Friday, June 30 2017 (Day 11)

This was the first day we took it a little more slowly since we left on our road trip!  When we woke up, it was coolish and grey outside (apparently a blessing since it must have been hot here last week!) and we decided to make it a slow morning.  We checked the news, caught up on some work things, and read a sci-fi story together (“Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang, the story that the movie Arrival is loosely based on).  We even decided to still have our picnic lunch right here at home.  We also researched some hikes in the Boulder area–so far, we’ve been spoiled with hikes in and near national parks that are well-advertised at the visitor centers and on maps/brochures, and also well-marked; but now we’ve discovered All Trails with its phone app that gives you all kinds of hikes of different difficulty levels and lengths. So we picked a 3.9-mile moderate loop hike near Boulder’s Flagstaff road that promised scenic views, and drove the 15 minutes to the edge Boulder, where the hike started near the Flatirons.  We were not disappointed with the trail or the views–we were high above Boulder and had to climb nearly 1,500 feet from the start to the middle of the hike.  Needless to say, the way down was easier (thankfully, it also had a gentler slope than the rock trail going up, which was better on our knees).  It took us 3 hours, but it was really a fun afternoon–it was still only in the 70s, and the sun didn’t come out until half-way through our hike, so that was about perfect.
We got back to our car about 4 pm, drove back to Louisville, and rested for a little bit, chatting to the cat sitter who stopped by to give Mark’s cousins’ ailing cat, Sundance, her meds and shot (Mark gives it to Sundance in the morning–I would have no idea how) and normally spends some time with the two cats (Butch, the other one, has become quite friendly by now).  Then, we went for an easier walk–about a mile and a half to downtown Louisville.  We’d read on line that they have live music and food stands every Friday night in the summer, and although the downtown is teeny, it was quite a happening place–we were glad we didn’t drive down and try to park.  The stands with products and drinks and food were what you’d expect–ok but overpriced–and the music, once it started, was fairly lame rock covers. We had a savory “crepes” that really weren’t crepes (much too crunchy) and ice cream that is locally famous but was just so-so. The audience was overwhelmingly affluent whites–many families, since there were bouncy things and a rock-climbing wall for kids, but also many older people with a will to fitness and staying/looking young. We thought, as we did in Telluride, that this was again quite a self-contained bubble. But maybe we were just too tired from the earlier hike.  The way home along a bike path was more fun than the actual Friday night event, and we saw several wrens on fence posts and possibly a kestrel.  I was pretty wiped out when we got home and nodded off at 8 pm! I did get myself back up to take a shower, but we were still in bed really early.

Saturday, July 1 2017 (Day 12)


