Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Canyon de Chelly National Monument in Chinle, AZ has been on our to do list for quite some time and this visit lived up to our expectations. There are only two nearby campgrounds and we opted for Cottonwood which is near the canyon entrance. It is dry camping, but has paved sites and is the closest to town. Canyon de Chelly (d'SHAY) is not only a natural wonder but also an important cultural site that has been inhabited for nearly 5000 years by various native people. 
While the canyon is a National Park Service site it is on the Navajo Nation and administered by the Navajo. Entrance into the canyon is restricted to tours with rangers or authorized native guides. We opted for the four hour tour from the Thunderbird Lodge which was by the campground. They used this six wheel drive vehicle with an open top. 
You can see why we liked this vehicle. The Chinle Wash still had a good bit of water from the spring snow melt. This wash will be bone dry after the snow in the mountains is gone.
It does not look like much but one of our fellow tourist's hat blew off and when our guide Dave went back to get it we started to sink in the quicksand. He had to use all six wheels to get us out. Wish I had gotten a picture of that hat lying atop the quicksand looking like there could be a person under it just like an old Western movie.
The canyon has many pictographs (paintings on the rock) and petroglyphs (images carved into the rock). Some of the very old ones were done by the Anasazi, the oldest Puebloan people, and their meaning is unknown. Here are a snake, a flute playing kokopelli, a dancer and hands marking people's presence.
The petroglyph on the left is from the time the Navajo occupied the canyon from 1700. It tells the story of how they helped a warrior who suffered from what we today call post traumatic stress disorder. The Navajo believed that to help a person they needed to make a robe from a hide with no arrow or spear holes. They would run down the deer until it was exhausted and then stuff corn meal into its nostrils to suffocate it. Then the undamaged skin would be made into a robe for the warrior.  
There are many ruins in the canyon dating back to the time of the Anasazi. The round structure in the middle is a kiva that was used for ceremonies. 
While the land inside the canyon is owned by many Navajo families who use it for farming and herding, very few people actually live there. They mainly use it in the summer when the kids are not in school since daily trips in and out of the canyon are very difficult.
More old ruins. While these early people were often called cliff dwellers, they where really Puebloans who built these communities (pueblos) on the canyon floor as well as in the walls. 
This is Navajo Fortress. In the late 1700's warfare erupted between the Navajo and the Spanish. When their efforts to fortify the lower canyon failed many went to the top of this butte for protection. Then in 1846 the US Army drove the Mexicans out and the area became part of the United States.   
This is the back of Navajo Fortress. Click on the picture to enlarge it and you can see a tree ladder they used to climb to safety. In 1863 the US Army under Kit Carson drove the Navajo out and destroyed the orchards and killed all there animals. They were marched 300 miles, known as The Long Walk, to Fort Sumner, New Mexico. They were allowed to return in 1868 but were dependent on the government since their property had been destroyed.
This pictograph shows the story of the Spanish coming into the canyon to attack the Navajo. The middle figure is the priest who accompanied the soldiers.
 This is a hogan that would be used by families during their trips into the canyon. There are forty Navajo families that own property inside the canyon. This ownership dates back to the time before the Spanish. A tour into the canyon is a must to get an understanding of the Navajo culture and the history in the area.
On day two we drove the canyon rim and hiked to the floor to see the White House ruins up close.
This is the only trail you are permitted to hike into the canyon. You can see the trail, farmland and Chinle Wash. There are two main canyons and a few smaller side ones. The main canyon was the only one that had water in it, even now in early spring.
The trail has two tunnels, one at the top to get over the rim and one at the bottom to get to the floor of the canyon. They say the hike is 2.5 miles but we found it to be a bit longer. It is 600 feet to the bottom.
The White House ruins gets it name from the white adobe on the house in the back. The lower part here is on the canyon floor near the wash.
What goes down must go up. Looking from the bottom to the rim. The trail is pretty easy with many switchbacks meaning it is not very steep.
Spider Rock rises over 800 feet from the canyon floor at the junction of Canyon de Chelly and the smaller Monument Canyon. One of the things that makes Canyon de Chelly unique is you can see the mouth of the canyon, which was near the campground, and then within a few miles you can look down on to the top of this 800 foot spire.
While White House Trail is the only one you are allowed to hike down into the canyon we found a couple others. Look carefully and you can see a trail along the opposite wall and then down a ladder into the cut that is partly in shade. At the bottom you can see the line of the path through the trees. It is not a trail for the faint of heart. 
Looking down on the farmland where they grow crops along the Chinle Wash. It is hard to believe ancient people could survive and thrive in such a harsh climate but then you realize the Navajo continue to thrive in the same conditions today. 
Massacre Cave is the site where the Spanish killed about 115 Navajo who took shelter there. The Spanish discovered them and killed them all by firing down from the rim above. We really liked Canyon de Chelly and seeing all the ancient dwellings from a distance has us looking forward to visiting Mesa Verde where we can get an up close look.

