The Last Leg

It seems that no matter how long the “adventure” is – the last two or three days become almost unbearable in the desire to GET HOME!

We had a most enjoyable four nights in Nashville and got to spend some quality time with niece Christy. We also had a delightful evening with her and Chris, but he was in the final throws of studies for the CMA (Certified Managerial Accountant). We’d had some time with him at the Reunion and will be back through in September, so tried to give him as much relief from “family pressure” as we could.

In our pursuit of the “best” bourbon, we made the trek to Thompson’s Station, southwest of Nashville to H Clark Distillery. What an education we received from Travis! Heath Clark is an attorney in Nashville who had a passion (many thought it an obsession) to start a distillery in Tennessee. After years of talking about it, his partners told him to “put up or shut up” and so, he set off to find a way to make it happen.

Forever, there had only been two distilleries in Tennessee — Jack Daniels (1864) and George Dickel (1878). In 1997, Prichard’s Distillery opened in the same county as George Dickel, but no other distilleries had been able to conquer the barrier to entry. Clark decided to figure out why others had not been able to “break through.” The law at the time required that approval for building a distillery had to begin at the local level, meaning it had to gain voter approval at the most local (city/county) level and every time a referendum was placed on the ballot, it was voted down by the locals.

Knowing that he would likely have the same outcome in Williamson County, he decided to approach it at the state level. He garnered support from state senators who ultimately presented a bill before the State Legislature. The bill argued that 1) if a county or local entity was dry, it would not be affected by the change in law; however, 2) if the local entity had already approved the sale or consumption of alcoholic beverages, they had already established that they had no objection to alcoholic beverages and, therefore, a company could rightfully build a production facility in their county. That bill passed the Tennessee Legislature on June 25, 2009. Today, ten years later, the Tennessee Whiskey Trail includes 25 distilleries – and, of course, not all distilleries participate in the Whiskey Trail!

Travis, the distiller, is a walking encyclopedia of bourbon-making and is completely self-taught. It is such a joy to listen to him, as his passion and appreciation for the art (and the results!) is all encompassing.

Our evening with Christy & Chris began at Monell’s at the Manor, which is a delightful restaurant close to the Nashville Airport – where it is GUARANTEED that you will overeat! Served family style, you are seated at long tables where you get to meet lots of friendly folks you didn’t know and enjoy amazing food that just keeps coming as long as you keep eating! Captain Bill & I work hard at avoiding fried food, but there was NO WAY we were going to avoid the most amazing fried chicken, along with every conceivable side dish, two other main courses, biscuits and home made dessert! The ambiance and the company was so comfortable with no rush and lots of laughter. We topped off the evening with a return to Christy’s home.

Having toured Nashville extensively last fall with Nancy & Judy, we chose to revisit a couple of high spots – one of them being Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery, as it had such an amazing history. Charles Nelson immigrated to the United States in 1850 from northern Germany with his parents and five younger siblings. Tragedy struck on the voyage to America when the ship encountered intense storms and gale force winds and his father went overboard, sinking directly to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean weighed down by the family fortune sown into special clothing he had made to hold it! The rest of the family survived, but arrived in America with only the clothes on their back and 15 year-old Charles found himself man of the house!

Over the next twenty years, he made candles, moved the family to Cincinnati, entered the butcher business, and acquainted himself with a number of fellow craftsmen who educated him in the art of producing and selling distilled spirits, particularly whiskey!

By 1870, he had moved to the Nashville area and opened a grocery store which flourished from sales of his three best-selling products: coffee, meat & whiskey. He quickly learned that focusing on the whiskey would be his best bet, so he purchased the distillery that was supplying his whiskey! The Greenbrier Distillery opened in 1870 and operated until 1909, when Tennessee instituted statewide Prohibition, long before the rest of the nation. Charles had died by then, but had left the business to his very astute businesswoman wife, Louisa, who had moved all her production to Kentucky! She was able to remain in business for several more years, during which time she paid the salaries of all her Tennessee employees until they found other employment!

Fast forward 100 years, brothers Charlie & Andy Nelson come to Nashville Tennessee from their home in California for a family reunion. Out of sheer luck, they stumble upon this highway marker outside of town as they go to a local butcher with their father, Bill Nelson. Because of multiple generation’s denial & embarrassment of “moonshiners” and “bootleggers”, the family history had all but been lost. Through much digging and research – and the gifts of the local historical society – they knew they had found their heritage and their destiny!