Today was mostly a day with members of my family–my aunt and uncle, who emigrated from Germany to Boulder in the mid-60s, and their children.  But we started out with a leisurely morning walk in our own neighborhood, where there are two small, manicured lakes with nice walking paths around it and even a nearby bird preservation area, although we didn’t see anything except some red-winged blackbirds.  But on the way back to the house we did see a prairie dog very close by!
We got back around 10 am (it was just a little more than a mile walk), and drove the 15 minutes to Boulder.  My aunt and uncle, Karin and Peter, hadn’t seen me in at least 2 years (we can’t quite decide when we were last here, 2015 or 2014!) and were very happy to show us around their garden (huge vegetable and flower garden, which they maintain alongside another one at a house that they are renting). Their own house, a small but beautiful classic “Boulder home” from the early 1900s, has not changed in decades, and as we do every time, we admired the functioning and used Bakelite rotary telephone in their living room. We sat in the back yard for a while, also chatting with Benjamin, their grandson, who is doing a lot of hours of (paid) yard work for them in the summer.  My aunt is 87, my uncle 79 or 80 (not quite sure), and they are slowing down a little bit, although my aunt controls what is going on in the garden with an iron fist, and is in fabulous shape for her age.
 Peter then drove us up the canyon on their favorite road, Magnolia (steep but with beautiful views), and after a brief stop by a site where their son, my cousin Florian, is working on the foundation for an A-frame he is going to rent out, we went to their favorite restaurant, the Kathmandu, which serves an Indian buffet (as well as actual Nepalese dishes, but they are not part of the buffet line-up).  We had lovely food and then drove to Eldora, the old mining town and now ski resort where they have had a cabin since the early 1990s.  A lot of the cabins here are very old, some (like my aunt and uncle’s) converted miner’s log houses, and when I first came, there was no running water and a lovely old outhouse. A few years ago, they got a well and running water, and as of this year, Eldora mandated that all homes have to have a septic system.  So they proudly showed us how well theirs is hidden under a rock garden; the inside of the cabin still needs the bathroom that would go with all of this newfangled water-in-water-out idea, but that depends on when Florian can make time to put it all in.  From the cabin, we took a little walk to the nearby creek, which is a rushing mountain stream with some quiet spots, and we all sat on rocks and stuck our feet in.  If I can still do that at 87, I’ll be a happy camper!  From a bridge over the creek, we spotted a hummingbird hovering right over the water, dipping in to drink.  Hard to photograph, but Mark was patient as ever and caught a couple of good shots there and also at Karin and Peter’s neighbor’s house, while we chatted with him.  He had about 10 hummingbird feeders and the hummers were just swarming around them. That neighbor has turned his yard into bird paradise, with feeders and birdhouses for siskins, grosbeaks, tree swallows, and the innumerable hummingbirds. He said he buys about 300 pounds of sugar every season to fill his hummingbird feeders!
We then took off to go back down to Boulder, and I have to confess that I just slept all the way down the beautiful Boulder Canyon (I had woken up at 3 am that morning).  We showed Karin and Peter some of our photos from the trip, and then drove over to my cousin Malva’s house, so that we could go for a walk through nearby Chautauqua Park with her, her husband Rick, and their son Benjamin. Malva and I caught up on the mutual news, Rick and Mark talked careers and a little tech, and Benjamin shuttled between the two groups and told me about his hobbies and summer activities, and about the upcoming trip he and his mom will take to the Autism Conference in Baltimore, MD, where he’ll be giving a talk he regularly gives about living with autism (the TedX version of the talk is on YouTube,  When we got back to their house, we played with their adorable parrot, Midori, for a little bit and showed them photos also, and then took off.  It was a long day (almost 8:30 pm by the time we were heading home) and we just stopped at the Burger King near where we are staying to pick up some junk food to take home.  I crashed pretty much right after dinner and Mark followed soon after.


Sunday, July 2 2017 (Day 13)

This will be, for once, a short and even photo-less entry! We took our time today getting out of the house, reading the Sunday news and hanging out until we left around 11 to drive to Boulder and do classic Boulder things: We walked up and down Pearl Street, with its fancy shops and restaurant, and had lunch on at a place that had outdoor seating and very healthy-sounding but ultimately somewhat blah choice–a salad for me with a little bit of goat cheese on it, and a burger with a smaller salad for Mark.  Maybe we should have gone for the juices they were touting, but the two young women next to us who did have the juice sampler didn’t exactly sell them by describing one as tasting like “liquid salad.”  We compensated by having ice cream at a street vendor’s, in a very fresh, crisp waffle cone, but Pearl Street wasn’t really exciting.  None of the many street musicians and jugglers did anything particularly exciting, and a nearby crafts and stuff market in Boulder’s “Central Park” didn’t have anything exciting to offer too.  You know it’s too hot outside if the most notable thing among the portable stands was that the bamboo bedsheet stands had a ventilator with a misting mechanism!  Despite the heat, we managed to walk in the shade along Boulder creek to the big park (Eben Fine Park) at the very end, and that was fun people watching–big families and young couples, tourists and locals, a rather large proportion of homeless campsites on the banks of the creek, and many, many people with inner tubes to tube down the river, which has some white water and some very big rocks.  We saw most people make it ok, but some tubes got flipped and one young woman clearly got really scared (although I do not think hurt) and was helped out of the water by her boyfriend, crying and shaking.
We also watched some people jump into the water from a rope swing, but the requirement was clearly to be in your mid-twenties to mid-thirties, male, and tattooed. 🙂  We went the very cautious route and just stuck our feet in the water for a few minutes, and then left as we heard thunder roll in the distance, and walked the 5 blocks back to our car before the rain started.  We took a nap when we got home (I think I still had to catch up on yesterday’s missed sleep), later went out for groceries, now are just hanging out here after a bread-and-salad dinner and gearing up for the more active days that are coming up.

