Archive for the ‘new mexico’ Tag

White Sands National Monument

A bit of natural scenery for a change. In a rather desolate corner of New Mexico lies one of the most photogenic spots in North America, White Sands National Monument. It’s a unique sand composition, being water soluble gypsum which is a brilliant, eye-burning white color. The other big sand-based national monument / park lies several hundred miles north on the west side of the Sangres, Great Sand Dunes National Monument.

Both depend on water. Since White Sands lies in a basin with no outlet, any moisture interacting with the gypsum pretty much goes straight into the ground, or is dried out by the hot weather. Great Sand Dunes is a bit different, with the sand being carried by the nearby river downstream away from the Sangres, and winds blowing the sand back towards the mountains and depositing the sands in the dunes.

White Sands is open in the daytime with extended hours during the full moon. I caught one of these full moon evenings and it’s really spectacular. I also hiked out to the flats in a 5 mile loop. Photographing here is a bit tricky, actually, as really small grains of sand muck up the camera sensors and deposit all sorts of tiny particles on the lenses.


More textures

Still more textures!

Sunset over White Sands


Aspens, Northern New Mexico

This is the title of a famous photograph by Ansel Adams, which he shot in 1958 driving along the road to the Santa Fe ski area. Evidently he was on a photo trip with some of his famous friends, and stumbled on this scene after a less-than-productive day searching for the perfect shot. One of his other great photos, with the moon and lenticular clouds over the Sangres, also was a chance shot, so I guess that’s a lesson to look for opportunity under the most ordinary of circumstances.

Ansel Adams, Aspens, Northern New Mexico, 1958 (from Christie's)

Ansel Adams, Aspens, Northern New Mexico, 1958 (from Christie’s). Expensive!

I’ve been trying to find the spot where he took it, and I think I found it, a small clearing on the right side of the road as you drive up to the ski area. It’s been nearly sixty years since the photo was taken, so most likely the trees have grown up or died, but it has a familiar background of a few trees growing on the side of the cliff and a small flat area with thick grass and shrubs.

Aspens, Northern New Mexico, October 2016

Aspens, Northern New Mexico, October 2016

Aspens in detail!

Aspens in detail!

A bit further up the road, pines in the fog. Given the amount of moss, this is probably a pretty wet area.

A bit further up the road, pines in the fog. Given the amount of moss, this is probably a pretty wet area.



Los Alamos, New Mexico’s first suburb

Los Alamos was secret for many years, especially during the Manhattan Project. Even though the town was opened to the public in 1957, today it remains an isolated community 45 minutes from Santa Fe. But for a town of less than 20,000 people, it’s got a worldwide reputation, mostly for the lab. The lab is off-limits to the public, but the town isn’t.

Los Alamos is definitely not known for its buildings, but for the most part, downtown and the early neighborhoods are a time capsule of postwar suburbia. This was the first modern suburb in New Mexico, starting with the housing in the former golf course and pasture that is now known as the Western Area. These structures were built in the late 1940s, to replace the temporary housing during the Manhattan Project, and also to give the area a sense of normalcy (right). It’s hard to tell today, but somehow these slightly ragged houses are the homes of millionaires. Los Alamos is a demographic bubble, one of the richest places in the United States, with one of the highest concentrations of PhDs in the country, and you would never guess it. There are very few chain stores, lots of churches, and few visual signs of prosperity. It’s a company town, whose fortunes go up and down with the government budgets. The surroundings are spectacularly beautiful, rich in archaeological sites, with the artistically vital, economically struggling pueblos of San Ildefonso and Santa Clara nearby.

I took a walk through the Western Area, and it’s got a variety of housing, most of it modified beyond recognition. Parts of it were burned in the Cerro Grande fire of 2000, which sizzled a good portion of the town and the lab. Obviously aesthetics are not part of scientists’ vocabularies, but there are a few examples of nifty stuff worth looking at.

The general house plans for the Western Area were flat-roofed houses, in a mix of duplexes and single family homes. Their distinguishing feature was the flat roof, and for the duplexes, two brick columns along the front that made for a bit of variety. The street plan yells planned development, with curvy streets interspersed with a few dead ends and a park in the center of the development. As I mentioned, it’s hard to find houses that look original, or nearly original. Many have been tastelessly redone, unfortunately.

