Isleta Lakes Campground & Casino, Albuquerque, Sandia Mountains, Santa Fe, Taos & the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge
Isleta Lakes Campground & Casino, Albuquerque, Sandia Mountains, Santa Fe, Taos & the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge in New Mexico

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Isleta Lakes Campground & Casino, Albuquerque, Sandia Mountains, Santa Fe, Taos & the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge in New Mexico

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New Mexico: Isleta Lakes Campground & Casino, Albuquerque, Sandia Mountains, Santa Fe, Taos & the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge

Friday, June 27, 2003 Isleta Lakes and Recreation Area. An Indian Reservation with campground, fishing, and picnic area 9-miles south of Albuquerque at exit 215 on I-25 located across the street from the big Isleta Casino. $15 water & 30-amp elect with central dump and sites with good shade.

This was our day to take in the Sandia Peak Tramway in northeast Albuquerque. It is one of the top tourist attractions in New Mexico. The Tramway is famous for being the world's longest aerial tramway. The 2.7 miles of suspension in the gondola includes North America's longest clear span (7,720 feet or 1&1/2 miles) between tower #2 and the top. That portion of the ride takes you from the crest of one part of Sandia Mountain to the peak. At one point the gondola is more than 1,000 feet above the valley below.

The total vertical rise is nearly 4,000 feet. We entered the gondola at 6,559 feet and rode it to 10,378 feet. The ride took us through four ecological life zones. It also transported us up the steep rugged fault escarpment of granite forming the western face of Sandia Peak. At the top we are able to see 50 to 100 feet of limestone and other sedimentary rocks tilting at what looks like a 45 degree angle to the west, evidence of how the molten magma thrust Sandia Peak into the air. At the top we can see how the relatively gentle (45 degree) eastern slope is being utilized as a ski area. The temperature at the top (10,378 feet) was in the 50s but the 20-mph wind made it feel like 40 or less. We spent time looking at the valley below and distant mountain ranges. The view from that height is awesome. On a clear day you can see over 100 miles. Today was not a clear day. We were not able to see mountains 60 miles away. Long extinct volcanoes west of Albuquerque are visible as is Albuquerque. Finally, we ate lunch at the "High Finance" restaurant an appropriately named place at the top.

During the winter, snow skiers take the tram to the top and utilize ski slopes on the eastern side of Sandia Peak. From the top you have easy access to two lifts giving skiers access to 25-miles of slopes and trails.

The western slope of the Sandia Mountains is an escarpment created along a north south running fault line. While the mountains were thrust upward by magma the valley fell. Geology in New Mexico is something to behold. We are able to stand on top of Sandia Peak and view the gentle slope to the east caused by the uplifting action yet look west and there is NO gentle slope. It is as though a meat cleaver hacked the mountain in half with the western half of the mountain falling off the cutting table. Essentially that is what happened along the fault scarp. Every time an earthquake shook/shakes the fault Sandia Peak moves up while the Rio Grande Valley sinks.

After the tram ride I took Joyce to Nob Hill for some window shopping. Nob Hill is that area of town that could best be described as eclectic. It is close to the University of New Mexico so it attracts that age group plus it has antique and specialty shops that attract a more urbane following. One restaurant in Nob Hill, the "Frontier", is much like the "Varsity" in Atlanta. The Frontier is near the University of New Mexico while the Varsity is close to Georgia Tech. They both feature cheap, FAST food. Both are huge and wildly popular. While the Varsity specializes in burgers and shakes the Frontier specializes in enchiladas and green chili stew along with a laundry list of other Mexican specialties. The Frontier even serves breakfast since it stays open all night.

We took I-40 to the west side of Albuquerque to see what that side of town looked like and to drive by the three RV-Parks located off I-40 at exit 149. Two of the RV-Parks, American and Enchanted trails are located on the top of the plateau west of town. There is absolutely no shade trees in the area. The land is barren. With that said American RV-Resort is the top rated RV-Park in New Mexico. We are glad that we did not stay there at $31 per-night with no shade. A few miles closer to town on old Route 66 (Central Avenue) is Palisades RV-Park located in an area of old growth trees with plenty of shade. I think we would be OK in Palisades if for some reason we could not get into Isleta Lakes.