Monday, July 3 2017 (Day 14)

Today, we got up fairly early with tasks to accomplish–Mark took the car to a tire shop, because we knew we had a small leak in a tire (they fixed it right away, as we hoped), and also picked a few groceries, and I had a cooking agenda: I made a huge bowl of German potato salad and deviled eggs for tomorrow’s various meals, and packed up some of our deli meat and some fruit for our lunch, which we were going to have at Jacquie’s house at noon. That required leaving at about 11, since it’s about 15 minutes past Nederland.  We got there right on time and had a lovely meal with fresh-baked bread for sandwiches and blueberry smoothies with Jacquie and her boyfriend, another Mark, who is a pharmacist in Rollinsville and has a huge interesting in Native American culture and history, so he told some very interesting stories.  After lunch, we went for a lovely walk through the back country behind Jacquie’s house with Jacquie and her dog Rusty, and saw some lovely wildflowers (including the beautiful state flower, the columbine) and pretty nasty-looking mine tailings (all of this backcountry was once combed through for gold and silver).  We walked for an hour and a half or so, and then drove back to Louisville, with a stop at the Boulder Falls, where you can still peek at the falls, but not hike to them, because of erosion issues.  But across from the falls, people were rappelling after rock climbing, so we watched for a bit.
We were home before 5, had salad and bread for dinner, and I went back out in search of some cheap containers for the picnic food for tomorrow.  The nearby thrift stores had what I needed, but I have to say that they were more expensive than the thrift stores in Santa Cruz, and that’s saying something!  Once I was home and we had gotten some laundry started, we watched a movie that’s new out on Netflix, “Okja” and then went to bed–so it was a pretty low-key evening.


Tuesday, July 4 2017 (Day 15)

We spent the early morning cleaning Mark’s cousin’s house a bit, washing the sheets and towels that we’d used and so on, and I made capresi for our Fourth-of-July picnic in Nederland this evening. Stan and Kathy came home about 9 am, having taken the red-eye from Hawaii and driving in from Denver.  We chatted with Stan for quite a bit while Kathy got a shower and a much-deserved first nap. Of course, everyone’s meal schedules were a bit off, so Mark and I just had some of the stuff I had fixed for the picnic (and for all four of us) for lunch, and then we went for a nice long walk (about 4 miles) from the house that connects to Coal Creek Trail, which has a nice view of the flatirons and the front range, and then loops back through downtown Louisville to the house.  Once we got back, Kathy and Mark started chatting about tech, and Stan and I about writing, literature, and movies–a nice division by interest/expertise!
We left a little before 5 with all of our stuff in tow–it was so nice to even get to SEE and talk to the two of them after staying at their house with their cats for five days!  We made our way back up the mountain past Nederland and to what I will always think of as “Ginny’s house,” even as it will soon officially become the house of my niece and nephew, Nicki and Erik, who had been renting it from their grandmother since she went into senior living and then assisted living for their families.  So when we got there for the our Fourth of July “indoor picnic” / family dinner, the house was a wonderful bee’s hive of people–Nicki and her partner Adam with their tired-out baby, Gavin, and Anjie, Erik’s wife, with her four-year-old, Jessie, as well as Jacquie and her boyfriend Mark, and Dan, my nephew who is Kati’s age, with his girlfriend Isabel, and two friends whose names I didn’t catch.  Later on, Erik and Adam’s brother John, who work as arborists together, also came after a full day’s work.  Did I mention there were two dogs (Rusty and Maya) and a cat (Max)?  It was just the kind of whirlwind Fourth of July should be, and we had good food, including my German potato salad and capresi, delicious sliders and kabobs, a big salad, and a blueberry-rhubarb cobbler that I thought was totally delicious.  Everybody talked, scooped up Gavin, played with Jessie (who is an amazingly smart kid for four years old, and has incredible verbal skills), and helped clean or fix something (Mark glued a broken bowl, because who doesn’t have epoxy handy on a road trip?  We had actually bought it to fix my glasses, and left it behind with the gang for future broken dishes.).
The best thing about this fourth of July was that we didn’t do or go see fireworks–I do sometimes like to see them, but was dreading the drive to an overcrowded place like Black Hawk (Jacquie, Dan, and Isabel went).  And the launching of fireworks is not my thing at all–so the fact that it’s just too dangerous here and either prohibited or not done is just great.  Instead, we just kept talking and did some kitchen cleanup for a while. By about 9:30, I could about hardly keep my eyes open, and we went to bed before 10, in one my favorite guest rooms in the world, with windows facing East and North, where we’ve slept many times before and where the morning sun is so bright that no one could possibly ever sleep in!

