June 5 – 8 The Yukon to Skagway along the Klondike Highway

After leaving Tok (the Tok RV Park is great and we were nestled amongst the pines) We made it across the border but not before spotting a juvenile caribou on the side of the road.  He was freaked and froze in front of us before sprinting off to find his mother.

Little dude!

The RV traffic had picked up dramatically and we kept seeing the same caravan of three RV rentals being driven by Germans.  We seem to encounter a fair amount of Dutch and Germans. 

The frost heaves started not long after we left Tok – we were anticipating them this time. The “perma” in perma frost isn’t so permanent as the pavement gives way as the ground softens.  There are times on the Alaska Highway that you would expect the oxygen masks to fall if you were on an airplane.  Being in a higher profile vehicle only exacerbates the rumpy-bumpy ride.  

The wildflowers were in bloom and we even drove through a “pollen storm” – like a dust storm but it was orange-yellow pollen coming off the deciduous trees; the road was layered in it.  

We were curious to see how much had changed since we went through this area two weeks ago.  The Yukon Discovery Lodge was busy though they ran a generator all night as they had no other source of power.  Such is life in this part of the world.  

We left the next morning as the sun was rising over the nearby ridges.  Fog emerged from the valley and we had a clear view of the Kluane Range that had been socked in on our way up.  We witnessed massive icefields running vertically from the sides of peaks – amazing stuff.

We passed marshes and ponds with migratory birds including Trumpeter Swans;  one pond had two swans surrounded by ducks as if they were gathered to admire their magnificence. Unfortunately there wasn’t room to stop and enjoy the scene.  

We swung by Pickhandle Lake as the mist rose and the loons were making their way across the water.  

Pickhandle Lake and the Kluane Range

We then settled at Lakeview Campground for breakfast; the forest was rich with the scent of pine mixed with the heady essence of spring.  

As we made our way back down to Destruction Bay, we rounded corners with endless the endless mountain range welcoming us with open arms.  The bay was still partially frozen, quiet and still save for the distant cry of what sounded like a fox.  

Destruction Bay

After a peaceful overnight at the Caribou RV Park south of Whitehorse we headed to Skagway, AK via Highway #2 – known as the famous Klondike Highway that leads to the Inside Passage.  We essentially drove from the Yukon, through a spit of British Columbia and back into Alaska – all 100 miles from Whitehorse.  

As we headed west the terrain turned into granite outcroppings, more steep cliffs with cascading waterfalls, surrounded by partially frozen ponds.  Granite islands emerged from the waterways, covered in lichen with a smattering of boreal pine creating a very unique ecosystem.   The temperature dropped to the 40’s as we crossed from Canada back into the U.S.  It was an extraordinary site as we headed down the steep slopes into the bay.  

Along the Klondike Highway

The weather cleared as we parked up in Skagway at the Pullen Creek RV Park; there were four cruise ships up from Glacier Bay in the dock carrying some 12,000 people.  We encountered many of the ice-cream-consuming tourists as we explored Skagway; which turned out to be quite the destination with the Klondike Gold Rush mystique permeating the town, its old buildings giving off an aura of the Wild West.  The Gold Rush was brutal – when you consider that the prospectors had to endure such a savage environment in the hopes of striking it rich.  The museums along with the active, retro train station gave us a good feel of what it must have been like. 

They had an obscene amount of jewelry stores – I suppose because the whole idea is this is where gold is mined?  We did find a few nice art galleries amongst the interminable kitsch and discovered these gems (I go ape for art!).  The mother of the artist was there and said in the original painting of the Laughton Glacier her daughter painted in one of her boots that she had lost during a hike!

Whimsical Watercolors of the Inside Passage

Skagway reminded me a bit of Sisters, Oregon with the traditional facades and galleries and in the summer it is also teaming with tourists.

It’s now 6:00 a.m. and there is a loud hooting of a train then several crash-bangs!  The train has pulled into the harbor to greet the three cruise ships that had arrived – the fourth must be on its way. Either this is normal or they are making up with a post-Covid frenzy. Skagway must make a killing on tourism during this short window.  Come October the bay will start freezing over and the 300 some odd residents of Skagway will be encased in snow and ice until May.  I don’t know how they manage!  

We departed on a stellar warm day and headed out to Carcross, but were diverted several times to take in the scenery. 

