Monday, October 29, 2007

More Hawaii

The predominant phrase I hear over and over since we got here is “another day in paradise”. The beauty never ceases to diminish by familiarity. Our first three days here we mostly lounged around between the ocean, pool, patio (lanai), or walking on the beach. On Saturday, when family and wedding guests began to arrive it forced us to stir out of the lounge chairs a bit more often, but not too much.

A tough day in Maui

Linda and John Miles asked us to vacation with them here on Maui during the week one of their nephews planned to get married, the same week his brother was participating in an Xterra event here on Maui. Tough invitation to turn down. The wedding, on Tuesday the 23, boasted 38 friends and family members who came to Maui from New England, for the occasion. The ceremony was performed by a local Hawaiian woman, who included traditional Hawaiian elements, making this an exceptionally moving event.

All the guests received lei's, a gift from the happy couple

Becky Miles and Karen Kelly receive their Lei's

Steve and Jackie Hughes with the Hawaiian Kahuna

One highlight, aside from the wedding, was a trip to Hana, involving a 44 mile one way drive, over a narrow winding mountain road that over hangs the ocean on its way through the rain forest. Waterfalls and black sand beaches are seen at almost every turn. Frequent banana bread stands also tempt additional rest stops, so the trip is an all day affair.

Keanae Point has the most spectacular shore line, piled with raw lava boulders, where the blue-green waters crash on the black rocks and send spray high into the air soaking anyone standing near the shore trying to get the perfect picture. Our favorite travel book “Maui Revealed” tells us that this is the younger part of the island and the lava has not yet been beaten into beach sand.

The Keanae Arboretum had an extensive collection of trees and plants that grow in tropical rain forests around the world. The best part was that they were all labeled so we knew what we were looking at and where they grew naturally. Of course that information stayed with me for at least 20 minutes.

Surf was up when we started our trip to Hana so we stopped and watched for a while

Keanae Arboretum - Painted Gum trees. We like to call them rainbow trees.

Torch Ginger

I think this was called Lobster Claw

Keanae Point

Three Bears Falls

After several more waterfall stops we arrived at Wai‘anapanapa (pronounced why-a-nah-pah nah-pah) Park, which is one of the fun Hawaiian words to let roll off your tongue. We brought a picnic lunch and watched the mongoose looking for handouts from lunch leftovers, while we ate. These critters look similar to ferrets. This park has two fresh water caves contained in old lava tubes. The pools come with a legend about a Princess who left her abusive husband and hid in one of these caves. Finding her, he killed her there and once a year, hundreds of shrimp appear and color the water red in her memory.

Past the caves, the trail drops down to U shaped Pa’iloa Beach with pure black sand and pebble sized ebony rocks. “Maui Revealed” tells us that these black beaches are truly formed in a day (or two). When the hot lava flows into the sea, it shatters on contact with the ocean, forming this distinctive black sand. The down side is that these beaches do not last long (500 years) because when the lava stops flowing into the sea, the source of the black rock is gone and cannot regenerate like white sand beaches that are made of shell and coral that continue to break down.

Black Pebbles

Wild Impatients

Black Sand

Black Beach

Saturday, October 20, 2007


This is the view out our condo front window-our first sunset.

More to come

Zion, Page, Valley of Fire, and Las Vegas

The next stop we made took us for a quick run through Zion National Park. Marlin had just spent several days here back in March, but I had not been here before. With only a few hours available, all we were able to squeeze in was a drive through on the entrance road from east to west, which includes an amazing tunnel. We did stop to take the shuttle through the main canyon in the park. This place needs at least a week to explore all the exciting sounding trails that take off from each shuttle stop. Another "must come back to" spot.

By Friday night we arrived in Page Arizona where the Glen Canyon Dam is located. We toured the dam site, viewing the movies about the damn construction that started in 1957 and continued for the next 9 years. OSHA would have a field day with the construction methods used in those days. There were men swinging on ropes over the sides of the cliffs, breaking away loose rocks with 2 foot long pry bars. No safety nets, no had hats, no back up ropes. They looked like they were enjoying the work, sort of like the rock climbers we see these days playing at what these guys did for pay.

We spent the next day in the Page campground, sorting out things in the camper to send home, going to the post office and library, and deciding what to pack for Hawaii.

Sunday we drove to Nevada and camped at the Valley of Fire State Park. This is a small State Park about 40 miles north of Las Vegas that encompasses a section of red hills that have evolved into strange shapes and caves, some of which resemble people or animals. One cliff behind our camper looked like a wall of faces, all with their mouths open as thought they were yelling or begging for food. Around the corner was a perfect poodle head and an elephant with a long trunk.