Wednesday, July 5 2017 (Day 16)

We woke up way too early when dawn was just starting and I could see Venus as the morning star even without my glasses.  But thankfully, I managed to fall back asleep and then woke up at about 7:30.  We packed up our things, but stayed for quite a while and chatted with Nicki and John over coffee and tea, explaining gravity and complicated family relations to Jesse, and feeding Gavin (14 months old) his oatmeal in the meantime.  We left about 9:30, and since we hadn’t really made up our minds about the route to take as we headed south, we made it up as we went along.
We took the road from Nederland to Black Hawk / Central City, Colorado’s most overbuilt former mining towns (the 14-story Ameristar hotel pisses me off every time we drive through this ridiculous area, and only the gorgeous drives out of the area and the fact that the county built a free rec center and a great school with the casino money reconcile me with the atrocity that BHCC).  That led us down the feeder roads of the I-70, which ingeniously helped us to avoid a traffic jam, and a 10-mile stretch of freeway, until we got to Georgetown.  I had done some quick internet research en route and found out that Guenella Pass Road, which we took in 2014 to get from Fairplay to Georgetown, but which was then a very slow, rocky dirt road for a long-ish stretch, was now fully paved.  So we took this beautiful 22-mile short cut and looked around a little bit at the summit of the pass, which is also the trailhead for several hiking trails.  We were at first surprised at how many vehicles were parked there, until we realized that it offers fairly easy access to Sawtooth Mountain and Mount Bierstadt, which is one of the 14,000-footers that people make it their ambition to climb and “check off”–and probably one of the easiest.  With the help of Mark’s tele, could see dozens of people on the ridge alone.  We just went along a little walkway to look the other way, where another, much more tame-looking peak also invited a lot of hikers. We then stopped at the first “picnic ground” past the summit and had our lunch by the side of a lovely creek (Duck Creek) before traversing South Park, and driving South through Salida–that was a little bit of a detour, but otherwise we drove basically the same route we had taken up from Alamosa on the 29th and then past the Great Sand Dunes again, mostly on the 285.  There is some really beautiful scenery along the way, and an interesting stretch where the old stage coach road is visible to the left and right of 285 after Buena Vista.  We stopped in Alamosa for an ice cream sandwich, and just to get out of the car for a bit, but decided we were still good for the 1 1/2 hours to Taos, so I quickly picked a cheap hotel on the outskirts for us, and we continued our way south.
As we got closer to New Mexico, the Rockies flatten out and become these high but much gentler slopes, and the landscape starts looking ridiculously “Georgia O’Keefe”–beautiful and so radically different from the alpine, craggy mountains half an hour earlier.  But we had a couple of surprises in store: on the roadside half an hour outside of Taos, we suddenly saw the strangest and most fantastic-looking buildings–part sci-fi, part Gaudi, and some mostly underground like earth lodges–and Mark suddenly said: “They are Earthships!”  There is a whole little colony/community of these, which are intended to be self-sustaining, with solar, thermal, and wind energy and gardens, and although the visitor center was closed, we took a few pictures of the building closest to the road and picked up a brochure as well.  Then we saw a bridge coming up ahead for the Rio Grande Gorge, but we were not the least bit prepared for the canyon that the Rio Grande has carved through this gentle, flat landscape–like a baby Black Canyon, it was flowing 600 feet below us with steep cliffs left and right.  That was really impressive.  The cursory drive through the main drag of Taos wasn’t, though–one cheesy touristy adobe building after the next, with tons of knick knacks and restaurants (even the MacDonald’s was adobe-clad) and ultimately the same-old-same-old string of Walmart, Walgreens, supermarkets, motels (like ours) at the tail end.  But we found the perfect cheap roadside Chinese place that we had been thinking about for dinner, had totally fine orange chicken and moo-shu chicken, and then checked into our hotel around 7 to be done for the day!


Thursday, July 6 2017 (Day 17)