Because we have been busy and have had slow internet connections I'm a bit behind with the blog. We have been to Monument Valley (our next post) and are now in Cortez, CO for a week to explore Mesa Verde and the area.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Family in DC - Friends in ABQ

As I said in an earlier post, we decided to fly to Washington, DC to see Nanc's younger sister who was recently diagnosed with cancer. It was her birthday and her other siblings were also there. We had a great weekend getting caught up and are happy to report that Michelle is doing very well. We left Albuquerque at 6am on Delta and were fortunate to make it to Washington as it was the day Delta had cancelled nearly 3,000 flights.
Jim, Nanc, Keith, Dave, Michelle, Judy and Braedon out to dinner. We have not all been together for a couple years so there sure was a lot of reminiscing and story telling going on. 
My new friend Spartacus, Sparta for short. He is a labradoodle who is more of a lap dog than the warrior his names implies. He did enjoy having many people to throw the ball and Frisbee.  
We did a day trip to Old Town in Alexandria. The weather was beautiful and we walked along the river and just soaked up the sun. It was the weekend of the Cherry Blossom Festival so we stayed out of downtown Washington. 
The four Scott siblings Judy, Dave, Nanc and Michelle. Judy drove in from Ohio, Dave flew in from Seattle and Nanc and I flew from Albuquerque.
Dave's grandson, Braedon, has become his traveling partner. They have been on several trips together. He is a great kid even though he is a Seahawks fan.  He sure has changed since we last saw him in 2009. 
Another day we visited National Harbor. This is The Awakening, a very neat sculpture that used to be in East Potomac Park in the city. We always took the seventh graders there on the DC field trip. 
National Harbor is a newer, commercial development with a convention center, hotels, shops and restaurants. My favorite store is Peeps. Here is the link to the Washington City Paper winners of the diorama contest that uses "Peeple" to celebrate current events. The contest has been a favorite of ours for years and it was neat seeing some of the entries.
A few of the statues at National Harbor; Henry Ford, Churchill and FDR, Rosie the Riveter, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.
Our yacht awaits. The Capital Wheel is 180 feet high and offers fantastic views of  the sites in nearby Washington. We opted to keep our feet on the ground.
The whole gang was on hand. We had a great time making Michelle's birthday a weekend long event. She has just started a new treatment and seems to be tolerating it much better than the chemo she had been undergoing. We were so happy that she is doing well and have already made plans to see her and Keith in North Carolina in July.
Family portrait Keith, Sparta and Michelle. We all had a fun time sharing stories and laughing about all the crazy things we have done over the years. They were great hosts putting up with all our foolishness. 
This was as close as we got to the city, taking off at National Airport. I love having a window seat to watch the world pass by and how the land changes as you fly over America.
I enjoy trying to pick out places I know. This is Snowshoe Ski Resort in West Virginia. Nanc's skiing days ended at the bottom of Cupp Run, the long slope on the right, when she went down and tore up her knee.
 Flying east to west the land changes from forest to farm to prairie with the big crop circles showing where the climate gets dry. I could see a lot of windmills even in the oil fields of West Texas.
During our first year on the road we contacted Larry Stone whom I worked with at my first teaching job. At that time it had been nearly 30 years since we had seen him. We got together with Larry and Amy and now try to see them every time we are in Albuquerque. Since we were here for an extended stay we invited them for dinner and really enjoyed spending a few hours relaxing and getting caught up on all that has been happening in our lives. As we always say, seeing friends and family while traveling has become the best thing about our RV lifestyle.  

We are leaving Albuquerque and have reservations in Canyon de Chelly, Monument Valley and Cortez, Colorado over the next couple of weeks. We will have limited Internet coverage at the first two stops this week but, hopefully, I won't get too far behind on the blog.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Trinity Site and the VLA

We left Deming at 9:00 am, early for us, because afternoon winds were expected to be bad. This is something one needs to be aware of when traveling in the West. We have seen many reports often times when we have been out here of big rigs being blown over. We only had 160 miles to travel to get to Socorro where we wanted to visit the Trinity Site and the VLA. 
The day we went to Mexico from Deming we had considered a trip to Hatch, the chile growing capital of America. After driving through Hatch on our way to Socorro it looks like a return visit is in order. This is one of many stands selling everything chiles. 
When we visited Alamogordo in April 2009 we just missed the chance to visit the Trinity Site which is only open to the public the first Saturday of April and September. The Trinity Site is where the first atomic bomb was tested on July 16, 1945. The entrance to the site is about twenty miles from Socorro and as you can see there was, as we expected, a wait. We were in line about two miles from the entrance when the gate opened at 8:00 am. It took about an hour to get to the gate and it was then a few more miles to the site on the White Sands Missile Range
Ground zero is fenced and has a maximum radiation level only ten times greater than natural background radiation. Many places on Earth have higher levels. An hour visit gives you less exposure than a cross country flight. The development of the bomb was the goal of the Manhattan Project that started in June 1942 in Oak Ridge, TN; Hanford, WA and Los Alamos, NM. 
Here I am inside what is left of Jumbo, a twenty foot long, 10 foot diameter bomb weighing 214 tons that was originally designed to contain the plutonium if the bomb failed to explode. As they gained confidence that the bomb would work, Jumbo was not used. It was place under a steel tower 800 yards from ground zero. Jumbo survived, the tower did not. In 1946 the Army used eight 500 pound bombs to blow the ends off.
