Into the Heartlands

In the week since we left Mesa Verde, we’ve covered hundreds of miles as we finally make a serious attempt to head back toward Michigan. The hours spent in the truck are not the fun part of the trip by any means, and we keep finding places we’d like to linger. All of the sudden, there’s no time for that.

We left Mesa Verde in a blizzard of snow and sleet.20160501_110525 It seemed like a great idea to wait out the bad weather for a day or two in Durango, a picturesque cowboy town not far away, but at a substantially lower elevation. We spent one day checking out the brewpubs and walking the streets of this gorgeous (tourist trap) town.20160429_14105520160429_14073920160429_14033920160429_144429 It’s the kind of place in which you can instantly picture yourself leading an idyllic life. Trees and flowers were performing their spring blooming act, and it couldn’t have been more pleasant. We watched the Durango Narrow Guage Railroad Train pull into the station. What a thrill.

Getting back to our roots on Day 2, we decided to hike a portion of the Colorado Trail, which stretches nearly 500 miles from Durango to Denver. Although there were probably 20 cars at the trailhead, the Trail itself was pretty quiet.20160430_102808 With Jezzy in tow, we wandered along a very fast-moving creek, up and up to Gudy’s Rest at about 9000′ – a perfect lunch spot.20160430_12140320160430_121326 By the time we got back to the truck, we had covered just over eight miles – a good workout for us, especially in thin air.

Weather once again thwarted our travel plans to Great Sand Dunes National Park. Getting there would have involved crossing the 12,000′ Wolf Creek Pass. Predictions were for 4-7″ of blowing snow on our travel day, which would likely require us to install our tire chains to cross the Pass. We carry chains, as required, but have successfully avoided having to use them. So, we poured over our maps for an hour, and elected to go with Plan B – a run south to Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico. It turned out to be a great decision.

An excellent campsite in an empty campground was ours for three nights for the grand total of $18 (love our National Parks Senior Pass). 20160501_173619There’s a big population of Abert’s Squirrels here, which drove Jezzy nuts! I’ve never seen anything like these critters with their big white chests and long ears. I tried to get a photo, but these were always chasing each other around, so here’s a photo of a photo from the Visitor Center.20160502_123310Here, there are cliff dwellings, talus houses, petroglyphs and an excellent museum housed in a beautiful CCC-era building.20160502_10374020160502_111612 20160502_122404We scrambled up 140′ ladders to visit Alcove House. 20160502_110937Our first day of exploration was finished off with a four mile hike to a high waterfall in a narrow canyon.20160502_134427 I was baffled by these big dots on this tree until I realized that it was resin or sap from the injury of limb removal. Maybe it’s just my newfound interest in trees, but this really intrigued me.20160502_140346One of the other reasons we wanted to visit Bandelier is that it’s located in Los Alamos, NM, site of the Manhattan Project. Teams of scientists worked secretly to develop the atomic bomb in the 1940s. We figured there HAD to be a great museum there, as well as many related sights. Well……no and yes.

The Bradbury Science Museum is devoted to the exploration of nuclear physics. Of course, a big historical portion of that is the Manhattan Project. The pale guy is Robert Oppenheimer.20160503_122245 Parts of the Museum were interesting, but most of the Museum required a very high level of knowledge to explore. I will admit to understanding about 1% of what I saw. John definitely scored higher – having taken some college physics classes. But it was baffling – here are a couple of photos to back me up on this.20160503_123132 We decided that it should be called the Bradbury Science Museum for Scientists.

But, the history of Los Alamos is intriguing. Basically, the US Government commandeered the property in the town under eminent domain, and established the Los Alamos National Laboratory. A full-scale building project began, and scientists and their families were gathered. We viewed the homes of Robert Oppenheimer and Enrico Fermi, which are now both private residences. The entire town of Los Alamos seems to be offices of the Department of Energy. There are dozens of Tech Centers scattered around, and many super-fit, military types are seen everywhere. There’s a feeling of being on high alert. I rode my bike in from Bandelier, and had to pass through a security checkpoint on the highway. Stuff like that…But, what other town will have live images from Mars posted on a video board next to a brewery? You gotta love that!20160503_125516Leaving Bandelier, we stormed through northern New Mexico and into Oklahoma for a brief one-night stay at Black Mesa State Park. 20160504_153959Petrified wood, dinosaur tracks, and a deserted campground were the highlights – temps in the mid 70s!

One more long day on the road brought us into Kansas to Cheney State Park. We made several interesting stops along the way. Liberal, Kansas (the city, not the ideology) has promoted itself as the Land of Oz.20160505_120304 20160505_120732We visited Dorothy’s house, and John listed for the Tin Man’s heart.20160505_120533 They get points for effort, but it was pretty lame.