We even spotted a pair of brown bears munching on dandelions on the side of the road.  

Brown Bear – ignoring us

Carcross is a charming town – the name is derived from Caribou Crossing.  The town was built to promote the indigenous tribes with lovely totems and buildings painted in the Tagish First Nations tradition.  The center was designed to represent local artists, but sadly there were only a few shops open.  Otherwise it is a lovely stop along the Klondike Highway.  

Carcross – Tagish First Nations

Mar 27-28 Roswell and Route 66

On a side note, we left Wilson-the-volleyball at the Carlsbad KOA recreation center; he needs to move around and he’s difficult to carry around on hikes – I’m sure he’ll be happier there playing with the kids.

We headed out to boondock at the Tumbleweed diner in Magdalena through our Harvest Host membership (pretty much out in the middle of nowhere). 

But first we decided to make a stop in Roswell to check out what all the hype was about.  We decided to tour the International UFO and Research Center.  Despite the kitsch most of us associate with Roswell, this center was well put together with extensive research on the Roswell incident and the ensuing cover up.  It’s fascinating that this incident needed to be covered up – I mean really – it wasn’t War of the Worlds and if aliens landed and were just checking us out why all the fear?   

The research and witnesses lent a lot of credibility to what happened and as far as we know it’s probably happened elsewhere.  Otherwise it was a fun adventure along with an entertaining mock up – a lot of effort went into all of this! 

We also decided to stop for a Sunday brunch at the Cowboy Cafe – if you are ever in town check it out – they also have dishes with my local favorite – you got it…..green chili!  My choice with the “Alien Omelette.”

We proceeded to our final destination through more high plains still wanting to know what people did out in this rather desolate land.  When we got to Magdalena and the Tumbleweeds Diner it certainly turned out to be a bright spot with it’s fantastic murals (note the spaceship that is ditched in the desert!). It’s about twenty miles from the Very Large Array (those big satellite dishes made famous by Hollywood) but unfortunately the visit center was closed so we decided to skip it.  

We overnighted in the diner parking area which is pretty much just an extension of the surrounding desert, it was super peaceful and we were streaming the Oscars but even that connection gave up after a while and all you could hear was the breeze.  In the morning we headed for Albuquerque and the Enchanted Trails RV park on Route 66.  It was close to the I-40 but it didn’t affect our sleep – you will find that is the case with most of Route 66 which is basically the I-40 anymore.  

We headed out early to get to the Petrified Forest with a stop in Gallup along the way.  I wanted to check out the Perry Null Trading Post as it has authentic art and I know the Navajo work and help run the place. I found a lovely turquoise pendant to add to my collection; the piece is inlaid with beautiful silver work and stamped with the artist’s initials and authenticity.  I wound up paying half price – I probably didn’t notice the sale sign.  Collecting authentic pieces gets the funds back to the Navajo.  I’ve gone into these other “trading posts” and have found southwest-themed merchandise made in India and China – no thank you!!

After two weeks touring New Mexico and all of its wonders we bid farewell.  We have seen so much of this enchanting state and it certainly delivered.  My only complaint would be the vast empty plains and the accompanying wind that was unrelenting, but the other endearing qualities along with the people certainly made up for it.   

Thank you Santa Fe, White Sands National Park, Carlsbad Caverns, Shiprock,  Bisti Badlands, and the Tumbleweed Diner for all the great memories.  

Mar 26 Carlsbad Caverns

We left White Sands and travelled through the Lincoln National Forest up to an elevation of 8500 feet (which explained the terrible mileage on BigB), then came to the endless plains that reminded us of “High Plains Drifter.”  I can’t imagine who put up all that fencing that goes on forever.  And as Bob commented, “that needs to be maintained.” 

We stopped by a quirky ranch known as Runyon Ranch, we bought some lemon lime roasted pistachios and marveled at the pet zoo; it turned out to be a cross between and ranch and circus – there were billy goats, donkies, sheep, a zebra, water buffalo and a camel. We could only speculate how they came in possession of the exotic beasts.  

What was equally entertaining was the cacophony of animal sounds that ensued during feeding time – it was a bit of a cross-cultural experience.  It’s a place you must stop by if you’re in the hood.  

