Friday, April 29, 2016

Las Vegas, New Mexico

Las Vegas, New Mexico was quite a surprise.  Located about 75 miles north east of Santa Fe on Highway 25, it was going to be a quick stop-over on our way to Colorado Springs and beyond.  Since the weather up ahead had taken a turn for the worst, we signed into Storrie State Park for two nights until the weather cleared, or so we thought. More on that subject later.

Since we had some time to explore, we  checked out the local visitors center.   The  Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center are located in the beautifully renovated Las Vegas, NM train station.  The building was built in 1898 by the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad, and served as the line's terminal until 1899.  The station was renovated by the City in 2003, and now serves Amtrack trains that arrive twice a day.

Taken from the track side

Las Vegas had been an important town since 1835 as a major outpost along the Santa Fe Trail.  However, in 1879, when making the trip by rail took only several days instead of  several months of very tough-going by wagon, the town growth exploded.  That can definitely be called the "End of an Era".  The Santa Fe trail instantly lost it's designation as the major route to the west.

With the growth brought by the railroad came some notorious outlaws to the area, and Las Vegas became the wildest town in the west.  Some well-known names who spent some time here were Doc Holiday, Billy the Kid, the Dodge City Gang, Wyatt Earp, Pat Garrett, to name a few.  By the end of 1880 things settled down and because it was the railroad headquarters, prosperity bloomed.

The town's history boasts several magnificent hotels.  Precisely to the left of the train station is the old Castaneda Hotel, which was built in 1889 as a jewel in Fred Harvey's famed chain of railroad hotels.  The front of the building and courtyard face the railroad track.  This hotel closed in 1948 but is now owned by Allan Affeldt, well known restorer of the LaPosada Hotel in Winslow AZ.  Renovation of this beautiful structure is planned for sometime in the future.

Track view

The side of the hotel faces the railroad station, and the back fronts onto Railroad street. 

A mannequin in a local antique store is dressed in the uniform of the "Harvey Girls" who staffed all of Fred Harvey's railroad hotels.  Harvey is credited with inventing the first restaurant chain with his hotels, restaurants, and shops at the major stops on the railroad. Started in 1876, there were 84 Harvey hotels along railroad lines.  He advertised for, and employed women from 18 to 32 years of age.  They earned $17.50 a month plus room and board, and signed a one year contract.  There were strict rules, as well at a 10 P.M. curfew, which helped to create the positive image of the "Harvey Girls". 

The Rawlins building on Railroad Ave was across the street from the hotel and was the home of the "Girls" for many years.  Although in sad shape, the building has a pressed metal front that is one of the last such structures in New Mexico.

There is much history here in Las Vegas,  which is actually two separate towns on opposite sides of the river.  Old Town, which existed before the railroad, and is laid out with central plazas in the Spanish style, and the younger New Town, near the railroad, laid out in a grid, like eastern cities.

Another fun thing about Las Vegas is learning how many movies have been filmed here, both in the past and currently.  In fact, the day we arrived there was a traffic jam on the main street because they were filming in one of the old houses.  No idea what it was for, but it was fun to see all the equipment and trailers clustered everywhere.

This is the Plaza park in Old Town, a very popular location for film crews.  Some of the movies filmed here were: Convoy, 1978; Speechless, 1994;   Easy Rider, 1969; Blind Horizon, 2003; and currently the TV series Longmire.

The beautifully renovated Plaza Hotel, that was built in 1882, has been in many films also.  In fact, it was the home of the silent-film producer Romaine Fielding, who in 1913 leased the entire hotel for his film crew to make the movie The Golden God, which cost $50,000 at that time.  A few more recent movies filmed in the hotel are The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez, 1982; and No Country for Old Men, 2007. 

On the left side of the hotel stands the Veeder buildings, built in 1815, and also used in the Longmire series.