The historical society had the original recipes documented by the master distiller and they even had two bottles of the Greenbrier Whiskey. One hundred years later, the great-great-great grandsons of Charles Nelson reopened Nelson’s Greenbrier Distillery and have been winning awards and recognitions from the day they opened their doors in Nashville.

We thought we would take a break from distillery tours and headed to Fontanel – the 33,000 sq ft log cabin of Barbara Mandrell. Unfortunately, it had recently been acquired by new investors as was closed for renovations. BUT, on the same venue was Prichard’s Distillery! Captain Bill claims he didn’t know!! As mentioned earlier, Prichard’s opened in 1997 in Kelso County (same county as George Dickel), but it has its roots in the Prichard recipes and techniques of the 1800’s. All of the distilling is currently done in Kelso County and the Fontanel location is simply a touring opportunity. Jeff was delightful and we spent an enjoyable hour with him.

While we enjoyed our days in Nashville, our liquor cabinet was full of great bourbon and we were getting anxious to get home. However, unlike with the boat, changing or cancelling reservations is most difficult, so keeping to your original schedule is just easier! We headed out on Thursday morning, bypassing most of downtown and therefore most of rush hour traffic and made our way to Anchor Down RV Resort in Dandridge, TN. This location always gets 5 Stars – I have never seen or heard a single complaint about the facility and reservations must be made a year in advance! And we were not disappointed!

After a delightful afternoon and evening, we pulled out at 6:00 am June 28- for an 8:00 am appointment at Ken Wilson Ford Heavy Truck Department in West Asheville. They had replaced our Fuel Gauge last fall and it “needed calibration”. Three hours later, we were unloading the refrigerator and essentials into the toad and leaving Contessa – she needs new gauge & fuel sensor!

It really worked well to leave Contessa, as Kent & Donna arrived from Desert Shores on Sunday, June 30 – so they could use our site without us having to jockey around the coach. We had a delightful week with them as we celebrated our Nation’s Independence and Our Friendship!

Kent & Donna’s Tiffin Allegro Bus and their Toad on our site in North Carolina

So, Contessa should be home next week. The Captain & the Admiral will enjoy being home in the mountains for the remainder of the summer – and then, in late September, Contessa and The Toad will get Hitched Again!

The Great Mid-West

From Abilene, we made our way to Kearney, Missouri, home of John & Judy Brown. They are our neighbors across the street and 3 doors up at Desert Shores. It was an absolutely delightful couple of days spent on their ranch, touring Kansas City and, most of all, enjoying their company and getting to know them better.

We settled into a First Class RV site on John’s driveway, complete with 50 amp service! After a delightful lunch prepared by Judy, we were off to tour Kansas City beginning with the World War I Museum & Memorial.

National World War I Museum & Memorial

Just two weeks after the signing of the Armistice ending WWI, Kansas City leaders met to discuss the need for a lasting monument to the men and women who served and died in the war. Amazingly, their first two weeks of fund-raising yielded over $2.5M which was an incredible amount in those days! What a reflection of the people’s passion for commemoration of the Great War.

Our first stop was the top of the tower, which fortunately has an elevator for all but the last 66 steps. The view of Kansas City was amazing!

On November 11, 1926, the Liberty Memorial was dedicated by President Coolidge. The museum is very well done with both the first years of 1914-1917 prior to the US involvement and then 1917-1919 when US joined forces with their allies. The docents were a crucial part of this museum, excited to share information and insights on the lives and battles. On December 19, 2014, the Memorial was recognized as the National WWI Memorial by Congress.

Our next stop was Union Station. Train travel is an essential part of Kansas City’s history and remains a gateway to the west today. In 1997, the Mayor asked five prominent businessmen in Kansas City to spearhead the restoration of Union Station, after many years of neglect. Our own John Brown was one of those five men – and a glorious job they did in compiling the right craftsmen and raising the amazing resources necessary to achieve the goal. It is now a vibrant part of the City, with a Science Center for children and a fabulous steakhouse that we certainly enjoyed!