We reached the Carlsbad KOA to settle in for the night.  We had reserved our time at the caverns that is now required by the National Parks.  It was already in the high 70’s pushing to the mid to high 80’s so the cavern was actually welcoming at a comfortable and humid 55 degrees (my sinuses were appreciative as they had been protesting against the high desert dryness).  

To say that the cavern is massive is an understatement – pictures barely convey the scale of this cavernous masterpiece.  The lighting is subdued and does not overcompensate thus enhancing the scale and mood.  The cavern is 750 feet below the surface and you take the winding path down, and down… and down as the wonderment reveals itself. 

There is something about caves, regardless of the size, that give you comfort and you can envision setting up shop here; possibly a primordial need for safety from man-eating dinosaurs.  

As a tourist you are only getting a nibble of the expanse that goes on for miles.  The path is well-paved though somewhat dim and thankfully there are railings to guide the way.  

It’s akin to a massive geode but without the bling factor.  The stalactites and stalagmites are truly massive.  There are ante rooms that look like they could be doll houses with it’s own cast of alien characters.  

I continually swirled around in awe – you need to look behind as much as forward.  If you decide to climb back out of the caverns be prepared for a workout; we opted for the elevator instead.  My thighs certainly got a workout on the downhill trek.  

Bless the souls who preserve these masterpieces to maintain our sense of wonder and awe.

Mar 25 White Sands National Park

We revelled in the warm weather – the temperature was destined to reach the low seventies and we were able to spill out of the rig and get some much needed house cleaning done.  Then off to the International Space Hall of Fame.

Grogu was certainly in his element and the space museum is a must-see when coming to Alamogordo – which, by the way, is a clean and well-structured city, probably due to all the military and government space-related activities there.  We spent more time than anticipated enthralled by the displays and history.  

Once inside the White Sands National Park, BigB felt more like a lunar module as we transitioned from pavement to hard-packed sand surrounded by voluminous white dunes on each side.  The dunes are made from gypsum, blinding in the sun, shifting with the light and the wind.  We parked at the Backcountry Trail as that is where you find the massive display of undulating fields, much of it devoid of vegetation.  The gypsum has a better grip than sand, and is less tiring to hike on. A slight breeze would catch us, a cooling contrast against the blinding landscape.  

Save for wandering footprints I have not experienced a more pristine environment, we had happened upon the perfect day to explore; any hotter and it would have detracted from the experience. 

The afternoon sun tilted, throwing shadows that crept along the basins, softening the harsh blows of light; it felt more like an awakening as the sensuality of the dunes came into full display – like deep sighs of relief after being long choked by the sun. 

We ended the day with what Bob describes as a tipple as we watched the shifting display of shadows. 

Surprisingly, it felt like the humidity began to rise along with the scent of sage as the sun set, bathing the inhabitants of the white sands in gold and pink.  

Mar 20-23 Santa Fe, New Mexico

We arrived at the Santa Fe skies RV Park which turned out to be a lovely location and facility.  We could have stayed a few days more but were looking forward to our stay at the Hilton in the historic plaza. This was our chance to get some elbow room after a month on the road and tour the beautiful offerings of this magical city. 

As has been our luck it snowed the next day as we ventured out.  The locals call it “corn snow” which is more like hail.  We thought it would pass but it started coming down in heavier flakes!  It was relatively quiet as many of the galleries and museums were closed on Monday.  Regardless, we browsed the shops and galleries and had some warm soup for lunch as the snow turned to slush. 

We decided to have dinner at La Plazuela restaurant in the La Fonda – the beautiful historic hotel right on the plaza.  The adobe style structure lends itself beautifully to the substance of the downtown area with its inviting curves and warm stucco.  Our meal was fabulous; I had the green chili enchilada which did not disappoint –  I had been waiting a long time to get a Hatch green chili fix on!  

The next day we woke up to an inch of snow – it was set to warm up and melt off but still….we could use some warm sunshine! Well New Mexico delivered as the skies cleared and the warm sun beckoned us outside, eventually melting and evaporating into the high desert air.

We ventured to the Canyon Road art district with some outstanding sculptures and paintings.  The whole area had a distinct aesthetic that spilled into the streets; fireplaces were emitting a lovely pinion fragrance and the stone and adobe studios blended into the artwork itself. 

I picked up a vibrant watercolor print of a buffalo; I liked the boldness of lines and blending of the palette and the artist was busy working on this next painting.  He processed my purchase with paint smudged hands.  