In 1969, Easy Rider was filmed in front of the Romero Hose & Fire Company on Bridge Street, half a block from the Plaza

There were also many films made at the above mentioned Castaneda Hotel.  Red Dawn, 1984; Speechless, 1994; Blind Horizon, 2003; All the Pretty Horses, 2000, just to name a few.   There are many other locations in this interesting City that show up in movies.  Some  old movie theaters, Dairy Queens, the drive in, local restaurants, have all had bit parts in famous films.

The boom and bust cycles that Las Vegas has seen over the years is very evident in the many boarded up and crumbling buildings around both New and Old Towns, but there is currently a feeling of another coming boom cycle.  Regardless, it is a fun spot to visit.  Just outside Las Vegas there is the Pecos National Historic Park and a National Wildlife Refuge that we have visited.  More on that later.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Santa Fe, New Mexico

After leaving Brownsville, we stopped to visit good friends we had volunteered with at Bentsen Rio Grande State Park, the first year we decided to try out the Park Hosting experience.  Fred and Charlotte are full timers and are currently hosting at Colorado Bend State Park, west of Killeen, TX.

 To add to the excitement of seeing Fred and Charlotte again, there was a flood warning for the Colorado Bend area.  Just before we arrived, the park was closed and all the campers had to leave because the entrance to the Park required crossing a local creek.

When this creek rises it completely covers the road and it often takes several days to recede.  We decided to gamble that we would not be on the wrong side of this waterway.  We were right.  No flood while we were there.  All that water went on its way to Houston, and they certainly got more than their share.

Exploring some of Colorado Bend State Park with Fred and Charlotte

The Colorado River was on the other side of the flowers.  Charlotte and I were following a red tailed hawk flying across the river.

Park wildlife keeping the plant growth in check.

We spent three days exploring their new park, sharing some good food, and playing a few rounds of cards.  Great to touch bases with them again.  Charlotte suggested we take a short side trip to Santa Fe to see the Loretta Chapel, so we did just that.

Went on line to find an RV park to stay in that was close to the city and decided on one called Trailer Ranch.  As we were driving in, I realized it looked familiar.  Sure enough, we had stayed here back in 2007 with the Burwells and the Baldwins when we were on our way to the Balloon Festival in Albuquerque.  Julie had a picture to prove it.

Here we are today.

The building in the background of Julie's picture was torn down two months ago to make room for more RV sites.  In 2007 we stayed in site 11, this weekend we stayed in site 7.

Santa Fe is growing like all cities these days.  It has its share of fast food joints and strip malls,but the City requires that all the buildings be built in the adobe Pueblo style, so the entire town is beautiful sand or terra cotta color.

The Saint Francis Cathedral Basilica was built around an old parish church between 1869 and 1886. The Cathedral dominates one end of the famous "Plaza" of Santa Fe.  The design is of Romanesque Revival style, and is in contrast to the surrounding adobe structures. The Cathedral style was influenced by Jean Baptiste Lamy, who was the French-born Archbishop of Santa Fe when the Cathedral was built.


The "Palace of the Governor's", so named because this building was occupied by five different nations: Spain in 1610; Pueblos in 1680; Spain again in 1693, Mexico in 1821; the United States of America in 1846; and fifth, by the Confederate States during the Civil War; lastly again by the US Government.  This building is the oldest continually occupied public building in the United States and currently houses the New Mexico History Museum.

  The area under the overhanging roof is reserved for Native American artists to exhibit and sell their work.  I came away with several pieces of turquoise jewelry myself.

Interesting sights to be seen around the plaza.

Gallery art,

Beautiful art even on the stairways,

and doors,

On balconies,

and store fronts.

Color everywhere.

The Loretto Chapel is a stone Gothic building completed in 1878 and commissioned by the same Archbishop, Jean Baptiste Lamy, who built the Cathedral.  The chapel was part of a 10 building school for girls that, at one time, had 300 students. 

The small chapel, with outside dimensions of 100 long by 26 feet wide, left little space for an interior staircase.   When built, there were no stairs to the choir balcony.  In Europe it was the custom for the choir to be all male and they climbed a ladder up to the balcony.  With nuns' habits and girls' skirts that was impossible, so the nuns prayed for a solution. 