Monday afternoon we landed in the Disneyland like space called Las Vegas. Not surprisingly, Las Vegas has changed considerably since we were there 40 years ago. At that time, there was a mile or more of desert between downtown and the strip. That barren section, along with many additional miles, have become a solid stretch of casinos, shops, and restaurants. Just walking along the strip and sampling small sections of these establishments provides plenty of entertainment for free, without even taking time to attend the dozens of high profile shows that are offered.

Linda and John Miles arrived on Wednesday and we did more sight seeing along with a few stops at the slots. Linda is the one with the lucky streak in our group, so mostly we watched her play and win, then called it an early night since we were set to be at the airport at 4:30 am for our flight to Hawaii

Sites of Ancestral Puebloan Ruins (Anasazi)

Another long pause from posting travel information makes me feel like a poor communicator. Again, limited access to internet but also working with a deadline to be in Las Vegas by the 18th, put bloging on a back burner for awhile. In trying to catch up I realized that we really had packed more adventures into that short time frame than we thought possible.

After leaving Albuquerque, along with Chuck and Julie, we visited several sites containing pueblo ruins. In the past the people who built these south western complexes were called Anasazi. However, within the last decade, the twelve tribes who are descendents of these builders have rejected the Navajo label Anasazi and prefer to be called Ancestral Puebloans. One ranger explained that the Navajo came to this area after the Puebloans abandoned their cities and the Navajo term, Anasazi, means ancient people or ancient enemy. Today’s pueblo dweller descendants now wish to change that label.

Aztec, New Mexico

The first ruins we visited was the Aztec Ruins in Aztec New Mexico. Some of the original Anglo settlers, believing this site was built by the Aztec people from Mexico, miss-named the town and the name stuck even when the true origin of the builders was identified.

Aztec was a large planned city with excellently constructed brick work of over 400 contiguous rooms and a large central Kiva, that has been rebuilt. This city of ruins, although unprotected by overhanging cliffs, retains complete rooms, undisturbed T shaped entry ways, and some perfect 90 degree corners, indicating that there was a master plan for the organization of the entire complex.
The site was first uncovered in 1859 by a geologist named John Newberry. However between then and 1889, looters and settlers seeking building materials, removed countless artifacts, including some human remains.

In 1916 The American Museum of Natural History began sponsoring excavations and in 1988 Aztec became a National Monument. There is another section of ruins, the East ruin, that is only partially excavated.

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

More ruins are viewable at Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado, where the journey begins on a winding mountain road that rises from the desert floor, traveling up over 15 miles, to an elevation of more than 8000 feet at the park entrance.

This mesa resembles a hand with fingers splayed and deep canyons between each finger of land. At one time hundreds of villages and farming areas covered each of these areas. Archeological findings indicate that Mesa Verde was inhabited for at least 700 years before being abandoned as were the many other villages in this four corners area.

The four corners is where Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona all meet at the same spot. You can actually go to this spot and stand in all four states at once. When viewing the many cliff dwelling sites you pass back and forth between these states often, sometimes it gets very confused as to just which state you are in.

Unlike the Aztec ruins, Mesa Verde’s city complexes, that were built on the mesa top, have not stood the rigors of time and weather. Remains of the dwellings are only low walls and towers outlining past buildings. However, Mesa Verde’s gems are the many superior cliff dwellings that are almost intact and can be visited with a ranger tour guide. As in other ruins, it appears that the majority of residents lived on the mesa tops, where crops of corn and squash were grown. At the Far View Village, on the mesa top, irrigation ditches and farming terraces were spread out for acres around the village.

The origin and reasons the cliff dwellings were constructed has many theories, however, these spaces held a much smaller number of people than the cities above. We were able to tour two of the cliff sites. Balcony House, which is a smaller cliff dwelling but the most challenging to get in and out of. It requires climbing up a 30 foot ladder to enter, and crawling through a 12 foot long, 18 inch wide tunnel to get out. Archeologists believe this site was occupied by two families. It contains two Kivas, which are now thought to be living quarters during cold times. Today’s Hopi Kivas are used for ceremonial purposes, so researchers first assumed the same function for the ancient Kivas. Newer theories, based on recent evidence, point to a more utilitarian use.