We had a bit of a rough night because of worries about Mark’s dad, who had been transferred to assisted living yesterday, but was taken back to the hospital in the middle of the night, but eventually things calmed down and we did get some sleep.  We then got up around 7:30, had a profoundly unexciting hotel breakfast, and took off for what we just only learned was “the Enchanted Circle,” a scenic drive around Wheeler Mountain’s base, about 84 miles all around, from Taos via various ski resort towns and hiking areas and back to Taos. We went about half-way around, until we were near Red River, since we did want to go for a hike, and I had picked out a promising one, Middle Fork Lake Trail, 4.3 miles, plus the hike to the trail head, a 1.2 mile dirt road that we thought the Prius might not manage.  The trail had a lot of elevation gain (over 1,200 feet) but with many switchbacks, so that worked well for us.  About half-way to the top, there was a lovely waterfall and we had to cross the stream on rocks and tree trunks, and the Middle Fork Lake at the top was a beautiful, clear little mountain lake.  We had pines and aspens shade the trail almost the whole time, so even though we walked for three + hours total, we never got blazingly hot.
After the hike, we drove to the center of Red River and used their picnic facilities for our lunch, and finished our drive around the Enchanted Circle.  It was unfortunately not so very enchanting that after Red River and before the next little town, there was a hideous superfund site, strip mining for something called molybdenum that basically turned an entire mountainside into tailings.  Reading up on it on line at the EPA site made it even more depressing to contemplate what people are willing to do to their natural environment in the name of profit.  After that, the rest of the scenic drive was scenic again; unfortunately, we didn’t have time to stop at D.H. Lawrence’s ranch in nearby San Cristobal (we saw the sign for it, but I knew it would close at 2 pm and it was 1:50 at that time).  It’s always weird to me to imagine that Lawrence spend time in the southwest and hung out with O’Keefe etc., especially since I saw his birth house in Nottingham years and years ago (in my teens).
Once we got back to Taos, we parked near the courthouse and checked out most of the historic district–the Taos plaza and the street with several museums on it.  I love the look of the adobe houses, but the place is simultaneously overrun with tourists and knick knack shops AND rundown with a lot of closed shops in the side streets etc.  I also find it frustrating that I cannot easily tell old, historic adobe buildings and modern imitations, since the style is so uniform.  And I have to admit that I simply do not know a whole lot about the art of the Southwest (only about O’Keefe), so I am not sure what I am seeing or who the artists are that keep being mentioned in connection with Taos.  So the walk around was a bit perfunctory, and the through traffic is annoying enough that I was glad when we left.
It’s about 1 hour 30 minutes from Taos to Santa Fe, and I have to say that the landscape between the two is fascinating.  The Rio Grande and its canyon walls accompanied us for a good portion of the drive, and the canyons and sandstone formations, mixed with the green sagebrush and shrubs, is really beautiful.  The nearby buildings, especially on top of cliffs, blend in really well because of the sandstone-colored adobe, and in the distance, the mountains with a bit of milky air to  blur the lines really DO look like they belong in a Georgia O’Keefe painting!  On the way into Santa Fe, we picked up some groceries, and then found our way to the rental casita that we are sharing with our friends Randy and Laurie, who are here for a conference.  They were already here; we have a nice space with bedrooms at opposite ends of the little adobe house (which we decided was probably once two houses, and someone built a connecting bit which is now the kitchen), a nice big dining room and an outdoor area with many places to sit and chat and eat–which is what we did after we unpacked our stuff.  Laurie and Randy had ordered a platter of cheeses and cold cuts from a local store they knew about, and we had that with olives and baguette and–best of all–bread that Randy had baked earlier and brought from their home in Las Cruces. Since we have never spent time together outside of conference encounters and Facebook chats, we all had a lot of stories to tell and things to talk about, and we already gathered many many tips as to what to do in our 3 days here.  We sat on the patio until about 9 pm, by which time it had cooled down a bit from the 90s earlier (important because no air conditioning!), and then got ourselves ready for bed.  Excited for tomorrow!

Friday July 7 2017 (Day 18)