The following day, John & Bill spent the morning and early afternoon on the golf course – a joy for both of them on a day that had almost perfect weather for their round. Late that afternoon, we were joined by John’s brother Ed and Joan – and another memorable evening was launched. First, we HAD to have Kansas City Barbeque – and certainly were not disappointed! Ed then gave us a great tour of town, complete with a “drive-by” of his business (Cullen & Brown) and commercial developments by John & his company.

One of our last stops was to capture this beautiful cloud formation – with such a defined line! Guess we should have known that it would bring interesting weather.

It WAS the precursor to some wicked weather!

Storms rolled in during the night, but took a well-appreciated break about 8:30a so we could get Contessa & The Toad Hitched. We then bade our friends “adios & safe travels” – with great anticipation of reuniting in Desert Shores in the fall.

Our travels took us to St. Charles MO (northwest of St. Louis) for the night and a welcome sight it was with a day full of wicked rain, wind and lightning. We reflected on the fact that this was a first day of “unpleasant” weather in all our travels this spring – so we are very blessed.

The next morning, we departed with great anticipation for three days at Land Between the Lakes, a National Recreation Area that we had thoroughly enjoyed during our Loop Trip in 2015. Everything worked flawlessly and we stayed ahead of the storms chasing us, until we pulled up to the check-in station about 1:00p Friday afternoon. We were greeted with the information that there had been a bad storm the night before, leaving the campground without power, water or sewer – and they did not anticipate resolution until at least Monday but probably Tuesday.

Now, we have become accustomed to “glamping” – and had not prepared the coach for 4 days of no resources, meaning we had not come in with holding tanks empty and water tank full! So, our three night stay transitioned to a one night stay – and an early arrival in Nashville.

There is much to see and do in the Music City – and to visit with Niece Christy & her guy, Chris! It will be a delightful “finale” to our journey!

Denver, A Reunion and the Great Midwest

After our visit to the US Air Force Academy, we pointed Contessa to Denver/Golden and several days with dear friends & family. Construction is an on-going phenomenon around Denver — it is always under construction — and our route was not immune! Miles of narrow lanes and concrete barriers on one or both sides certainly makes waterways more attractive to Captain Bill!

We parked the coach at Dakota Ridge RV Park, where she would stay for six nights. Off all our stops, the most expensive and the least attractive, but, ah well, it was a place to park her. We disconnected the Toad and headed back down to Castle Rock for a highly anticipated evening. We were welcomed to the home of Bill & Kathy Neuens and a delightful evening ensued.

We spent a lovely evening reminiscing of many years boating with Bill & Anne aboard Bandit and getting to know Kathy better. What a shock for all of us, and especially Bill, when we lost his wife, Anne, 3 years ago. We are so happy that Bill found Kathy and they are enjoying life to its fullest. After active duty during Vietnam, Bill retired at the rank of General with the Air National Guard – and as Chief Pilot for United Airlines. AND he is a great storyteller! We laughed and laughed – and enjoyed every minute!

On Tuesday, we had an absolutely wonderful afternoon with dear friends from our California home! Thanks to planning from Mary Lou, we met Steve & Mary Lou Vecchiarelli and Frank & Debbie Hazlewood for a delightful lunch and laughter. Unfortunately, there is a direct correlation between glasses of wine and the brain remembering to take pictures! But, thankfully, we still have our memories of a lovely afternoon.

Golden has an amazing Community Center with a superb workout facility, which we used on Wednesday morning – and then off for shopping for the infamous Ratts Reunion. Wednesday evening, we met Tom & Vicki Ratts and son Todd for a gentle and delightful evening. Tom & Jann are half-first cousins (!?!) – Tom’s Dad and Jann’s Dad were half-brothers and their shared father is the connection that binds the participants of the Ratts Reunion.

Arrivals started early Thursday and by the end of the day, we had 37 Ratts in the Grand Lake area, about two hours up the mountain from Denver. There were three houses (and a hotel room) to accommodate the group – and three days of laughter, tears and shared stories followed.

Late Saturday evening, the Captain & Admiral headed back down the mountain – to prepare for an early departure from Denver to avoid rush hour traffic, both from business on Monday but also those returning from the mountains on Sunday afternoon.

We got on I-70 heading west, where we will stay for more than a few days! First stop was Oakley, KS – where we visited the Buffalo Bill Center.