The second site we were able to see was Cliff Palace, a much larger complex, although, again, archeologists theorize many of the rooms were used as storage for grain. At Cliff Palace, the masonry shows many different makers. Some of the walls are made with precisely cut and placed bricks, while others, right next to them, are somewhat slap-dash in their construction. To quote the ranger, “looks like everyone did there own thing here”.

Ancestral Puebloans lived in these cliff dwelling for less that 100 years. As in other puebloan sites, it was deserted around 1300. Some theories are that the last quarter of the 1200s saw extensive and prolonged drought and crop failure that may have caused a southern migration. It is also thought that hundreds of years of intensive land use depleted the soil, or maybe there was social or political disturbances that caused communities to dissolve. Good guesses, but it looks like we will never know the real reasons.

There are many more sites and trails available to see at Mesa Verde. However by the time we finished our two tours, it was late in the day, in fact, we were just able to grab a cup of coffee five minutes before the cafĂ© closed at 5. Another place we have put on our list as a “must return” site. We could not return tomorrow because we had to move on toward Las Vegas by the 15th to meet Linda and John Miles.

The only way in

Part of Balcony House - a cliff duplex

One Kiva, minus the roof

The only way out

Cliff Palace from above

Monument Valley and Navajo National Monument

We left the Burwells in Cortez the next morning and traveled on to Monument Valley where John Ford made many of his John Wayne movies. These magnificent red buttes and stark mesas rise up out of the flat landscape into namable shapes, such as left and right mitten. The light in the southwest is entirely different than what we see in the east, but the dawn and sunset illumination is like nothing you see anywhere else. The red cliffs seem to be on fire as the sun sinks lower and lower in the evening sky. By closing your eyes, you can almost see John Wayne and the Calvary galloping at high speed between the buttes, dodging the Indians as they pour down off the mesas.

Look close--can you see the Calvary coming?

Left and Right mitten

We stopped briefly at the Navajo National Monument, which was not far from Monument Valley, and is another site where cliff dwellings are well preserved. Their ranger tours ended in September, so we were only able to view this place from high on the opposite canyon wall. It was a pleasant walk down to the viewing site and with our binoculars we got a decent look into the 450 foot high cave where the135 rooms housed over 100 people at one time.

The canyons at Navajo National Monument

The village built inside the cave shown below housed about 100-125 people.

This cave is 450 feet high, 370 feet wide and 135 feet deep.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

Friday, the adventure really got going. In the morning we picked up a 23 foot class C camper to use over the weekend. Our little truck job has no shower or toilet and although the Fiesta campground has water and electricity, there are no bathrooms at all. The few porta-pottys we did see were about half a mile away, so we decided to live it up for three days.

We took our place at the Balloon Fiesta campground located across the main road from Fiesta Park, around 11:00. I could not believe how many large motor homes were here. The number 1700 was heard somewhere, but it sure seemed like 17,000 to me. We again had a great set up, side by side, with the “patio” between our campers.

Chuck, Bob, and Marlin had signed up for a tour of the Trinity site on Saturday. This is the place where the first atomic bomb was constructed and exploded. They had a talk on Friday night and an all day bus trip on Saturday. At the Friday night lecture, one of the original photographers presented pictures that were taken during 1944 and 1945 when initial preparations were taking place and during the actual bomb blast. This trip was coordinated through the Atomic Museum in Albuquerque and several people who had actually worked on this bomb project were docents on the tour bus. Marlin was amazed that this original atomic bomb was constructed in an old farm house and the parts were transported there in a 1942 Plymouth sedan. This Trinity site is only opened to the public twice a year.

Julie, Glen and I got up at 5 AM with them and went to the park for the Dawn Patrol and the first Mass Ascension of the Fiesta. At this point, I must warn you that my excitement level was at an all time high, so lots of pictures of balloons will follow. This was one of the most thrilling events I have been to in a long time.

At the “Dawn Patrol” nine to twelve balloons inflate, ignite, and take off just before dawn. Their job is to check out the wind patterns but what a rush to watch them for the first time, initiating the process in the dark. Words simply cannot convey the thrill this entire event generates. First of all, there are hundreds, and eventually thousands, of people right there on the grass among the balloons. The entire crowd seemed to be very considerate of the silk pouches laid out on the grass, the support staff tugging on long ropes, and those working at holding down the gondolas after the balloons were inflated. It was great to be in such a calm group of spectators when the excitement level was so high.