Saturday, June 28, 2003 Isleta Lakes and Recreation Area. An Indian Reservation with campground, fishing, and picnic area 9-miles south of Albuquerque at exit 215 on I-25 located across the street from the big Isleta Casino. $15 water & 30-amp elect with central dump and sites with good shade.

This was our last full day in Albuquerque. We looked through all the things remaining to do on our list and decided that the New Mexico Natural History Museum offered the best option. We were hoping that it would not be a "dinosaur" museum as that gets old FAST.

The Natural History Museum presented an excellent review of the geologic history of New Mexico. Exhibits of fossils, bones, tree rings and dioramas putting together pieces of fossils to form a plethora of Mesozoic reptiles and mammals that once roamed this area. A series of detailed exhibits explained the formation of different rocks and minerals associated with molten rock as it makes its way from the center of the earth to the surface. Molten rock cools into different rocks depending on how quick the cooling takes place and how much pressure is on the rock during the cooling process. If the molten rock is blasted into the earth's atmosphere where it cools very quickly gasses trapped inside escape and make hollow bubbles in the rock. We know this as pumice and the lava rock we all put into our grills. It is very light!

Some liquid rock, oozes out of the earth and makes contact with the atmosphere where it cools rapidly but not nearly as suddenly as the as that that is thrust into the air. That lava is called basalt and is found in lava flows. Characteristically, basalt is poor in silica and rich in iron and magnesium minerals. Next is the liquid rock that never makes contact with the atmosphere but intrudes into cracks and fissures of sedimentary rock near the surface. It cools slowly and creates granite. Granite is composed of chunky crystals of quartz and feldspar (both silicates).

Deep underground water that comes into contact with molten rock turns into steam that dissolves minerals in the sedimentary rocks in close proximity to the molten rock. The dissolved minerals create veins of lead, copper, zinc, silver and a host of other metals and gems. Mining of theses minerals, as you might suspect by now, occurs in areas where molten lava intruded into sedimentary rock where the heat, water, steam and minerals in the surrounding sedimentary rocks would chemically concentrate the minerals. Now you are almost ready to become a prospector! VBG

One of the exhibits we studied today was that of a time-line constructed from growth rings in trees. Each year trees grow at different rates depending on environmental conditions. By studying these growth rings scientists have been able to construct a growth ring "fingerprint" that helps other scientists determine dates on pueblos and other things. The growth ring "fingerprint" or standard starts with a known date such as 1995 when a large tree is cut and examined. They know 1995 and can count back in the rings 100 years to 1895. Next they find a log that they do not know when it was harvested. These logs are available in old construction. Next they match up the rings on the unknown log to the known. That tree may have been harvested in 1920 so the growth rings on this tree would match to the growth rings on tree #1 during the years 1895 to 1920. If this tree was also 100 years old scientist now have a "fingerprint" or standard that takes them back to 1795. By continuing this process of matching growth rings they have been able to make a standard that goes back many hundreds of years. One tree that grows at high elevations out west lives over 1000 years. A cross section of that tree and a cross section of a redwood tree are excellent exhibits. One hands-on exhibit had taken a cross section from a ceiling log in one of New Mexico's oldest pueblo's. They had a pencil sized section of that beam laminated where we could move it up and down the growth ring "fingerprint" or standard. It was easy to line up growth rings between the "standard" and the laminated section from the pueblo beam and determine that the tree was cut in the year 1070. From that information it is fairly easy to date the Pueblo.

If you are interested in Natural History the Natural History Museum of New Mexico in Albuquerque is a good one. Highly recommended.

Sunday, June 29, 2003 We drove 65-Miles to Trailer Ranch RV Park, Santa Fe. $32.16 per-night. Concrete pads, 50-amps, cable, pool, paved streets, shade, laundry etc.