Buffalo Bill Cody & His Buffalo

What a surprise in this little town – right at our campground – Cap’n Jack’s Pub. A couple “retired” from the Chesapeake Bay to own/run the campground and establish this incredible pub that is the #1 dining establish in the entire region – and rightfully so! The Shrimp & Crab Bisque was perhaps the best we have ever had – even in all our months on the Bay during our Great Loop adventure!

Off early the next morning – destination Abilene, Kansas! Our purpose here was the Eisenhower Presidential Library – which we thoroughly enjoyed. But, as is often the case, the surprises we find in small towns sometimes make the headlines. In this case, it was the Seelye Mansion.

Built by Dr. & Mrs. A. B. Seelye in 1905, it is completely furnished with original furniture, Edison light fixtures, organs, pianos and memorabilia of the Seelye family. Dr. Seelye was the chemist and inventor of a plethora of “medicinal” remedies – what many would call “snake oil”. From 1890 to 1937, he & his army of up to 500 salesmen sold WasaTusa (Indian word for “healing”) which was 63% alcohol, chloroform & ether and a wide array of cure-all concoctions. Dr. Seelye provided the wagon and the medicines and the salesmen provided the horses. They traveled over 14 states making $.03 for every $1.25 bottle of product they sold – and everyone made a LOT of money! It all came crashing to a halt with the FDA in 1937, when they forced him to stop selling his potions as medicine.

Dr. & Mrs. Seelye went to the 1904 World’s Fair where they secured the blueprint for the “Connecticut House”, a Georgian style mansion. They acquired $60,000 of furnishings, returned to Abilene and spent $55,000 to build their home. In comparison, the Eisenhower home (on the wrong side of the tracks) was built for less than $1,000. The house and all its furnishings were in place in 9 months!

In 1970, Terry Tietjens drove by the Seelye Mansion on Buckeye Street in Abilene as part of a “traveling music group” and told his twin brother, Jerry, that he was going to live there one day. The house was rundown, the lawns overgrown and the two daughters of Dr. & Mrs. Seelye (Marian & Helen) were struggling to pay the bills and keep the house livable. It was another 11 years before Terry & Jerry were invited to tour the house – and the following year, the sisters agreed to sell him the house, complete with all furnishings. When he finalized the purchase, he told the sisters that they were now his “adopted” grandmothers – and allowed them to live with him for the remainder of their lives (5 & 10 years)! During that time, he recorded their history and the history of the home – and has now created a foundation to ensure the home is open and available for future generations.

The contents include WORKING Edison lights (hundreds of them), 3 Edison phonographs, 3 Victrola phonographs, an Estey reed organ that is 100 years old, and a bowling machine in the basement! The bowling machine is only 1 of 4 machines still in existence from the American Box Ball Machine by Holcomb & Hoke of Indianapolis. The machine was delivered and assembled while the house was under construction, as there is no way it could be added later. The foundation recently was offered $1M for the machine, as it is the only one truly intact!

After two hours, we were overwhelmed with all we seen and heard – and so very thankful that we had once again “stumbled” onto an American gem!

The afternoon was spent at the Eisenhower Center – and there again, we had a memorable experience in addition to all we had anticipated. The forecast was to be rain with potential thunderstorms. We arrived on the front porch of the Eisenhower Boyhood Home for the tour – and we were rushed into the house and down to the basement as there was a tornado warning! There we stood for 25 minutes, hearing about the house as we sheltered from the storm raging above us.

The storm passed and we were released from the house, shown the physical portion of this house from the “wrong side of the tracks” that “would never amount to anything.” All six boys went on to be hugely successful – from Executive Vice President of Commerce Trust Co, Founder of Pacific Northwest Law Firm, Registered Pharmacist (without graduating from high school), Electrical Engineer and youngest brother, Milton, was President of Kansas State College, Penn State and then headed John Hopkins University for 13 years.

Dwight Eisenhower was an amazing man who dedicated his life to his country – beginning with days at West Point, duty was the key word that drove him. He had spent two years following high school graduation working to support his brother, Edgar’s college education. During that time, he heard of the opportunity for a military education and he immediately applied to the Naval Academy. He was denied admission because he was older than their acceptance range (supporting his brother). He was appointed to West Point – and the rest, as they say, is history. From training and preparing troops, to his infamous leadership as Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe, where he orchestrated the invasion of Normandy on D-Day 75 years ago, to the initial leader of NATO’s security forces and then serving as the 34th President of the United States from 1953-1961, he never resisted his country’s call!