The real treat for the day was meeting up with Nevada Wier, National Geographic photographer and member of the Explorer’s Club.  She is exhibiting at the Obscura Gallery which also houses some original Ansel Adams which was an eye-opener!  Nevada’s infrared photography is extraordinary.  I had attended her photo workshops in the 90’s and she has always been an inspiration to me; it was great to come full circle and bond as artists.  I picked up a signed limited edition print and we committed to catching up in the future and I’m excited by the prospect!

I have collected some pieces that will always remind me of Santa Fe with its curved, timeless structures that hug the winding streets, much like exploring back alleys on the hunt for treasure.  

We had one last happy hour and I slumbered easily after walking 18000 steps. Then….we woke up to several inches of snow which shut down Route 66 due to an icy pile up:  Suffice it to say we are ready for White Sands National Park – white but warm!

As we left Santa Fe the sun burst through and illuminated the snow giving the city a magical glow.  Highway 54 eventually opened up into a vista of endless beauty as the clouds created their own snow angels across the sugar-coated adobe homes and high desert fauna.  What started off as dismay and worry about driving in icy conditions unfolded into another mesmerizing leg in the Land of Enchantment. 

Mar 16 – Bisti De-Na-Zin Badlands

When we initially crossed into New Mexico I felt like I was in an alien landscape.  It’s quite barren save for Shiprock which in it’s stately demeanor says “untouchable,” and means it. We got settled in our RV Park on the outskirts of Farmington which is one of the larger cities in New Mexico, so we were able to stock up on some necessary items.  While I’m not a fan of Walmart due to their employment practices, I need to get over it as they are the only consistent chain where we can get what we need for BigB.  

We had a pleasantly quiet morning along with a hot shower and set out to the Bisti Badlands.  

Bisti is off a service road about 35 miles south of Farmington.  To get there we had to drive a three mile gravelled road to the BLM parking area.   While not full of potholes, it was a bit washerboard and we could only go five miles per hour – the going was rough.  Even though it took twenty minutes it seemed like forever.  People haul their RVs down that road all the time but it isn’t much fun.

When we reached the parking there was nothing to see except desert and some distant mounds. The lot was fairly full with another RV parked there – we couldn’t see any signs of life though. 

There really isn’t a trail to the hoodoo’s or what I view as stone mutations.  You follow a wash but there are cataracts of washes so it isn’t entirely clear; if you see other people you follow on faith but they might not know where they are going either.  We stumbled across the first “forest” which turned out to be a fun playground of exploration.  

The hoodoos look fragile, but are actually quite solid having been molded by a millennia of sun and wind.  They are formed from sandstone, but not really petrified, except for the fallen trees that date back to the Stone Age. It is here where they discovered the “Bisti Beast,” a smaller version of T Rex.  

If these forms were whipped together by spirits or aliens we couldn’t find them – they did a good job of hiding in the many nooks and crannies: It’s a place that equally shifts and is frozen in time when no one is looking – a space/time continuum thing.

The table tops are even more fantastical as they somehow remain propped up by one of the spirits that refuses to reveal itself. 

That’s Bob – not to be confused with the resident spirits

Walking a mile further we found larger hoodoos and also a bit of a debris field of curious formations created by a lot of mischief.  

Otherwise the landscape is desolate and reminded me of those westerns where people slowly die of thirst as they wander nowhere – hence the name ”badlands” I suppose. Add the wind that started to whip up and the clouds on the horizon, we decided to turn back.  It’s always a great workout fighting headwind on a hike – but not the “Lady in the Wind” experience I had hoped for. 

We had a nice afternoon tea in BigB to regroup and warm up.

Once back on the main highway, and after checking whether our teeth were still intact from the service road maze, we realized there were similar formations on the side of the road.  I suspect what we had just hiked was simply a tease designed by those shape-shifting spirits who have bargained with the folks at BLM to toy with us humans. 

Mar 15 – Moab to Shiprock

Warning – this post is more of a rant!