This was our Santa Fe city day, since we reasoned that it would be less crowded on a Friday than on the weekend–and we’re leaving Monday.  We slept ok (it was a little warm but had cooled down by morning), were up by 6:30, and had coffee and lovely croissants with home-made jam that Laurie and Randy had brought for breakfast.  We were out of the house by 8 for an exploratory walk from the casita to the Santa Fe historic downtown, with the plaza/town square in the middle and all manner of beautiful adobe buildings all around.  It was wonderful to see all of this in the morning light as the city was just waking up and only the first handful of tourists and vendors milling about.  What I especially liked (compared to Taos) was that the plaza itself had quite a bit of green, some nice outdoor seating, and at least partial traffic restrictions.  We walked from there to the Cathedral of St. Francis (looks old, but was built in the 1880s on the site on a church first built in 1610), and to a mission church that is actually really old and therefore much more modest-looking.  We also saw the capital, a few cooler old buildings from the 1930s, including a restored theater, and lots and lots of art, jewelry and rock & fossil shops.  I love the architectural style, but it is very hard to date things, because the city has an ordinance that makes everybody cover pretty much everything in adobe or stucco that looks like it (aka faux-dobe, as we learned from Wikipedia), and add the features that are typical of the traditional architecture of the pueblos, like the wooden support beams sticking out of the walls, and the rainspouts that make little windows.
At a little after 9, we ended up at the Georgia O’Keefe museum, for which we already had tickets, and decided to visit it right then, when there were still relatively few people there.  It was a good museum, but smaller than I had anticipated, and with fewer of the paintings from the southwest that the landscape here reminds me of.  But there were several paintings of her favorite mountain (the one she could see from Ghost Ranch), some of the famous paintings with skulls, and some beautiful flower paintings.  There were also some early “exercises” from her art school days, before she was introduced to abstract art, and I got a refresher on her biography.  Some artifacts, specifically her paints and brushes, were also fun to see.  But it was really just an hour’s walk to see it all. We then had some coffee/ lemonade and a muffin in a cafe next door, and walked home, which literally took us five minutes.
We then set out for the big adventure of the day that we had known basically nothing about until I looked it up the other day–we went to an interactive art exhibit by an art collective that calls itself “Meow Wolf” and is comprised of about 100 artists, as I understand it from around SF.  They had done a few exhibits and events, but then hit it big when George R.R. Martin, author of the Game of Thrones series, gave them over $2 million to create this interactive exhibit and creative /art education space in an old bowling alley in an unprepossessing part of town (Walmart down the road, auto repair shops all around, fast food–that sort of thing).  The major part of this is “The House of No Return,” an exhibit that opened March of 2013 and has dozens of “art rooms” (if you even want to call them that) to explore. It is very hard to describe but combines a mystery-solving game with art viewing, a jungle gym and a sci-if storyline.  The draw is (and it was packed from the time we got there about 11 to when we left after 2 pm) that all visitors walk into this fake home of a modern-day family, an updated Victorian house full of family clutter that hides all kinds of fascinating clues to a mystery: the family that lives there has mysteriously disappeared, and the visitors are “agents” (whose?) who need to find out how and why.  As we go along, we figured out this and that through the contents of the house, which includes letters and other documents, books with secret messages, family photos, a newspaper to sift for information, a safe that can be opened, various computers with accessible and inaccessible information. But first we noticed a few very strange features–in particular, access “portals” (including the fridge and the dryer, but also a closet and a fireplace) to another part of the exhibit that was either a crazy multiverse of other spaces/planets or the inside of someone’s head or some other “alternative” world, with sci-fi features, but also surreal versions of such things as: the front of a school bus (flipped vertically), a neon-lit Asian downtown, a teenager’s room from the 90s, the human-size inside of a fish tank, or a kitchen that looks like a black-and-white drawing from a Tim Burton animated movie.  There were ice landscapes with strange ganglion-like features, a geodesic dome filled with big eyes that were each a foot in diameter, rooms that offer various ways of making music, including on a laser harp and on the rib cage of an enormous dinosaur skeleton drenched in pink neon light.  There were plastic plants and fabric plants and paper cutouts of plants.  There were staircases and slides and second-floor overviews and places to look up into the second floor.  There were “rocks” that turn out to be soft because they are actually carpet covered shapes that “give.” There were huge white metal trees with illuminated tree mushrooms that made sounds and shift colors when we touched them. There is a video game arcade and there are “stations” to watch parts of a cartoon that gave us an alien’s view of the alien culture’s interaction with “the anomaly,” which we gradually figured out provides some sort of connection between the aliens and the humans that disappeared. There were rooms that looked very “manga” and figurines that looked like they came out of a Miyazaki film. And there were so many art details that there is no way I can remember even the half of it–with over two hundred people working on this stuff as per the credits, how could I?  But what I loved better than anything were the many, many things that were done with paper cutouts, often “Day of the Dead” style, but also in many other styles. And Mark was especially fascinated by the tech–not just the actual computers set up for visitors to explore, but also random or not so random parts lying around, a plexiglass case with various types of massive robotic hands, some of them steerable, and the fact that you could “play” the vertical schoolbus like a first-person shooter video game.  And the best thing of all was how much fun people had hunting for the story and how riveted they were–pretty much everyone from 10 years on up.  We got all caught up in it, and so did many families, with kids reading the secret clues aloud, people sharing coded messages they found about the mysterious family.  We actually hit a jackpot and didn’t realize that we did–the story doesn’t really fully cohere and has lots of gaps, and unlike some people, we were okay with that and just admired the collective wonderful imagination of the artists–visual, audial, technological, narrative, etc.–but we did decode a web site name and just wrote it down for later.  After we had gotten home (after a late lunch at a Mexican food chain called Tortilla Flats) for a little rest, we checked on the site and the story told there (from the perspective of the father of the family) confirmed many of our theories about what happened, and added a good bit more strange detail that was only “half there” when we explored the space.  I don’t want to give it away but I need to remember the website, so don’t go there if you want to see the exhibit, but here it is:
After resting for a while, we went back into the downtown area just to get a bit more of a walk and visit a couple of stores that hadn’t been open in the early morning.  We got back to the casita about 6 pm, and I made a salad for all of us, which we had with wonderful cheese and cold cuts and Randy’s bread.  Mark and I also got to taste some pastries from a French bakery for dessert.  We stayed at the table and chatted for a good two hours, and didn’t get to bed (given blogging duties and photo selecting) until after 10, when it had gotten nice and cool.