We had spent considerable time at the Eisenhower Home in Gettysburg, PA and we continue to admire and respect his commitment to our country!

We’re off to Missouri!

Colorado – Our interim “destination”

The trip from Santa Fe was the longest planned travel day of our trip – 312 miles. Even though it is “all interstate” that is certainly enough for one day for us. We truly are about the journey, not just the destination.

We arrived at the Colorado Springs KOA, just south of town about 2:15, which works great. This KOA, unlike most, is known as a KOA Holiday, which must be their “premier” or destination rating. Regardless, there was enough for a family that you would never need to leave the park for a week. A huge swimming pool with all kinds of slides, a second lap pool and a hot tub for 10, which unfortunately was being rebuilt. It was “Pirate’s Plunder Weekend” – with games and events scheduled every hour, including treasure hunts, hot sauce eating content, wagon rides, chalk art – the list goes on forever. It was a happy place!

Some of you may remember that Bill & I rented a “Cruise America” Class C RV several years ago, when we were without a boat – just to try the experience. We had a great time in Oregon, but upon returning the unit, Bill went out and bought another boat! We do enjoy seeing these rigs on the road as we know people are trying out a lifestyle that we hope they enjoy. We stepped out of the coach the first morning to an infestation of them!

With this location, we are getting back into a more “normal” travel experience – which includes finding a gym nearby for use in the mornings before we head out for a day’s adventure.

After a good workout, we headed to Old Colorado City. Originally a town on its own right, it is now a neighborhood within Colorado Springs. Founded during the Pikes Peak Gold Rush of 1859, it was both a supply hub and a gold ore processing center in the 1890s. Revitalization is certainly done well in this area of town and we enjoyed the Farmer’s Market in the park and then found a lovely little Irish Pub with patio – and cousin Todd Ratts joined us for a delightful midday respite.

It was one of the warmest days we have experienced, so after bidding Todd a “farewell and see you next week,” we headed for the Garden of the Gods. It is an amazing 1,300 acres of sandstone formations with walking and hiking trails, along with a one lane road where you can drive thru the Gardens.

In 1879, General William Jackson Palmer, having established Colorado Springs 8 years earlier, convinced his friend, Charles Elliott Perkins to purchase the land surrounding these magnificent stone structures. The underlying motivation was to have Perkins, head of the Burlington Roadroad, bring his railroad from Chicago to Colorado Springs. Perkins original purchase of 240 acres ($22/acre or $5,280) was later expanded, but he never built on it, preferring to leave his wonderland in its natural state for the enjoyment of the public.

Perkins died in 1907 before he made arrangements for the land to become a public park, even though it had been open to the public for years. Two years later, in 1909, Perkins’ children, knowing their father’s feelings for the Garden of the Goods, conveyed his 480 acres to the City of Colorado Springs “where it shall remain free to the public…”

Sunday morning, we visited lovely St. Raphael’s Episcopal Church near us. As with so many churches, they are struggling with lack of attendance and participation – but they have a wonderful, loving spirit. When the Interim Rector found out we were from North Carolina, her outpouring of love and admiration for Bishop Curry was almost overwhelming!

The beautiful clear, warm weather of Saturday was long gone, replaced with heavy overcast skies and a high of 57! Of course, this was the day to do Pike’s Peak, so off we went to “see what we could see”. The drive up the Peak is 20 miles with precious few guardrails on a rather precarious two lane road. It was, however, a glorious trip and the clouds parted as we ascended, especially on the western slope. The wind was howling, the clouds were racing up the slope at us and it was 39 degrees!

That evening, we found a little Japanese Restaurant close by and Captain Bil got his fix on sushi!

Yum!

Monday morning we made another early visit to Gold’s Gym and then we were headed to Denver, with a stop at the Air Force Academy just north of Colorado Springs. We have been blessed to visit the Naval Academy several times in Annapolis and then West Point as we cruised up the Hudson River in 2015 aboard Ivory Lady.

The U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA) is a sprawling campus on 18,000 acres in tune with nature. Where West Point is the stately granite and by far the oldest Military Academy and the Naval Academy has the beauty of limestone, the Air Force Academy has a stark difference in white, clean lines.