Typical Western Area duplex

Typical Western Area duplex


Western Area 2 bedroom single

Western Area 2 bedroom single

And then there is a well-preserved neighborhood of houses from Denver Steel, modest dwellings made of steel, less than 900 square feet in size. They are plain, simple dwellings, and are located in what I would guess to be the wrong side of the tracks, for Los Alamos, anyways. Despite the rather ragged neighborhood, they seem to have survived without major changes.

Denver Steel home in need of restoration

Denver Steel home in need of restoration

Finally, there’s the Lustron houses, a short-lived prefabricated house built just after World War II. These are rather interesting houses, only about 1500 remain in the U.S., and five of them are in Los Alamos. They came in a rather bland color scheme, with these square porcelain-enameled steel panels, a signature squiggly column near the entrance, and a steel roof that also acted as a heating element. The steel roofs look brand new, 60+ years on, the sides of the buildings are a mixed bag. Chipping of the enamel sped up the rusting process very quickly. The New Mexico ones seem to have avoided the problem due to the very dry climate. And, these are funky houses, steel inside and out, so decorating the walls must have been a task! Cleaning them is theoretically easy, just a hose-down. They deserve to be on the National Register of Historic Places, and have a devoted following for retro aficionados.

Lustron, 3 bedroom home, Westchester style. Note the signature curved column

Lustron, 3 bedroom home, Westchester style. Note the signature curved column

Route 66, Albuquerque

It’s America’s most recognized highway that doesn’t officially exist. Route 66 was decommissioned in segments from 1977-1985, leaving a slowly decaying, but much-loved jumble of quintessentially American images, a thin ribbon of now discontinuous asphalt stretching from Chicago to Los Angeles.

Route 66 passes through Albuquerque, New Mexico, along Central Avenue. It remains a busy commercial artery, with plenty of neon signs, wacky motels, and a wide slice of life. Since my first visit in 2005, much has been lost. A number of historic motels have been razed, others are fenced off and empty, others are barely hanging on as low-cost housing. And some are still well-restored motels. It’s still one of the best urban sections of Route 66, despite the recent changes.

Tewa Lodge, 5715 E. Central

Tewa Lodge (1946), 5715 Central Ave. NE


Zia Lodge (1940), 4611 Central Ave. SE, demolished


Aztec Motel (1931), 3821 Central Ave. NE, demolished


DeAnza Motor Lodge (1939), 4301 Central Ave. NE


Hiway House (1958), 3200 Central Ave. SE

Kimo Theater (1927), 423 Central Ave. NW

Kimo Theater (1927), 423 Central Ave. NW

New Mexico awesomeness

After driving nearly cross-country, I’ve been here in Northern New Mexico a few weeks, taking in all sorts of events and enjoying the scenery. Monsoon season is in full swing, which dictates caution hiking in the mountains, while making for some remarkable cloud formations and a nicely green landscape. And in Santa Fe, there’s the Indian Market and opera season, so there’s plenty to do, see, and experience.

Just a few pics of Santa Fe, the Sangres, and the Jemez. . .

Tailgating, Santa Fe Opera style

Tailgating, Santa Fe Opera style

View from Atalaya Peak (9121', 2780 m)

View from Atalaya Peak (9121′, 2780 m)

Valle Grande from Cerro Grande

Valle Grande and the Jemez from Cerro Grande (10207′, 3111 m)

Thunderstorm from White Rock Overlook

Thunderstorm from White Rock Overlook

Spring riding

Spring riding, warm temps, cloudless skies, mini-ponds, sunscreen, music, beer, long days, soaked gloves, stinky boots, it doesn’t get much better than this. Two days in northern New Mexico, at Taos and Ski Santa Fe:

rubber duckies, lift station, Taos

Dirty mashed potatoes, Taos

Last day of the season, Ski Santa Fe

Looking towards Sandia Crest (50 miles) from Ski Santa Fe

Snowboard boots + no socks = damp, icky boots. Yum.


And in typical Southwest fashion, spring was rudely interrupted by snow the following day, leaving a fresh 20″ of snow up at Taos.

More fall pics

From October 20-22, 2010, around Flagstaff, Arizona, and Los Alamos, New Mexico. The colors were at their peak. Enjoy!

I started with a drive northwest of Flagstaff, and up a very muddy Hart Prairie Road. A series of thunderstorms had swept through the area a couple hours before, and the storms were just clearing out.

Hart Prairie Road, north of Flagstaff

Aspens, north of Flagstaff

Clearing storm, San Francisco Peaks

I drove 400 miles east to Los Alamos, New Mexico. The ski area above the town, Pajarito Mountain, had been badly burned by the 2000 Cerro Grande fire. The aspens are rapidly growing up where the pine trees used to be, and it made for a colorful scene of still-blackened pines against the golden aspens.

