Archive for the ‘santa fe’ Tag

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

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.

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?