The USAFA was authorized during the Eisenhower Administration in 1954. Groundbreaking occurred 1955 and the first class was held at Lowry AFB in 1959 until the Academy was completed in 1960.

After a visit to the Barry Goldwater Visitors’ Center that included a 21 minute movie on the “life of a cadet”, we headed out for the 1/3 mile walk to the Chapel. The upper level is the Protestant Chapel, while the lower level houses chapels for Roman Catholic, Jewish and Buddist worship.

Across the courtyard, one finds the Honor Court, where bronze statues of aircraft and airmen that saw action during the various conflicts since WWI.

The USAFA lands are rich with Native American heritage and history. They are currently working with 27 federally-recognized Native American tribes that have cultural affiliation with these lands.

We returned to the coach, had a delightful lunch on board and then pointed her north on the harrowing 63 miles thru southwest Denver to Golden – most of which was under construction! The itinerary for our trip this spring was driven by the Ratts Family Reunion in Grand Lake, CO – up the mountain from Denver. So, we have made it to our “interim destination” and about the halfway point of our journey.

New Mexico – Majesty Abounds

There seemed to be a line drawn at the Arizona & New Mexico border – we could REALLY see a difference in topology almost immediately. It was a delightful day to travel first to Grants NM for an overnight stop and then on to Santa Fe, about 50 miles north of Albuquerque.

Our stop at Grants was driven solely by our 3-3-3 rule of motorcoaching (less than 300 miles, in by 3 pm and, at every opportunity, stay 3 days). Grants met the criteria for two, but we did not plan nor did we need to stay 3 days. Once a thriving town on Route 66, its employment and riches came from the uranium mines throughout the area. When those closed, so did the town. We were, of course, reminded of our fabulous visit to the North Channel Yacht Club in 2015 aboard Ivory Lady as we did The Loop. Their entire marina, including all the rails for storage and launching of vessels, came from the uranium riches of that area.

The KOA campground was everything we have come to expect from this organization- clean, level sites, pleasant people and often not much else. This one set itself apart by offering home cooked meals delivered to your coach every evening! After touring Grants, we understood why – the only restaurants were McDonald’s, KFC and Sonic. There was a Mexican restaurant, but I would not have set foot in it and it was closed on Sunday. However, we are fully equipped and stocked, so having them deliver dinner (complete with home baked pie and ice cream) was only a temptation.

We were on to Santa Fe on Monday morning, without issue as we drove through downtown Albuquerque. As the state capitol and prior to that the center of Native American history, Santa Fe has a distinct vibrancy and energy. The galleries of amazing New Mexico and Native American art will take your breath (and your hard earned dollars) away.

Our first stop was San Miguel Church, the oldest church structure in the USA. The original adobe walls and altar (ca 1610) were built by Tlazalan Indians from Mexico under the direction of Franciscan Padres. There is an area within the church where excavation exposes some of the original adobe bricks. We would learn later why the buildings appear as new on their exterior.

On to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, the mother church for the Roman Catholic Dioceses of the southwest and home to the Archbishop of Santa Fe, Most Rev. John C. Wester.

We spent a lovely day wandering shops, chatting with locals and absorbing the energy of the “old town.” Near mid-afternoon, Captain Bill expressed concern on the ever-darkening clouds and our distance to our car without an umbrella. Off we hoofed at a lively pace and slid into the car as the first pellets of a downpour began. A quick stop at the gallery where we had purchased a wall-hanging for our casita at Desert Shores and we were off for the coach.

Wednesday we were off early in the Toad for an amazing journey up the Rio Grande Gorge to Taos. We knew the day would culminate with connecting with good friends, but we had “a day” of learning the history and structure of the Taos Pueblo and its people.

Taos Pueblo is the largest pueblo of the nineteen pueblos in their council. There are three councils of the Pueblo Nation, but structurally are less “governed” as in the Navajo Nation. The Red Willow People of Taos Pueblo have been there since approximately 1,000 BC, but no archeological testing has been allowed, as they see no need!