The drive on I-25 north to Santa Fe was uneventful. For about 40-miles out of Albuquerque I-25 ran parallel with the Rio Grande and it's bosque. Santa Fe is not located on the Rio Grande. The Santa Fe River flows or I should say once flowed through the middle of town. Now the Santa Fe River is dammed upstream of town and is the source of Santa Fe's water. Farmer's are out of luck, the city gets it all. At one time the river flowed through the historical area downtown. There is still a bed for it to flow in if enough water ever returns to the river.

Once we got settled in the RV-Park we headed to the historic downtown area. We walked around the historic area spending time with vendors and taking in the Loretto Chapel. Loretto Chapel was the Chapel of a Catholic Girls School. The Chapel is historically and architecturally significant in a number of ways. It claims to be the first Gothic structure constructed west of the Mississippi. Patterned after the Sainte-Chapelle (the Gothic Masterpiece in Paris) it was completed in 1878 by French and Italian stone masons. The Chapel is beautiful as was the choir loft in the back. However, a terrible error of omission occurred during the design and construction. Choirs were usually men and they reached the choir loft (balcony) via a ladder. This was the Chapel for a girls school. It would be totally inappropriate for girls to climb a ladder to the choir loft (balcony). Because of the height of the choir loft, 20-feet, a conventional stairway would consume too much of the chapel.

The Sisters were quite disappointed, but being ladies of great faith, they decided to wait and make a novena. Since the Sisters felt quite close to St Joseph, it seemed only natural to make a novena to him with the hope that a suitable solution might be forthcoming.

As the legend goes, it was on the last day of the novena that a gray-haired man with a donkey and a tool chest stopped at the Academy. He asked for the Sister Superior in charge of the convent, and wanted to know if he could be of some help to the Sisters in the building of a stairway. He was allowed to go to work.

In about six months the job was finished and according to the Sisters who were present during the time of its construction, the only tools used by the old man were a saw, a T square, and a hammer. They also remember seeing tubs of water sitting around filled with pieces of soaking wood.

Upon completion of the circular staircase the man disappeared without accepting payment. Likewise the local lumber yard had no record of any wood being purchased for the project.

The stairway left as a gift to the Sisters is circular, consisting of 33 steps and two complete turns of 360 degrees each, without a center support. It rests against the loft at the top and on the floor at the bottom, where the entire weight appears to be supported. Wooden pegs, rather than nails, were used throughout.

Architects and builders from around the world have come to inspect this masterpiece of beauty and construction. They never fail to marvel how it manages to stay in place let alone support the weight of someone. There were many, including me, who felt it should have crashed in a heap the first time it was used, yet it still stands today after many years of daily use. I saw one picture of girls in choir robes standing on the steps from floor to choir loft. That is evidence enough of it being structurally sound. It is evident the spiral staircase was constructed with great precision. The wood is spliced in seven places on the inside and in nine places on the outside, with each piece forming part of a perfect curve. The wood appears to be of a hard variety, and according to wood authorities, is not a native wood of New Mexico. Where it was obtained is a mystery.

The Loretto Chapel is a truly beautiful native stone structure with imported French stained glass windows on both sides and a rose window in back. The beautiful statuary decorating the Chapel is impressive. However, the reason thousands visit the Chapel every day is the free standing spiral stair case with NO center support.

We knew about the stair case and had it on our list of things to do in Santa Fe. Usually, when we visit things like this it turns out to be hokey. Not this staircase. Besides being an absolutely beautiful piece of woodwork the spiral staircase has no visible means of support. There is no pole or other support along the inside of the spiral. All the apparent support seems to come from the spiraling 2" X 10" board that the 33 steps are attached to. Actually, that 2" X 10" board is 7 boards fitted together to look like one continuous board that spirals from the floor to where it attaches to the choir loft. There is another board like that on the outside of the staircase but it has notches in it for the stairs so it could not be counted on for anything near that of a 2" X 10". Keep in mind that this staircase makes two complete 360 degree spirals between the floor and connecting with the choir loft.

Regardless of how willing one might be to accept the legend of the Miracle Staircase, one cannot help but be impressed by its architectural beauty, its engineering design, and its sound construction that has stood the test of time. As one gazes upon it and realizes an old carpenter constructed it with but a few basic tools, one is inclined to feel that it is both a miracle and wonder of construction.