Our second stop was even sillier – the sight of the secret tunnel of the Dalton Gang of the 1880s.20160505_125926 We didn’t open our wallets to visit the secret tunnel (re-created, not original), but I did get a photo of the dead Daltons after the big shootout.20160505_130524 Our last stop of the day was more interesting. Greensburg is the home of the Big Well, the biggest, deepest well in the world dug by hand. It’s 109′ deep and about 32′ across. Stairs allow you to climb down about 50′ into the well, which is rather creepy.20160505_143630 But, it is overshadowed by the story of the destruction of the entire town of Greensburg by a Force 5 tornado on May 4, 2007. Everything was demolished. The Visitor Center highlights the reconstruction – all the homes, schools, churches here are less than 10 years old. It’s amazing. This is one of those crazy little places that I’m very happy to have visited.

After a super long day on the road, we were delighted to find an entire loop at Cheney State Park with no other campers. Everyone is jammed down in the sites with electric and water, and we’re hanging out by ourselves in the tent section. It’s a great ending to a busy day.20160505_171849If you’ve stuck with this post to the end – thanks. It’s rather disjointed – I realize that the longer I go between posts, the less sense everything seems to make when I try to put it together. So, a few photos pasted together with a bit of commentary is all I can manage. It’s been a great trip – we’re both anxious to get home, but not quite ready yet to get back to real life. So, we race on to the Big Finish.


17 thoughts on “Into the Heartlands

  1. Just think, you still have Great Sand Dunes NP on your bucket list for another day. It’s one of my favorite places …. very etherial and other worldly. It’s one of the few National Parks I’ve ever seen where there are no trails. You just head off into the dunes where ever and how ever you please. The approach is via crossing a slow shallow beautiful stream to the dunes which are backed up by snow capped peaks rising high into the sky. It truly is a sight to behold :-)


    • Neil, we’ve left plenty of places for the ‘next’ trip. There’s so much to see and do….

      We’ve got lots of sand dunes in Michigan, so we are used to that kind of walking – two feet forward, one foot back. We loved Bandelier, so there’s no remorse for having to change plans. When you camp small, like we both do, the weather is too important to ignore. Overall we’ve been pretty lucky with the way things have turned out.

      Thanks for checking in. Do you and Yoly have any big camping adventures planned?


  2. I love that you find such fascinating and fun places without tons of pre-planning and reservations. Your adventures are so exciting as they unfold before you. Looking forward to seeing you when you get back.


    • It looks casual, but we spend hours planning, and pouring over maps trying to figure out where to go. Sometimes it works, but we’ve had a number of pretty spectacular failures, too. ;-)

      I’ve been surprised by how pretty Kansas is, even though it’s so flat you can practically see from one end to another. Spring is in full force here, the weather is perfect, and we enjoyed poking around some oddball spots.


  3. When I was in the Peace Corps in Africa, I was lowered by a rope down a hand dug well that was 30 meters deep. It wasn’t nearly as wide as the one you show in your picture here. The diggers kept a lizard down there to see if there were any poisonous gases coming in much like coal miners would take a bird down with them. It was pretty scary at the bottom. It was all dark, and when I looked up, the light from the top of the well looked about the size of a quarter. I didn’t linger down there. I barely hit bottom when I tugged on the rope to have them bring me back up. Gave me a lot of respect for the well diggers that went down there for an hour or two at a time and sent the dirt back up one bucket at a time.


    • You are far braver than I, Carolyn. I’ll bet you earned a lot of respect yourself for doing that. I certainly can appreciate the inner fortitude it took to take that journey down into the well. Thanks for sharing your story – you are amazing.


  4. Glad Plan B turned out to be enjoyable. Wolf Creek Pass is challenging when dry let alone with snow thus smart move to recalculate. I remember when that tornado destroyed Greensburg and the efforts made to rebuild.


    • I don’t remember Greensburg, but Joplin is clearly ingrained in my memory. Hope I would respond so valiantly if I’m ever confronted with such a difficult situation.

      Hope you are finding a bit of nice weather yourself, Ingrid.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ll say this, you visit an eclectic variety of places, from the Dalton hideout to Bandolier National Monument to the Los Alamos Museum! That, and your having some terrible weather at times.

    Of course my favorite parts are the natural things like the waterfall and scenery, along with the squirrel. I’m sure that if I were near Los Alamos that I’d visit the museum also, it’s too bad that they geared it to the physics geeks and not to the general public.

    All in all, I’d like to retrace your steps one of these days, it’s been a very interesting winter from reading your posts.


    • A little electicity can be a good thing. We tend to concetrate only on what we can hike, bike, and eat – causes us to miss a lot I’m sure.

      The Science Museum made me shake my head. As we were leaving, it was invaded by a classroom of 4th graders (or thereabouts). I wondered what they really could possibly glean from such dense information.

      You’d love the place we are now – Big Brutus in West Mineral KS. We are camped next to the second largest mining earth mover ever built. Hokey, but I have to admit that it’s pretty spectacular.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. You have nothing to apologize for, I only wish that I had your gift for commentary, my sailing blogs would be so much more interesting!!! Great pictures also!


    • Sometimes, its just hard to string a few coherent sentences together. I left out lots of things that I wanted to remember for myself, which was the primary reason for starting the blog. It’s hard when we will go for several days without any decent signal. That’s when things really get jammed together – you probably get a lot of that, too.


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