The loose definition of a pueblo is a defined settlement (usually a walled community) that provides for the needs of the people that reside therein. The first church at Taos Pueblo, San Geronimo, was built in 1619 during the first “invasion” of the Spanish. It was destroyed twice, first during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, (led by Red Willow and other Pueblo Indians including Hopi & Zuni) when they drove the Spanish back to the Mexican border. Their rebellion was driven by both their treatment by the Spanish, and because of the forced Roman Catholic beliefs and the elimination of their own sacred spiritual and natural beliefs. They destroyed “their own church” because it was seen as not theirs but of the Spanish.

The Spanish returned 12 years later; an event known as the Re-Conquest. This time, however, they came with missionaries who rebuilt the Church – but also respected the beliefs of the Pueblo People and included them in their worship and life.

In 1847, another uprising, this time against US occupancy, was led by Native and Hispanic forces. Governor Bent was murdered and the retaliation by US forces was a bloody and costly conflict where hundreds of Hispanic and Native people were killed as they sheltered inside the church. The remains of the church stand today overlooking the central cemetery for Taos Pueblo.

The second and current San Geronimo – Center for the Taos Pueblo Community.

The current San Geronimo was built in 1850 and serves today centrally to the community for mass, weddings, etc. Today, the Red Willow People say they have a dual-religion of Catholicism and Pueblo spiritual beliefs.

The Red Willow Creek was raging with all the winter snow melt and significant rains.

Blue Lake, a glacier lake located 25 miles up into the Taos Pueblo wilderness area of the Sangre de Christos mountains feeds Red Willow Creek. Not only the only water source for the pueblo, Blue Lake is also revered as sacred. Under Theodore Roosevelt, the lake and surrounding lands were taken in 1906 and placed under the US Forest Service. Through much effort by many, Taos Pueblo regained 48,000 acres in 1970 from President Richard Nixon, utilizing the Religious Freedom Act. Today the lake and over 100,000 acres remains in its pristine state and is cared for and utilized exclusively by tribal members.

The community is a combination of single level, dual level and multi-level structures that look like “apartments”. Each “home” is one or at most two rooms, always on the same level. The homes are owned by a family and passed down from one generation to the next. The homes have no running water, electricity or indoor plumbing. The ladders you see allow the owners on the homes on higher levels to gain entry to their home, as there are no interior stairways. Some homes have been retrofitted with propane to provide heat and lighting, but many remain with the kiva (wood fireplace) as the only source of heat and light.

The structures are built with hand-made adobe bricks of mud, straw and water, with a smooth layer of the same adobe material spread over the brick. Each year, the adobe is repaired at the right temperature for curing and drying by adding another layer of mud, straw and water — making it look “new” again. The walls are very thick and are natural insulators.

A traditional Horno – seen throughout Taos Pueblo

Outside many of the homes, you will find a horno (oven) structure. Introduced by the Spanish, the Pueblo people have perfected the structure to suit their needs. Commonly used for baked goods, a cedar fire is allowed to burn down to coals, the coals are then removed with something akin to a wet mop and then the items are placed in the oven for baking. It is by testing the oven with pieces of straw that determines when the oven is the correct temperature for baking. If a piece of straw placed in the oven catches fire, it is still too hot. But wait too long and the baked goods of pies, cookies and breads will not completely bake!

Our guide, Summer, is a college student whose family owns a home in Taos Pueblo. Like many today, they also own home outside the walls where more modern accommodations (heat, light, plumbing) are allowed and available, but they often spend time in their family ancestral home. Summer is studying to work in the dental field, but spends every minute she can at Taos Pueblo, both to honor her heritage and to learn the native language, Tiwa. Her first language was English, as her mother was not from Taos Pueblo, but she wants very much to maintain the language and heritage of her forefathers for the next generations. The importance of this can’t be overstated as all of the native history is oral and not chronicled anywhere.

With much reluctance, we departed Taos Pueblo, having a great appreciation for their way of life and their commitment to the continuity of that way of life for centuries past and centuries to come.

We made our way to the Rio Grande Gorge to view the bridge that spans the Gorge and the surrounding majestic views. The gorge was originally created as a result of volcanic action that separated the mountain range, leaving a 10 mile wide plain. Over the last several million years, the Rio Grande River has cut the gorge some 800 feet from the surface. The gorge runs approximately 50 miles from the Colorado border from northwest to southeast and then the Rio Grande continues its way south to become the border of Texas and Mexico. It is not nearly the magnitude of the Grand Canyon simply because it is much younger than the Canyon and the Colorado River cutting through it.

