Saturday, February 13, 2016

Road Tripping USA Part Two

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Author’s Note

I belong to Angels Abreast, a breast cancer survivor dragon boat race team in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada. Every four years the International Breast Cancer Paddlers Commission IBCPC) holds an international festival somewhere in the world. In the spring of 2013, my team received a notice that the IBCPC had chosen Sarasota, Florida, USA, to hold the next festival in October 2014.
     We decided to attend and while the other members were going to fly down, tour around some of the sites and head home I wanted to see more of the country and meet some of the people. My husband, Mike, and I drove from our small acreage at Port Alberni, British Columbia, on the Pacific Ocean, to Sarasota, Florida on the Atlantic Ocean.
     Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine the people I would meet nor the beautiful places I would see nor the adventures I would have on our ten week, 18,758km (11656 mile) journey. On the thirteenth day of every month in 2016 I will post a part of my trip that describes some of the excellent scenery, shows the generosity and friendliness of the people, and explains some of the history of the country. The people of the USA have much to be proud of.

 Road Tripping USA Part Two

After leaving Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument, Colorado, we went to Mesa Verda (Spanish for ‘green table’) National Park. We stopped in at the information center, picked up booklets and maps of the area, and began our tour. We drove to the Montezuma, Park Point, and Geologic Overlooks where we had panoramic views of the area. Mike parked at the museum and I took the Spruce House trail. I lost 100ft (30 m) in elevation as I descended on the paved switchbacks for a quarter mile. There were interpretive signs along the trail about the flora in the area.
     The construction of Spruce Tree House began by the ancient Pueblo people, sometimes called Anasazi, around the year 1200. It had about 120 rooms and housed 60 to 90 residents. Spruce Tree House was the first site excavated in 1908. It has been rebuilt using as much of the original material as possible and is considered the best preserved dwelling in Mesa Verda National Park.
     The word kiva comes from the Hopi language and refers to a round chamber in or near the village that may have been used for social and religious purposes. It was like a basement or underground dwelling. There were eight kivas on the original Spruce Tree House site and one has been rebuilt for the public to visit. I climbed down a ladder into the large, round, empty room. The only light was from the hole above. It made me shiver to think I was in a place that had been built more than one thousand years ago.
     There are more than 600 cliff dwellings within the park. Most of them were constructed between the 1190s and the 1270s and were abandoned by about 1300. The houses were built in shallow caves and under rock overhangs. They were made of hard sandstone blocks held together with adobe mortar. The Anasazi were famous for their pottery and basket weaving.
     When I walked back up the trail, I found myself out of breath. It bothered me because I liked to consider myself in good shape. Then I realized why. I live at sea level and I was about 7000ft (2133m) above sea level where the air is lighter.
     We drove to Cliff Palace which, along with Balcony House and Long House, is a ranger guided tour. I took the 250ft (76m) walk to the overlook and gazed down at the cliff dwelling. There is a sign that states the site was found by two men in 1888 and there is a picture of it in 1891 showing the rubble and the deterioration. Over the years it has been partially restored.
     After a couple more lookouts we headed downhill to the highway through some lovely scenery. We could see into the gorge and had beautiful views of a valley below.
     A sign welcomed us to New Mexico, Land of Enchantment. The scenery was beautiful sandstone rock cliffs on right and a valley on the left. As we neared Aztec there were a lot of farms and some residences.
     In Aztec we stopped at the visitor’s centre and got information about the area. I was given directions to the Aztec ruins and also how to go to the Aztec Arches. As I was leaving the woman gave me a warning.
     “It’s very dry here and you have to make sure you keep hydrated by drinking lots of water. You don’t sweat but you lose a lot of moisture from your body.”
     Mike parked at the ruins but his back was sore and he wanted to relax so I went alone. When I paid at the gift shop/museum I was given the option of borrowing a booklet that would explain the ruins or buying one. I bought one as a souvenir. The day was overcast with some sunshine as I started out and I could see heavy black clouds in the distance.
     The ancestors of the American Indian, also called ‘ancestral Puebloan people’ lived here from the late 1000s to the late 1200s. The Aztec Ruins National Monument was established in 1923 and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, the Aztec people never lived there. The term Aztec was given to many ancient sites by the early Spanish explorers.
     Some of the site has been restored, some of it has remained in its ruin condition. I used the booklet as a guide to view the Kiva, the inner rooms, and the doorways set in the corners of some rooms. Going from room to room, I had to duck to get through the doorways. In those rooms 900 year old timbers still support the ceiling or roof.
     There are a number of Aztec Arches and we found a few close to town. The roads were sandy and wet and the black clouds were still in the distance. However, the sun shone overhead. We took the Potter Canyon tour and saw the Outcrop, a hole between two outcrops of sandstone. I hiked to the Pillar, where a hole has been formed in the middle of a tall sandstone rock. Plus, we wandered between high sandstone walls and climbed into sandstone canyons. These arches are hundreds of thousands years old and have been formed by the erosion of the sandstone.
     We passed through Dulce and at the far end of town the Jacarilla Apache native band of Dulce, New Mexico, was putting on a little market alongside the road. There were open-sided tents with food, jewellery, and jelly for sale. We pulled over and walked through the site. Many of the vendors were selling fry bread which we had never tried. We went to one of the tents and placed an order. We talked with the mother and son while she deep fried the dough. They explained how the food was made.
     As we ate the fry bread Mike told them about our trip and why we were headed to Sarasota. The son had heard of dragon boating and knew what we were talking about. We also bought a small loaf of their regular bread and some apple pie. Their pieces of pie however were not like the triangle shaped ones I am used to. It looked like they made them in square pans then cut them into squares.
     We walked to another tent and Mike bought a tamale. We carried our goodies to the camper where Mike ate the tamale and I tried the pie. I wanted to see some more so we went to a table where there were jars of jelly. I was wearing a black baseball cap with a pink ribbon, the sign of breast cancer, on it.
     “I like your hat,” the woman at the table said.
     “Thank you,” I said.
     “I’m a five year survivor,” she said.
     “I’m thirteen years.” I then explained that I belonged to a breast cancer survivor dragon boat team and I was headed to an international festival in Florida. She had never heard of dragon boating so I gave her a quick overview of the hundreds of breast cancer survivor teams and the thousands of regular teams that there are around the world and what attending a festival is like. I mentioned that she could form a team.
     "I don't think there are enough women here to start a team," she said.
     I wrote down her email address and said I would sent her info on it next time I was on the Internet.
     I bought a jar of her homemade chokecherry jelly which was very good.
     Just before the town of Questa we turned to go to the Rio Grande Gorge and reached the Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument. Seventy-four miles of the Rio Grande are within this monument. At the Sheep Crossing overlook there was a sign stating: Vertical Cliffs Along Rim. Keep a Safe Distance.
     The Rio Grande Gorge Chiflo Trail is 7538ft (2298m) above sea level. There is a 0.4 mile trail down to the river with an elevation change of 320ft (97m). The trail difficulty was easy. The canyon walls have gray, sandy and red rock throughout it. In places, this gorge can be up to 800ft (244m) deep.
     We met a couple of men from Texas who had come to fish for brown trout. They started down the trail but one guy’s knees began to bother him so they came back up. They decided to head to a different spot where the climb wasn’t so steep. I went down the sometimes rock, sometimes dirt trail. As I walked I watched for snakes which make this area their home. I didn’t go all the way but reached a place where I had a great view of the river and was able to take pictures of the river and the canyon.