Bit of red showing up

Pajarito Mountain, Los Alamos

Colorado and New Mexico, March-April 2010, part 2

From Alamosa, Colorado, which is a somewhat grim town in the middle of the San Luis Valley, I drove west towards Durango, with a detour up the Rio Grande to Creede, CO. I saw a photograph taken about 70 years ago, during this color photographic survey of the U.S. during World War II, and decided to visit the town. It’s a tiny town of Victorian structures in a magnificent setting, shoved up against a deep canyon, and probably has changed little in the intervening years. The road to Creede, CO 149, is mostly flat, following the meander of the Rio Grande as it winds through a very colorful canyon before opening up further upstream.

Creede, CO, 1942, from the Library of Congress

Creede, CO, 2010

Abandoned church above Creede

I spent the night in Durango, which had grown quite a bit since my last visit in 2003. It’s on the verge of getting overdeveloped and has started to acquire that urban sprawl that shouldn’t belong in the Colorado mountains, but the downtown area is quite pretty, and the setting is also quite beautiful. The winds were ferocious, and it was awfully dusty, though.

Durango, CO

My destination was Santa Fe for the evening, via Chaco Canyon, formally Chaco Culture National Historical Park, a little-visited national park and UNESCO site that’s quite a ways off the paved, but not-so-beaten path. It’s just over two hours driving south of Durango. The landscape changes quickly, and becomes the familiar wide open land associated with New Mexico, blue skies, mesas, and ashy gray cottonwood trees.

I stopped first at Aztec Ruins National Monument, which is located in the not-so-Aztec styled town of Aztec, New Mexico. The ruins were the termination of one of the ‘roads’ that led to Chaco Canyon, while the town itself is cute in a Victorian, wild West sort of way.

The road into the park defines the kind of place it is, quite isolated, with one recommended route into the park, which involves more then 20 miles of driving, most of it on dirt and gravel roads. So with the difficulty of access, none of my friends based in New Mexico have actually visited, and on this weekday, there were perhaps 20-30 people total in the park.

Chaco Canyon is an unlikely place for a large human settlement. The ruins are extensive, the landscape not so spectacular as much as it is forbidding and unforgiving. Temperatures that day were in the 40’s, with a stiff wind and plenty of dust, and this place is known for temperature extremes, from 102 F to -38 F. The source of water on the canyon floor was dried up. I’d say that it’s not visually beautiful, but atmospheric in the odd shapes and geometry of the ruins, and geologically fascinating as well. This used to be prime beachfront property tens of millions of years ago, so the rocks are filled with fossils of everything from shrimp burrows to shellfish.

Chaco Canyon, we're not in Kansas anymore

I took a tour of the large Pueblo Bonito ruins, then hiked up to the top of the canyon for a 6 mile loop that gave me a birds-eye view of the various houses and ruins along the way. The layout of the large ‘houses’ are difficult to grasp from ground level. The trail up to the canyon rim is quite interesting, squeezing in through a very narrow cut in the rock, in places barely 2 feet wide, and after about 300 feet of climbing, you reach the top of the canyon. The vistas are not one of overwhelming beauty, for a state of superlatives, this is relatively drab. But for an already sparsely populated state, this is a remote, silent, isolated place.

Pueblo Bonito, the rockfall on the right happened in the 1940s

Pueblo Alto

Pueblo Bonito from above, note the D shape, the numerous kivas, and the rockslide that took out a good chunk of the ruins

And finally, one of my personal favorite vistas, from White Rock Overlook in Los Alamos. The view extends from Sandia Crest to Taos.

White Rock Overlook, looking northeast

Colorado and New Mexico, March-April 2010, part 1

Now that I’m unemployed (anyone want to hire a highly qualified biochemist?), I seem to have plenty of time on my hands.

So with the help of an Epic Pass, the string of Colorado resorts along or near the I-70 corridor are within financial reach.

March 30- After a 90 minute drive the night before from Albuquerque to Espanola, I drove the last 60 miles to Taos. This was my first legitimate spring riding day this season, with a cool breeze on the ridgeline, slush at the bottom, and one lousy last run down an icy Al’s run. I got on the road by around 4:30 PM and drove north along the spine of the Sangre de Cristos to Salida, CO. This is the wickedest range in Colorado, a jagged ridgeline rising 6000 feet from the San Luis Valley, somewhat reminiscent of the Sierras and the Owens Valley in California.