Saturday, July 8 2017 (Day 19)


We were again on the road early, excited to explore the various areas near Los Alamos that Randy (who grew up there and has been back many times) had told us about, and that were all brand new to us.  We started out by driving to Bandolier National Monument, where there are cliff dwellings and canyon floor villages built by Ancestral Pueblo people, just like in Mesa Verde–except that in Bandolier, the canyon walls are super-soft tuff from the volcanic explosion that formed the nearby Valles Caldera, full of fantastically shaped holes and mini caves, and easily carved by the people.  So the people who built here used fewer walls and carved more of their dwellings (in some cases, exclusively carved them) into the cliff side.  And more of their buildings, although used into the 1500s here, have eroded and disappeared.  But they used the same style of building as the Mesa Verde people: small, multi-story “apartment buildings” with wooden floors/ceilings (the beam holes are a good sign of a building complex), plus kivas, and they used adobe wall “paint” and often had petroglyphs on the walls above the buildings. What was fun about the little self-guided tour we took was that there was climbing and close-up exploring (although much of what we saw was partially reconstructed) and the add-on to the tour was a walk to the so-called Alcove House, which has huge long ladders and sits much, much higher in the cliffs than the other dwellings, which tend to start at the ground level.  On the way to Alcove House, we spotted many other sites and on the way back, along a nature trail, we saw a mule deer that got very close to us and was obviously not afraid of people at all.
We wrapped our visit up by having our picnic at about 11:30 in their lovely visitor center plaza, and then drove out of the Bandolier area on the west side.  We took a small hike (2.5 miles) to a canyon overview and then continued into the Valles Caldera area, where there is an access road to the huge big meadow that is only about a fourth of the caldera. I am still trying hard to imagine how high that volcano would have been for this caldera to be left–it is smaller than the Yellowstone caldera, of course, but the volcanic eruption was still the second-largest of the big eruptions that shaped the North American geology so massively.We drove about 5 miles further in past the visitor center (which took a back country permit, but that makes us sound much more adventurous than we were!), and watched for wild life on this vast pale green expanse.  Eventually, we saw both an elk mom and her baby and a larger but very undecisive herd of elk.  We watched them all turn one way and move off into that direction, then hesitate and confer, and do it over again in another direction.
By the time we left the caldera, it was after 3 pm; we backtracked a little bit and then took a road north to nearby Los Alamos.  We caught the ranger at the visitor center just as he was closing at 4 pm, and he still gave us maps and chatted a bit; it turned out that he used to work for a company in Hastings! Small world. Then we went over to the Bradbury Science Museum, where various displays talked about the beginning of Los Alamos (i.e. the creation of the atomic bomb and necessary technology for getting ready to drop it on Japan), as well as current research that goes on there, plus a little of this and a little of that (development of the computer; testing of explosives; the nature of radiation, nanotechnology), all very hip and shiny and interactive, but also emphatically not the least bit skeptical about the decision to use the bomb and kill 280,000 people with two bombs.  We were actually more curious about what we did after we left the museum, i.e. take the little walking tour through the limited remnants of the “old” Los Alamos from the 1940s that are still there–they are very limited, since the research area (“1”) was actually razed later on, so it’s the rather snazzy homes where the scientists (Oppenheimer, Bethe, and the like) lived, for the most part in buildings that were part of the Ranch School that had been there before.  There is also the Lodge where everyone met for social events, and a cafeteria that was used in the 1940s–but that’s about it.  We were especially interested because we recently started reading an account of what it was like to be there as part of the science team, by Richard Feynman, who was there in a minor role but was suspected of being a spy because he left for Albuquerque a lot (his wife had TB and lived there in a sanatorium).  And of course because Randy had several stories about growing up there in the 1960s.  But the town is really not recognizable as the little unknown spot in the middle of nowhere that the scientists came to in the 1940s.
We left the area about 5 pm, and drove home in a bit of rain–we’d been watching it rain and even heard thunder elsewhere nearby pretty much all afternoon, but although we could sometimes see sheets of rain going down in the distance, it had never caught up with us.  We drove through the rain, though (Santa Fe was dry) and got home at about 6 pm.  We chatted a bit with Randy and Laurie, and then had a simple but yummy pub food dinner at the nearby Fire and Hops bar (risotto for me, a burger for Mark, and a shared dish of the owners’ celebrated ice cream–they also own an ice cream store in town, and specialize in unusual flavors: we had gingersnap, brown butter and hops, and white-chocolate cashew, all of which were good).  Then we sat in the nice cool breeze a bit more and are now wrapping up the day.