In Oklahoma, we were on our way to the Alabaster Caves. We drove through the tall banks of reddish rock along the Cimarron River then climbed out of the river valley and into grasslands and farmland. When we turned onto Highway 508 we were on the Great Plains Trail of Oklahoma.
     I was the only customer for their first tour. The temperature of the caves is about 50F (10C). I wore a light jacket and the guide was in shirt sleeves.
     “The caves are the largest alabaster or gypsum caverns in the world that offers tours to the public,” the guide told me as we entered them. “They are about three times as long as the three-quarters of a mile that you will be shown.”
     The floor was slippery because of the humidity. There were lights in the cavern but only in sections. As we left one part the guide pushed a button to turn on the lights ahead and shut off the ones behind us.    
     We chatted as we walked. She asked me what I did because I had told her I had taken three months off work.
     “I work twenty hours a week in a group home looking after mentally and physically challenged people,” I said. “But I really envy you your job. I would enjoy a job like this.”
     “Well, I’m hiring part time,” she said.
     “Would you hire a Canadian?”
     “Why not?
     So I could have stayed if I wanted.
     In one spot of the cave there is algae growing so it has turned the rock turquois/green. It is very pretty. She showed me where names and dates have been carved in the rock. One was from 1920, another from 1922.
     Five of the twenty-four different species of bats in Oklahoma live in the caves. I could hear some of them flying as we went further and a few flew around as we walked. They didn’t bother us, didn’t even seem to mind that we were in their space. One of the bats species, the Mexican Free-Tailed Bat calls Mexico home during the winter and comes to the caves in the spring to bear their young.
     The guide told me the story about a school group that was on a trip through the caves many years ago. Four boys snuck off from the group and started exploring on their own. They crawled up and into one area where they claimed they found a saddle, a knife and a skeleton. However, in the decades since no one has found that part of the cave to confirm their story.
     There is one section of the cave that is called The Dagger Cave because it is shaped like a dagger. At one time during the Cold War the Alabaster Caverns was considered a place to hide in case of attack. The local residents kept barrels of water and some food stored in it.


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