We had been to Moab nearly ten years ago and had missed the Delicate Arch as it was closed due to severe road damage.  This time was stayed at the KOA in Moab and scheduled to bug out at 6:00 to beat the crowds.  The Arches entrance is open 24/7 and we drove right through followed by a few cars.  The starry skies were interrupted by foreboding towers as we snaked through the legendary landscape in the twilight.  We reached the parking area and were thankful that it was only partially full.  It was in the 30’s and we had a 1.5 mile hike to get to the arch for sunrise.  I have Renauds (really cold fingers) and had my USB hand warmer in my pocket which proved to be invaluable. 

We did not realize what an uphill slog this would be and at elevation it proved to be quite a work out.  Bob went ahead as he has better capacity than me to get up the escarpment.  I somehow passed people and found myself alone; some of the poles were missing the trail signs so I took up tracking footprints in what sand there was.  

It’s not a place accommodating to people who fear heights or have physical impairments.  After nearly an hour I turned the corner and was blinded by the sun; I felt my way along the narrow trail and reached the viewpoint.  There were at least a hundred people sitting along the rocky outcrop and people were already leaving. The problem was the sun comes up over the back of the butte and takes a while to light up the arch.  More people came in and many climbed down to the arch itself for look-at-me photo ops.

This is where I had a problem:  It’s dangerous to be climbing around the arch and then people kept going out there for selfies and photo ops to the point that those at the viewpoint started yelling at the people to stop so the rest of us could enjoy and photograph from a respectable distance.  You can easily get a good picture from the viewpoint including the obsessive me, me, me selfies.  

In my opinion, while they are starting to restrict access to the parks anyway, I think they should fence off access to the arch itself – there is no reason to climb on it or deface it.  People notoriously deface monuments to the point the Navajo started restricting bags into the slot canyons as they caught a couple chisling away pieces of the canyon for souvenirs. 

“Bilagaana” is the term the Navajo use for white man or white man ways and the accompanying greed and egos that create imbalance – this concept now extends to any race that does not respect the boundaries of the land where they are visitors.  

We are all just passing through, no one is going to remember most of us in a hundred years but they will remember all the crap we leave.

I got my token I-was-there shot of the arch though there was no moment of zen to listen to the wind and take in the landscape or remind me of a profound moment; instead there was the scolding of children, the insistence on photographing themselves instead of really appreciating the arch, the cavalier climbing along the rock face and in one case almost slipping off, topped off with an overbearing tour guide who wouldn’t stop talking about himself…and it was cold.

My universe shrunk and I felt small – but it wasn’t because I was assessing my existence against a vast galaxy of stars. 

Delicate Arch

We decided to do this trip because the overcrowding is such that even though we visit, we may not really get a chance to truly enjoy these monumental landscapes for much longer. 

We hiked back down and on occasion were blocked by people who stood at the narrow passages with little concept that other people were trying to get by.  

When we got to the bottom we broke off to see the petroglyphs that certainly didn’t garner as much attention or selfies.  

No doubt carved by an Ute during a moment of zen

When we reached the parking lot around 9:00 it was full; people parking in RV spaces where they weren’t supposed to, people driving the wrong way in the lot trying to hijack available spots as they opened up (I almost got run over by an SUV). There was a line at the toilets.  It was like being in a shopping mall at Christmas.  

We stopped off for breakfast at the viewpoint to the Devil’s Garden where it was clear and beautiful and only a few other people.  While our experience at Delicate Arch was a disappointment – the landscape was not; another incredible palette conjured up by an imagination I can only sell my soul to the devil to possess. 

Devil’s Garden for breakfast

We stopped by the visitor center for our fridge magnet. Unfortunately the magnet board came unhinged from the wall and we’re having to come up a way to secure it better.

BigB copping a tan at Moab Visitor Center

We left waving to the mile long line of cars trying to get into the park. On the way we passed by Wilson’s Arch and of course Wilson was excited.

We headed out over the high altitude farmlands of Colorado to the Four Corners, then onto Farmington by way of Shiprock.  We had gone through four states!

Bob was wondering why there wasn’t more signage or accessibility to the rock itself; because it is sacred and we are back in Navajo country – it is an abomination to climb or deface it as it would risk bad mojo to the Dine’ so they don’t want Bilagaana coming in and messing things up. Lord knows rock climbing associations have been trying for years to gain access. We went down a paved service road to get closer and turned onto a dirt roundabout for a better view.

There was garbage everywhere; empty bottles and cans against the backdrop of a sacred monument.  

I rest my case. 

Shiprock – the Winged Rock