Sunday July 9 2017 (Day 20)


This morning, we backtracked from Santa Fe to the very small area of Bandolier National Monument that we had not visited, Tsankawi, a largely unexcavated mesa top village with some cavates (those little cliff dwellings that have no masonry but are only carved into the soft tuff cliffs).  We took the 1.5 mile hike with a couple of detours, and had a really good time.  Since there is no reconstruction at the site (its  collapsed walls are barely visible until you start looking for them) visitors are just asked not to take or disturb anything (out of respect for the ancient Pueblans who lived there) and stick to the paths (because in the soft tuff, everybody leaves a significant trace, so that the paths in the tuff are at times knee- or even thigh-deep from sheer erosion).  But leaving everything undisturbed is clearly hard for people, because everywhere we looked, there were pottery shards, and many visitors pick them up and then leave them in piles or on rocks.  We didn’t do that, of course, but we did look at the already-assembled “artifact altars” and were in awe of some of the patterns that we could see on the little shards. And then of course we saw the shards everywhere we looked! Fascinating.
After our hike to the ruins and back (onto the mesa top of the small canyon where Tsankawi is situated), we drove 20 minutes north to another cliff ruin, this one on the reservation of the Santa Clara Pueblo.  It’s called Puye Cliffs and was a really impressively long stretch of cliff dwellings, with many petroglyphs and some adobe “plaster” on the inner walls still visible, but with a lot of erosion and collapsed walls all over.  We were able to do a self-guided tour of the area, which was impressive, even though it didn’t even include the ruins on the mesa top (where apparently parts of the movie “Missing” were filmed).
We returned to Santa Fe around 12:45, to meet with Laurie and Randy, since they were now done with their conference, and we were going to do something together.  We decided (since Laurie has recently had surgery on her heel and cannot walk for miles and miles) to go to “Museum Hill,” where Santa Fe’s big museums are, in the ritzy part of town where the really classy adobe villas are also located.  We started our museum afternoon with a lunch at the museum cafe, which has a lovely outdoor seating area, and had equally lovely food and a very nice waiter.  Then we decided to go to the Museum of Native American Art and Culture–mostly because Mark and I were hoping we could get a bit of a better insight into the connection between the ancient art and architecture we have been seeing and the contemporary Native American art and culture of this region. We were not disappointed–there was a very new display that explained some of the connections very well, often putting a traditional and a modern version of something (pottery, beads, clothing, living space) in juxtaposition to each other.  And there was also a display that showcased the different pottery traditions of the different Pueblo tribes that are all located here, in Northern New Mexico.  (We finally got straightened out about the confusing references to either 19 or 21 pueblos–19 are right here in Northern New Mexico; one is actually in Mexico, and the 21st are the Hopi in Arizona.). And two exhibits addressed much more directly the critical and often satirical attitude of contemporary Native American artists to the weird mix of appropriation and hostility that characterizes white America’s attitude to Ntive Americans.  One exhibit featured a whole bunch of different artists, and the other a famous artist named Frank Buffalo Hyde, who paints these oil paintings that make fun of things like selfies and the way people record, but do not really see, their surroundings–in pretty incisive ways.  We stayed in the museum until about 4:30, and then went home through the ritzy neighborhood and through the new hip nightlife district, the rail yard, before coming home.
Then we sat around and chatted, and eventually had a salad-and-bread dinner together. I did a bit of pre-packing, since we want to leave early tomorrow morning, and Mark and I went for one last walk to the plaza and back around 8 pm, when it had cooled down nicely after a very hot day.  And now we’re done with out last Santa Fe day!