If you do not do anything else in Santa Fe make sure you visit the Loretto Chapel with the spiral staircase.

Monday, June 30, 2003 Trailer Ranch RV Park, Santa Fe. $32.16 per-night. Concrete pads, 50-amps, cable, pool, paved streets, shade, laundry etc.

While I wrote about the Loretto Chapel yesterday the St. Frances Cathedral scarcely a block away is by far the most magnificent structure in town. Historically, the most significant structure in Santa Fe is probably the Palace of the Governors. Santa Fe is arguably one of the most historically significant cities in the US. At 7,000' Santa Fe is also the highest state capital in the United States.

At 7,000 feet Santa Fe is the highest state Capital of any in the United States. It also claims to be the oldest state capital in the United States. It was settled "by Europeans" in 1609. To put that into perspective it was settled 13 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, and 167 years before the Declaration of Independence was signed. Among US cities, only Florida's St. Augustine is older.

Santa Fe and the area along the Santa Fe River has been inhabited by American Indians for more than 1,000 years. The Palace of the Governors and the central Plaza are perhaps the most enduring symbol of Santa Fe's history during the Spanish rule (1609-1821). Even during rule by Mexico Santa Fe was the capital of the province (1821-1846). During the years New Mexico was an American Territory (1846-1921) Santa Fe was the seat of government. Then in 1912 Santa Fe became the Capital of the "State" of New Mexico.

The heart of old Santa Fe is the French Romanesque-style cathedral dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of Santa Fe. Like other magnificent structures this building "Saint Francis Cathedral" has a story.

In 1851, the Pope sent Jean Baptiste Lamy to Santa Fe to help tame the "unruly and godless" citizens of the Wild West outpost. The reputation of New Mexico must have been "world-wide" the US would not make it a state and even the Pope knew how "Wild, Unruly & Godless" the place was. Back to our story. Upon arrival Jean Baptiste, the ambitious French bishop ordered construction of a symbol of the city's Roman Catholic heritage to match his refined European tastes. Stone masons from France and Italy quarried and hauled stone for 15 years to complete the Cathedral. Stained glass windows were imported from France as was much of the interior statuary. The result is a truly magnificent structure.

Remember the Loretto Chapel with the spiral staircase that we visited yesterday? When the stone masons finished with Saint Francis Cathedral, only a block away, they went to work on the Loretto Chapel.

Now you know where the stone masons came from that constructed the Loretto Chapel.

Enough of the history lesson.

We did the "Canyon Road" boutiques and Galleries today. Santa Fe may be the seat of government for New Mexico but there is much more evidence that the town is an "artist colony" with government as an afterthought. Canyon Road is lined for several miles with art galleries. This is probably the largest concentration of art galleries that I think we have ever seen. Between the hand crafted jewelry, art, carvings, statuary, pottery and painted tiles the myriad galleries and shops have something for everyone. Cheap skates need not exit their automobile these are high-end galleries and are proud of their work. After wandering aimlessly through gallery after gallery in an attempt to "shop till you drop" we gave up very near the "drop" part.

We drove out Canyon Road until it turned into gravel. Canyon Road like the other "original" roads in Santa Fe is VERY narrow. There are no sidewalks. Houses and Galleries generally have no yards and are constructed right on the street. Away from town some of the houses did have small yards. Construction is almost all adobe on both residential and commercial buildings. We returned to town on Alameda Street that ran beside the old riverbed of the Santa Fe River. The river bed is only about 10 feet wide and could hold perhaps 4 feet of water. Any more water than that and there would be major flooding problems. Like I said earlier no water flows in the old River Bed. Several dams upstream hold what water there is in reservoirs that supply Santa Fe with drinking water. A tour guide shared with me that the reservoirs alone do not supply all the water necessary for Santa Fe. Supplemental water is piped in from Elephant Butte Reservoir 200 miles south of Santa Fe on the Rio Grande River. The tour guide said that the Elephant Butte source of water was up in the air because New Mexico was having to release water to Texas. He related that the city was looking into piping salt water from the ocean/gulf and constructing a desalinization plant.