Even the glow of radiation was not enough to keep Nanc warm as she used the Geiger Counter to check the radiation levels of several objects on display.
Trinitite, also known as atomsite or Alamogordo glass, was formed at the site when the heat of the explosion melted the sand, turning it to glass. It has a very low level of radiation and can be bought at local rock shops. It is illegal to take any from ground zero.
Nanc at ground zero. While there was higher levels of radiation after the bomb exploded the site was "cleaned up" in the early '50s and the soil was buried.
Jim at ground zero. All that happened here was after WWII had ended in Europe and the Allies had already started preparation for the invasion of Japan. Success by the scientists here would mean that invasion, where thousands of Americans would have lost their lives, would not be needed. Since my father was back from Europe and training for that invasion I always felt I may not be here if the bomb had not been developed.
We arrived early so the crowd was not that big. Over 4,600 people visited the site this day. Many drive in from Socorro like we did, but you can also come in from Alamogordo, 85 miles to the south. Those coming from the south must meet and travel with an escorted convoy across the missile range.
The George McDonald ranch house two miles from ground zero is where the bomb core of plutonium was assembled in the master bedroom that had been turned into a clean room. After it was assembled the scientists loaded it into the back of a Chrysler Plymouth and drove it to the site.
The assembled bomb atop the 100 foot tower. The wires were connected to three bunkers 10,000 yards away where all the instruments to measure its yield were located. No one really knew what the explosion would be like.  Some predicted failure while others thought it would set off a chain reaction and destroy the world. Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, head of the Los Alamos National Lab, had the most accurate prediction of  the 19-kiloton explosion.
The bomb exploding from .006 second (top left), to .100 second (bottom left). Bottom right is the classic mushroom cloud 15 seconds into the explosion. A military policeman 10 miles away said the heat was like opening an oven. One of the scientists said it was like the heat of the sun on your face, then after a few minutes the real sunrise followed so they had two sunrises that day. The explosion was felt 160 miles away, breaking windows 120 miles from ground zero. The Army's cover story was a huge stockpile of munitions had exploded.
Just three weeks after this test at Trinity the first of two bombs was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6th. Three days later Fat Man (above) was dropped on Nagasaki. While these bombs caused greater damage than any previous explosion, much of the radiation blew away because they were detonated at 2000 feet above the cities. On August 15th the Japanese surrendered, V-J Day, followed by the formal surrender on board the USS Missouri on September 2nd, bringing an end to a war that had started in Europe on September 1, 1939.
As we were leaving these protesters were at the entrance. They are down-winders, who were in the range of radioactive fallout from the explosion. Those who lived near Trinity and others who lived down wind from later tests in Arizona, Nevada and Utah have suffered increased rates of cancer. 
For anyone who grew up during the time of duck and cover drills like I did, a visit to the Trinity Site will be very interesting. 
The weather we had in Socorro was less than ideal with high winds, rain and even some snow at higher elevations. We did manage to squeeze in both the things we wanted to do without getting wet and the snow capped high plains and mountains were beautiful from afar.
The other thing on our to do list was a tour of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory's Very Large Array (VLA). The array is 50 miles west of Socorro on the high plains at 7000 feet. From a distance they don't really look like much.
The Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array is 27 radio telescopes arranged in three groups which are turned on the same point in the universe together giving them more gathering ability. They can be moved to four different locations along these rails. When we were there they were at configuration D with all of them within a half mile of the center. At their furthest they are 11 miles from the center or 22 miles apart. 
The array was built between 1973 and 1980 and in addition to its scientific use has been used in TV shows and movies. They were featured in Carl Sagan's Cosmos and several movies including Contact staring Jodie Foster, who narrates the visitors center video.
They don't look big sitting on the plains with nothing else nearby but when you get up close they are huge. At 82 feet across and weighing over 200 tons it dwarfs Nanc standing under it.  
The dishes are moved to new locations every three or four months, using two specially built carriers that move on the double set of rails. Each move takes about three weeks depending on which configuration they are moving to. 
The sculpture reflects the three paths that the dishes move along. 
The results of some of the observatory's work. It is used to investigate galaxies, quasars, pulsars, supernovas, stars, suns, planets, and black holes. It was used to communicate with Voyager 2 in 1989 as it moved beyond Neptune. A very impressive array of work.  
The barn where the dishes are updated and the extra dish that is on stand by if there is a problem with one of them. In 2011 a major update was completed on all the dishes increasing there power to over 8,000 times better than the original 1970's technology.
WOW, we got to see them move!!! While we were there all the dishes moved to a new position. It was like watching a synchronized dance as they changed direction together. Very Neat!!!   
The VLA is a great stop in the New Mexico high desert. If you are there on the first Saturday of the month they have special guided and behind the scenes tours. The self-guided tour was very informative with an easy to follow guide.
The VLA is on open range so watch out for the cows. How cool it is, these dishes looking 26,000 light years, 150 quadrillion miles into the universe under the gaze of these cows. Socorro was a great little town with a couple good restaurants and I was able to scratch two things off my to do list.