The Mass Ascension began with the Green and Turquoise Albuquerque City balloon going up first, trailing a large American flag from the bottom of its basket, while the National Anthem played. Then, wave after wave of balloons took off, all choreographed by the “zebras” who are similar to referees right down to their striped clothing and ear splitting whistle blowing to move the crowds out of the way.

There were a total of 350 balloons on the first day’s Mass Ascension. I would have sworn it was 35,000 but I already mentioned my hyper state. At one point, the three of us were in the middle of a dozen balloons either taking off, inflating with a fan, or firing the propane jets to start their lift off. Over to our left was an entirely black shape just beginning to fill with air. We watched it grow bigger and bigger, but could not determine what it would be. At last it began to tip upright and with a shout someone said “It’s Darth Vader”. It was huge and all black, with the gas jets going off, it sounded just like his breathing. To top this off, the balloon was accompanied by several ground crew, dressed as storm troopers, attempting to keep the spectators at bay.

The official report said there were 98 special shape balloons for this years fiesta. You will see a few in the pictures. My favorites were, of course, Darth Vader and also Lilly Bee and Joey Little Bee who inflated and flew together. Some of the other fun shapes were Nellie B the pink elephant, Gus T Guppie a fish, Ham-let a pink pig, Enchanted Duckie who looked like Tweedy Bird, Smokey The Bear, a huge pink and black haunted house and a lot more creative characters.

The thrills continued for almost two hours. Just when you thought they were finished, another wave would begin to inflate and rise up behind you. About 9:00 you could feel the wind begin to pick up and shortly thereafter some of the flyers, that had begun to blow up there balloons, let them fall back to the ground to wait for calmer skies.

The weather went down hill for the rest of the day and the Twilight Twinkle Glow was cancelled for Saturday night. We went back to the field around 7pm for a fantastic fire works show and hoped the wind would blow itself out overnight so that Sunday’s planned events would still take place.

Sunday did dawn calm and clear, so off all six of us went again a 5:30 am to see the Dawn Patrol and Mass Ascension. There was no less excitement the second time around, but the wind was stronger today, so after take off, the balloons flew very low and dispersed at a much quicker rate than the day before. This made it seem like there were fewer take offs, but in reality, their were just as many as on Saturday and just as much oohing and aahing.

Sunday night was a go for the Balloon Glow. This is where the balloons stay tethered to the ground, but blow up and light the gas jets after dark. They are squeezed together touching side by side in about 15 or 20 rows, each row having at least 12 to 15 balloons, firing their propane burners off and on at random times. Then, when you least expect it, they all fire simultaneously, lighting up the whole field. The colors you see in the day are wonderful but this night show, with all the balloons so closely packed together, made me jump up and down with excitement. The glow lasts for about an hour and a half and shortly after it ends, the fireworks show begins. This was another outstanding spectacle in the sky, which we topped of with brownies and ice cream at the Burwell trailer. Julie is always prepared with scrumptious deserts.

The balloon fiesta continues for another seven days, however, our stay was complete on Monday morning. We expected to simply pack up and depart but when I woke up about 6 o’clock, it was just getting light and I saw a balloon passing over the campground. The dawn patrol was on the job checking the winds and weather. By the time I knocked next door so they could see the balloons, more were in the skies. Today was a “Balloon Fiesta Hold Um” Race, where the pilots receive some playing cards and have to drop two markers onto giant cards that are placed on the ground, choosing the right cards to make their best hands. This is pretty tricky when the temperatures are low and the wind is blowing.

As we watched, we saw some of the flying balloons head for an empty field within our sight, drop down low and toss out a marker. One or two of them actually touched down, we could tell by the swaying gondola as they gained height. It was a new treat to have this different view as the waves of balloons came toward us and then passed over our heads. I even climbed up on Chuck’s trailer roof for an unobstructed view and more pictures.

After this unexpected bit of excitement, we had to say good by to the Baldwins who were meeting old college friends at a near by motel. It had been a very fast five days filled with some fun memories. We left at the same time and drove across the city to turn in our temporary home and reconnect with our pop up before heading north to Mesa Verde National Park and a new adventure.

Later in the day we heard that one of the balloons had experienced a tragic accident where one woman lost her life. When we read the details we assumed we had seen this balloon as it passed over us earlier in the morning.

Dawn Patrol

Da Da Da Da Da Da Da

Joey Little Bee and Lillie Bee

Glen and me on the mid way with some new TALL friends

Filling a balloon with cold air at the beginning of inflation.

Balloon Glow

All Glow (almost)

Monday Morning from our camper