The Sangre de Cristos

March 31- Breckenridge, turned out to be the only nice day, packed powder at the top, with moderate winds, a bit icy in the middle and windy, and spring slush and warm temps at the bottom. It was a smooth drive from Salida with great views of the University Range, with the exception of a near wipeout on an icy spot on the hairpin turns of Hoosier Pass. Good times otherwise. They groom the resort perfectly, and the various rollers and hits are fun to bomb down. It’s not a steep mountain overall, though.

Mt. Princeton and Buena Vista, CO

Top of Imperial Express, Breckenridge, looking north

April 1- Beaver Creek, dust on some very rough crust in the morning, which became a whiteout by late morning, and continual snowfall and winds in the afternoon. The snowfall turned a crappy day into a great one, despite a broken binding that needed fixing. The bonus was getting over Vail Pass during that 45 minute window of being open, otherwise I would have been stuck in a shelter in Vail for the night. But the driving was downright hazardous.

Mid-afternoon break in the weather, Beaver Creek

April 2- Breckenridge, powder day in early April. No, not bottomless stuff, but still excellent. It was downright cold, though, luckily I packed the cold weather gear.

April 3- Breckenridge, this time it lived up to its moniker Breckenfridge. Rode the top lifts until it was shut down due to high winds in early afternoon. The crowds were minimal, nobody was riding the top lift, although the snow was excellent. Oh, and I think the reason why was the beerfest in town.

April 4- Keystone, okay half day, since I went all out the past five days. The sun finally came out, although it was still somewhat unsettled. Hooked up with another solo rider who showed me some of the goods in the woods. And he proceeded to take multiple bong hits, Keystoned indeed. Then it was back south towards New Mexico, via Climax, Leadville, Alamosa. . .

Leadville, CO

April 10- An afternoon at Ski Santa Fe, probably my last day this season, nothing exceptional, but it was outstanding snow cover for New Mexico, which had an excellent season, and I hiked the peak behind the top lift. It’s a 15 minute walk or so at 12,000+ feet, and, it looks like excellent backcountry / sidecountry descents back there, but well, I’ll save it for another day and do it with a partner.

Obligatory self-portrait at the summit, showing off my $2 beanie purchased in Morocco

Sangre de Cristos in New Mexico, Santa Fe Baldy and Truchas Peaks

So that’s my season, 21 days. I was hoping for more, but who knows?

Taos weekend

I finally got to Taos mid-season, where everything was open. I chose a fine day to experience it. Last time I was there, the ridges were mostly closed, and it was still early season. Since then, a lot has happened, which has curtailed my snowboarding days by a lot.

At least on this day, it was sunny, the conditions were quite good, the snow was fine, and the winds relatively calm, so I spent most of the day hiking the ridges. The lifts take you to a top elevation of 11819 feet (3603 m), and to access the hard stuff, and a lot of the goods, you need to hike the ridges, accessed from the upper terminus of the top lift. One extends to the right towards the ‘front side’, mostly shorter stuff that involves hiking up about 30-40 feet vertical and about 5-10 minutes, the other ridge goes left towards Kachina Peak, which is the top of the resort, at 12481 feet (3805 m). After doing a few runs on the front side stuff, I decided around 12:30 to hike to Kachina Peak. This hike is a good 45 minutes, and involves the 662 foot vertical difference, and a few ups and downs, so it’s more like 800+ feet up in the process, and more than a mile of hiking. At elevation.

West view from the beginning of the hike

After plenty of huffing and puffing from this sea level dweller, passing a few people, and being passed by others, I made it to the top. I was tired and feeling like a swamp dweller by the time I got there. The views are magnificent, encompassing a wide swath of New Mexico and Colorado, from the Jemez Mountains to the San Juans and Sangre de Cristos.

Yours truly at the peak.

The view from 12500'

Luckily I was rewarded by a fantastic powder descent, and a well-deserved beer at the Bavarian at the bottom. Normally I don’t imbibe on the slopes, but I made an exception for this occasion.

A nice 18 oz. Oktoberfest beer waiting for me.

A note on the origins of the trail names at Taos Ski Valley: you’ll notice from the trail map a mix of German and Spanish names, reflecting the roots of the founder Ernie Blake, and the state of New Mexico. So a couple of the names stand out, Stauffenberg and Tresckow, who were among the people who died in the failed plot to assassinate Hitler in 1944.

About to drop in!

To cap it off, I witnessed a very nice sunset as I crossed into Colorado.