The legend told today claims the nuns prayers were answered by the sudden appearance of a carpenter, who set to work with only a saw, hammer, and a carpenter square to work with.  The story claims he completed this work of art in either 6 or 8 months, leaving without pay.

The chapel alter

The staircase makes two complete 360 degree turns and has no central support.  Wooden pegs hold the construction together.  Engineers today are still baffled as to how the staircase can remain standing and not collapse.  The original stairway had no railing, this was added about 10 years later, at the request of the school nuns.

View of the staircase and the choir loft above.

Today the chapel is privately owned. It is open to the public as a museum and for wedding ceremonies.  The minimal $3 entrance fee is used for chapel upkeep and repairs.  The beauty of the chapel interior creates a very moving experience.  Definitely a highlight for any visit to Santa Fe.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Resaca friends

The past month has raced by, filled with great activities, working in the park and enjoying the visitors here at Resaca de la Palma.  I have a lot to catch up on and certainly want to get it all in print so I will have a complete record for myself and anyone else who might want to see what there is to see in the Brownsville TX area.

The visitors center entrance at Resaca de la Palma.  This year we volunteered from March 14 to  April 15, 2016  

Inside the visitors center guests, friends, employees, and volunteers are greeted by Anay and Cynthia.  Weekends finds both greeting people, while during the week Cynthia holds down the front desk by herself.  These two women make coming to work a fun and "tasty" experience.  Lots of new food experiences happen just behind this wall.

Tram stop

I not only enjoyed driving the electric tram this year but I learned a great deal more about the park and the plants and trees in this habitat.  A majority of visitors to the park are "Winter Texans" like us and come from northern states.  It is fun sharing information with travelers about the unique surroundings here.

The bike shop

One of Marlin's jobs this year was repairing bicycles.  Mostly this consisted of fixing flat tires.  Since most all the trees here have some kind of thorn that usually end up in bike tires, there were always flats to be fixed.

Bird blind at the back of the visitors center.

Green Jays and cardinals are very common in this part of Texas.  This is a poor shot of one at the blind.

Cardinals everywhere.

The resaca at Resaca de la Palma State Park, taken from the first bridge.  Resaca is the same as an Oxbow lake, created when a loop in the Rio Grande River is cut off from the direct flow of river.  They can also be created when deep channels are created during flooding.  This park has four miles of resaca within its borders.

This year the park is allowing the resaca to dry out completely in order to remove invasive plant species that are clogging the waterways.  The good part of this plan is that the lower water level brings in more types of wading birds because the fishing is so good.

Lots of Ibis'

Flocks of Male and female Roseate Spoonbills

Great Egrets

Many Snowy Egrets

Several Black Crowned Night Herons were present each day.  I got a good shot of this immature while he was digesting his last catch.

Activities with the staff most often center around food.  For Melissa's birthday we went to lunch at the Mariscos Lauro Villar Restaurant.  The Seafood restaurant is owned by Carlos' brother-in-law, who honored us with some special attention that day.

Left to right:  Marlin; Pablo, the Park Superintendent; Ranger Carlos; Ranger Cynthia; Albert, Maintenance Director; and Melissa, Park Biologist.  Not all the staff and volunteers were able to join us that day.  Missing are Loren, the Office Manager;  Gloria, Park Naturalist; and Park Host Volunteers Steve and Jan Mondale

Our final day at the Park, everyone gathered in the office for breakfast.  Carlos brought barbacoa, Anay brought cactus salad, and we brought Dunkin Donuts.

Cactus salad.  Made from the very young pads of the prickly pear cactus, cilantro, onion. pepper, and tomato. 

This Barbacoa is made from beef and slow cooked until it can be shredded.  It is served in corn tortillas with cilantro, onion, and salsa.

Carlos and his wife Maria

A New England favorite!

Hard to say goodby to the wonderful people who have become like family here at Resaca.  We hope they will all come to visit us in Maine someday.