard that was given to them by the United States government when the Navajo, who were living in Arizona, were forced to make the 300-mile journey known as the “Long Walk” and relocate to Bosque Redondo, New Mexico onto land that could not easily support their traditional staples of vegetables and beans.
For many Native Americans, “frybread links generation with generation and also connects the present to the painful narrative of Native American history”. It is often served both at home and at gatherings. The way it is served varies from region to region and different tribes have different recipes. It can be found in its many ways at state fairs and pow-wows, but what is served to the paying public may be different from what is served in private homes and in the context of tribal family relations.
Our cold (12 degrees Farenheit last night) but lovely campsite on the Jicarilla Apache Nation, next to Stone Lake was scenic and inexpensive (free)!
Antelope Canyon is located near Page on Navajo Nation land, just outside Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Antelope is the most visited slot canyon in the Southwest, partly because it is easily accessible and by far the most publicized, and also since it is extremely beautiful, with just the right combination of depth, width, length, rock color and ambient light; many other slot canyons are deeper, narrower or longer, and some have rock that is even more colorful and sculptured, but here conditions are ideal.”
“Antelope Canyon was formed by erosion of Navajo Sandstone, primarily due to flash flooding and secondarily due to other sub-aerial processes. Rainwater, especially during monsoon season, runs into the extensive basin above the slot canyon sections, picking up speed and sand as it rushes into the narrow passageways. Over time the passageways eroded away, making the corridors deeper and smoothing hard edges in such a way as to form characteristic “flowing” shapes in the rock.”
Navajo National Monument
Navajo National Monument is a National Monumentlocated within the northwest portion of the Navajo Nation territory in northern Arizona, which was established to preserve three well-preserved cliff dwellings of the Ancestral Puebloan People: Broken Pottery (Kitsʼiil), Ledge House (Bitátʼahkin), and Inscription House (Tsʼah Biiʼ Kin). The monument is high on the Shonto plateau, overlooking the Tsegi Canyon system, west of Kayenta, Arizona. It features a visitor center with a museum, two short self-guided mesa top trails, two small campgrounds, and a picnic area. Rangers guide visitors on free tours of the Keet Seel and Betatakin cliff dwellings.“
After a short hike to view the Betatakin cliff dwelling, we settled into our lovely campsite for the evening. This time of year, the campground was nearly empty and is always free of charge!
Sedona is an Arizona desert town near Flagstaff that’s surrounded by red-rock buttes, steep canyon walls and pine forests. It’s noted for its mild climate and vibrant arts community. Uptown Sedona is dense with New Age shops, spas and art galleries. On the town’s outskirts, numerous trailheads access Red Rock State Park, which offers bird-watching, hiking and picnicking spots.
Dramatic sandstone formations such as Cathedral Rock and Bell Rock appeal to photographers and enlightenment-seekers, as does the modernist Chapel of the Holy Cross, built into rust-colored rocks. Oak Creek Canyon has trails for hiking and mountain biking, plus sites for camping and fishing. Part of the canyon is home to Slide Rock State Park, named for its natural water chutes, popular for swimming. Native American petroglyphs can be seen in the Coconino National Forest heritage sites V Bar V, Palatki and Honanki (the latter 2 also feature cliff dwellings).
Oak Creek Canyon
Airport Mesa Loop Trail
After visiting one of the four famous Sedona vortexes, we enjoyed a beautiful 4.5 mile sunset hike around Tabletop Mesa.
There is no other hike in the Sedona area that offers such awe-inspiring views as the Sedona Airport Mesa Loop Trail. It offers hikers a 360-degree panorama with views of almost every major red-rock landmark along the perimeter at an elevation of 4,500 feet.
With 3 million acres of wilderness, Death Valley is the largest national park outside Alaska. Elevations in the park range from -282 feet below sea level at Bad Water (the lowest point in North America), to 11,049 feet at Telescope Peak. The park encompasses 3.3 million acres and normally enjoys summer temperatures in the 110’s and 120’s, but also experienced a record temperature of 134 degrees Fahrenheit. It is considered the hottest place on earth and the driest place in the United States.
Of the more than 900 plant species found, 19 are unique to this area.
Driving in from the south as the sun sets, we make our way up a narrow winding road to the Wildrose Campground at 4,100 ft elevation. The mountains being much cooler than the surrounding desert, the temperature dropped quickly from 72 degrees, down to a low of 31 degrees in the early morning.
Up early at Wildrose Campground, we drove the dirt road up Wildrose Canyon toward the Charcoal Kilns and Mahogany Flats.
The 25’ high Charcoal Kilns were used to produce charcoal to smelt lead and silver from local ore mined beginning in 1877, and ceased operations shortly afterward.
After the Kilns, the 4WD Road gets a bit rough, climbing to the Mahogany Flats Campground and the road’s end at 8,133 ft.
Returning the way we came, we head for the Visitor’s Center to view the exhibits and plan a sunset photo tour of the park.
On the way, we encounter a small herd of feral donkeys, turned loose after mining operations ceased in the late 19th century.
From the Visitor’s Center we set out for Bad Water Basin and Artists Drive before the sunset. On the way we pause at the Harmony Borax Works and an example of the “20 Mule Team” borax mining transportation and extraction methods.
Next stop: Badwater Basin
Badwater Basin is an endorheic basin in Death Valley National Park, noted as the lowest point in North America, with a depth of 282 ft (86 m) below sea level. Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous 48 United States, is only 84.6 miles (136 km) to the northwest.
The site itself consists of a small spring-fed pool of “bad water” next to the road in a sink; the accumulated salts of the surrounding basin make it undrinkable, thus giving it the name.
From Bad Water we quickly travel to Artists Drive to attempt to capture the beautiful mineral colors in the hot light of sunset.
Artist’s Drive rises up to the top of an alluvial fan fed by a deep canyon cut into the Black Mountains. Artist’s Palette is an area on the face of the Black Mountains noted for a variety of rock colors. These colors are caused by the oxidation of different metals (iron compounds produce red, pink and yellow, decomposition of tuff-derived mica produces green, and manganese produces purple).
Called the Artist Drive Formation, the rock unit provides evidence for one of the Death Valley area’s most violently explosive volcanic periods. The Miocene-aged formation is made up of cemented gravel, playa deposits, and volcanic debris, perhaps 5,000 feet (1500 m) thick. Chemical weathering and hydrothermal alteration cause the oxidation and other chemical reactions that produce the variety of colors displayed in the Artist Drive Formation and nearby exposures of the Furnace Creek Formation.
Artists Drive is a very narrow one-way road restricted to vehicles less than 25 feet in length.
Alas, dusk put an end to our photographic endeavors, but a sunset dinner back at our campsite provided more than adequate recompense.
There is so much to experience in Death Valley and we have barely scratched the surface. We will undoubtedly return!