Friday, July 17, 2009

One more night in the cooler elevations

We are at the Jemez Falls
Forest Service campground (map), just off NM-4 on Jemez Falls Road in the mountains west of Los Alamos. We are at 8,000' elevation here -- it was in the 80s when we arrived, as it is now, and was refreshingly cool overnight. There are few mosquitoes here in the ponderosa forest, so we dined al fresco and I am sitting outside while typing this.

Wednesday morning we decided to visit Bandelier National Monument on the scooters, leaving the bus at the Los Alamos Elks lodge, with the A/C on to keep the pets comfortable. It was a beautiful ride, through coniferous forest with occasional glimpses of nearby mesas, and the Rio Grande valley off in the distance. We came into the park from the West, so we had the labs on our left ("warning: unexploded ordnance") and Bandelier on the right.

We took a quick loop through the Juniper campground, just to check it out, and we found quite a number of sites that would easily fit Odyssey. It was pleasant enough, but at a lower elevation than Los Alamos, and, with temperatures well into the 90's, we made the right decision to leave the bus behind. Dry camping here is $12.

The entrance road descends further into Frijoles Canyon, where the only "developed" section of the park resides. The CCC-built 30's-era visitor center sits next to what used to be a rustic lodge, both done in adobe style. The lodge closed in 1976 and is now staff housing, administration, and a concessionaire-run gift shop and snack bar. We had packed a lunch, and so ate at the picnic area across the creek. The visitor center is scheduled to close next month for restoration and renovation, so we counted ourselves lucky to have seen the historic building.

We both walked out to the main ruins, the Tyuonyi pueblo, a roughly circular structure on the valley floor. I continued along the 1.2-mile "main loop" trail and was able to ascend by ladder into a number of the "cavate" cliff dwellings, consisting of natural caves in the volcanic tuff enlarged by the ancient puebloans. Some of these can be found on the DoE grounds as well, and were pointed out to us on our tour.

Tyuonyi, as seen from a cavate.

We returned to Los Alamos via the eastern half of the loop, which meant we had to climb the grade (on the truck route) on our scooters, which did so just about as fast as the bus would. We pulled onto the shoulder a number of times to let traffic pass. It was late enough in the afternoon when we returned that we decided to just spend another night, and I went into the lodge to pay.

We decided to try the Japanese restaurant, Origami, that Georgia had recommended on the tour, just a couple of blocks from the lodge. Louise again had sushi, which was fresh and beautifully presented. I mostly pondered the irony of sushi and a good-sized Japanese-American population in Los Alamos.

Yesterday we packed up and decided to head towards Albuquerque on the western route -- west on 4 through Jemez Springs to San Ysidro, joining US-550 south to Bernalillo -- mostly because we've never been this way, whereas we'd been to Santa Fe. The two routes involved the same distance, to within a mile.

This route, however, did involve another considerable grade, which we would have avoided going the other way. After clearing through the Los Alamos National Laboratories gate, where we had a pretty thorough inspection (by contrast, on the scooters we had just been waved through), which allowed us to drive through the labs without heading down and back up the mesas, we turned west on NM-4 and immediately onto a 9%-10% grade, with several switchbacks, to ascend to the rim of the ancient volcano.

After cresting the volcano we found ourselves driving along the Valles Caldera, once a private ranch and now operated as a National Preserve. The preserve is essentially surrounded by a combination of the Santa Fe National Forest and Bandelier National Monument, and the superintendents of those entities sit on the preserve's managing board. I was amused to then find the caldera featured last night on a National Geographic program I watched on geology in the west.

While I had calculated only three hours to Bernalillo, ascending the grade was a lengthy affair. 10% at altitude and in 95° heat is very hard on the cooling system, and I found we had to slow down so much that the transmission came out of lock-up. That's a catch-22: with the torque converter operating, it's dumping even more heat into the cooling system, and the best we could manage was 15-20 mph, with three stops to cool down from ~212 to ~190 -- one of those stops was right smack in the traffic lane when the Check Engine light came on.

So it was that barely 20 miles of progress had taken nearly two hours, including the cool down stops and a brief stop at the Caldera to take in the panorama and read the information signs. Plus, we were now above 8,000', where the temperature had come down into the upper 80s. Remembering that it was pushing the century mark down in Albuquerque, we decided to stop for the night up here in the cooler elevations, and we turned off at what our map said was a dirt road.

The road turned out to be paved all the way to the campground, and beyond to a parking area for a ¼ mile trail to Jemez Falls. The campground is large -- four loops -- and popular; I am guessing this is about the coolest place to come for the weekend from Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Nevertheless we found a nice site in enough of a clearing to get the dish on-line.

I hiked down to the falls in the afternoon, which were lovely from the overlook, and refreshing when I waded out into the upper pool. Unfortunately, we had gotten some bad trail directions from the campground, and I ended up on pretty much a 4-5 mile hike, in my river shoes, after two wrong turns. Should have just stuck to the road, which was a direct shot. Today my feet are a little sore.

From here we will continue south through Jemez Springs and into Albuquerque, where we will be tonight. Most likely at the Elks lodge, since I expect we will need air conditoning full time, and our guide says they have 30-amp power. While in town we will make some much-needed stops at Wal-Mart, Lowe's, and Camping World. We are watching Investigation Area 97; if it appears that will develop into a tropical cyclone, we may turn east onto I-40 from Albuquerque, otherwise, we are thinking about heading southwest to Phoenix where our niece has a skating competition in a week. In either case, we will be in the heat from here on out.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Share your comments on this post! We currently allow anyone to comment without registering. If you choose to use the "anonymous" option, please add your name or nickname to the bottom of your comment, within the main comment box. Getting feedback signed simply "anonymous" is kind of like having strangers shout things at us on the street: a bit disconcerting. Thanks!