We are going to have to return to Santa Fe when we have more time. Right now the 4th of July weekend is closing in on us and we have to move on to Taos where we are going to settle in and lay low for the Holiday.

July 1, 2003 We drove 82-Miles to Taos Valley RV Park. Taos, New Mexico. $33.34 per-night. $1.00 per-connection charge for modem use 15-minute max.

We drove north through typical high desert terrain on US 84 to Espanola. In Espanola we turned on NM 68 for our last leg into Taos. In Espanola we started following the Rio Grande River as we head inextricably north. About 20 miles from Taos the highway drifted away from the River and began a grueling 10-mile climb. With the climb finally over we were able to pull into a rest stop near MM-35 to take in the view. In the distance we can see the Rio Grande Gorge twisting its way through the Taos Plateau. Even after our grueling haul up to this vantage point it almost unfathomable that the Rio Grande River is flowing 600 to 800 feet below that gaping gorge we see winding its way across the plateau. South of here (Espanola) the Rio Grande was flowing through soft sedimentary rock and the resulting slope to the river was gradual. Here the river is flowing through extremely hard igneous rock. Over 1,000s of years the river has carved a vertical-walled chasm through thick layered lava flows. From here evidence of the river is no more than a thin opening in the earth.

We are extremely disappointed in the RV-Park we are staying in Taos (Taos Valley RV-Park). We picked it based on information in Trailer Life & Woodall's. When we called to make reservations for the week of the 4th of July they told us it would be $27 per-night and that they had a modem connection in the office. When we checked in it was 96 degrees (very near a record) with NO shade and 50-amp connections were an extra $2.00. Is this sounding like a KOA (Keep On Adding)? It gets better! Next I amble over to look at the modem connection and notice a sign that says $1.00 connection fee 15-minute maximum. Wow! I have never seen this before. They are going to charge me $1.00 to use the modem connection. I don't think so.

We made a BIG mistake in making reservations, something we seldom do. We feel stuck now since this is the 4th of July weekend and all RV'ers know that RV-sites get scarce on that weekend. To say I am crisped off is an understatement. This is the first RV-Park that we have run across that has advertised having a modem connection then finding upon arrival that it costs $1.00 per-connection. It looks like I will go for 6-days without a connection because I am just stubborn enough not to pay for it. I have a strong suspicion that I am going to make sure that everyone I can make contact with via the internet will know what I think about the Taos Valley RV-Park in Taos, New Mexico and their beguiling ways.

Did I mention that my site is so unlevel that the front tires of my motorhome are 6" off the ground just to make me level?

Did I say I am steamed? I think I am going to be unhappy for 6-days.

After we got the motorhome set up we toured the "shopping" district of Taos. After all Taos is another artist colony. I would say we were visiting the starving artists but on second thought if they sell just one item, at those prices, it will get them off the "starving-artist" list.

After Joyce's fill of shopping we drove 11-miles north and west of Taos on US 64 to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. The bridge over the gorge is one of the big attractions in northern New Mexico and rightfully so. As we drove out across the Taos Valley we could see glimpses of where the Rio Grande Gorge was. Other than those brief glimpses the Valley offered no hint of the chasm ahead. To the unaware the valley just appears to be another sagebrush filled high desert.

Once at the Gorge/Bridge I knew immediately why a walk out on the bridge is a "must-see/must-do". The Rio Grande River has carved a narrow, 800-foot-deep canyon into the flat sagebrush plains. There are places to park your car or RV at both ends of the bridge. From there it is an easy walk out to the middle of the bridge where ample sidewalk space and viewing areas have been provided. A walk out on the bridge overwhelms you with the awesomeness of the bridge, the canyon and the water so far below. The bridge spanning this chasm is an engineering and construction marvel. The sheer walls of the gorge attest to the power of running water. Words, at least my words, cannot adequately describe the view from the bridge.

The Bridge is 650-feet above the river and is the 2nd highest bridge in the national highway system. Although the gorge is only 650 feet deep where the bridge crosses, the river cuts much deeper in other areas. I think that rafting down the gorge and under the bridge would be exciting.

Mike & Joyce Hendrix

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Mike & Joyce Hendrix

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