After a perfectly lovely day, the best was yet to come — an evening with Bruce & Sherry Popham (and Bruce’s mother, Barbara). Good friends from our days in the Florida Keys, Bruce & Sherry sold their business, Marathon Boatyard, last June and by January of this year had sold their home and relocated to just outside Taos. What fun it was to catch up with them – and share with each other all the changes in our lives since our days in the Keys! For those of you that have traveled with us since the beginning of the Loop, it was Sherry to saved us on our first day! Ivory Lady developed a sensor issue not two miles off the dock on the day of our departure (Saturday) and Sherry made magic happen with one of their technical team from Marathon Boatyard and we were on our way the same afternoon!

They have a lovely home near the Rio Grande Gorge and less than 25 minute drive (in good weather) to the ski slopes that they love so much. They are certainly treating life well, seem so happy with their “next chapter” and very happy to share their heaven with friends. We look forward to more opportunities to connect in the seasons to come.

Our last day in Santa Fe found us in the Railyard District, an up and coming area of town where people go to “see and be seen.” It has a variety of art galleries, boutiques (sweatshirts are $250!), movie theatre and delightful restaurants. It also has a sweet little tasting room for Santa Fe Distillery – which we were forced to visit! We thoroughly enjoyed visiting the Santa Fe Train Depot as a train disembarked – it runs from Albuquerque to Santa Fe with 9 stops in between. It’s wonderful that they are maintaining and utilized this classic train depot.

We love trains – and have gone to sleep almost every night of this trip listening to the sounds of their whistles!

But, alas, all good things must come to an end. We returned to Contessa to prepare for an early departure the following morning – for our longest travel day of the trip.

“In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks. The rivers flow not past, but through us, thrilled, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing.” – John Muir

The Painted Desert and The Petrified Forest

We left Williams AZ early on Saturday morning for the ~125 mile journey east to Holbrook.  We checked in, grabbed a quick lunch and were off to explore The Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Park.

Millions of years ago, this land was actually located around 10 degrees north of the equator – where Costa Rica lies today.  Archeologists have identified animal artifacts that eerily resemble current day animals of that region.  As the lands separated, the North American continent floated north to where this land is now approximately 33 degrees north.  The land was under water for literally hundreds of thousands of years and the forests that subsequently formed are the result of changes in our earth that are hard to fathom.

The word “forest” conjures up large stands of shady tress and moss covered paths.  Nothing could be further from the truth in this barren desert and the remains of the “forest” are now in barren desert land.

The Painted Desert covers over 7,500 sq miles of northeastern Arizona with the Petrified Forest lying in the heart of the Painted Desert so colors and majestic views are prolific throughout the 28 mile journey.  These mudstone and sandstone formations are called the Chinle Formation and were deposited some 227 to 205 million years ago.  All the colors are the result of iron in the sediment.  Drier climates allowed the minerals to be exposed to oxygen, rusting the iron and creating the red, brown and orange colors.  Wetter climates “drown” the sediments, allowing little or no contact to oxygen, causing the layers to be blue, gray and purple.

In this area, as well, was the Painted Desert Inn National Historic Landmark.  Originally built in the late 1910’s, it was acquired by the Petrified Forest National Monument along with 4 sqaure miles of land for $59,600.  The facilities was rebuilt by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps), beginning with the first camp being established in the spring of 1938, a second established in 1936 and the third camp in 1938.  They used ponderosa pine and aspen poles cut from nearby forests for roofing beams and crossbeams.  They hand-made light fixtures, tables and chairs, following the designs of Native Americans in the area.   It opened for business on July 4, 1940, but enjoyed a short life (October 1942) due to the US involvement in WWII, when the CCC was disbanded.  Most of the young men went to war, and travel was curtailed by wartime rationing.

The Painted Desert Inn reopened in the 1940’s under the management of renowned Fred Harvey Company, which had many businesses aligned with the Sante Fe Railway and offered a luxurious plan for travelers to dine and lodge until its closure in 1963.  It has since become a museum and example of design and workmanship of the southwest.

One amazing section of the Painted Desert is called “Newspaper Rock”, where as many as 650 petroglyphs are visible, some as old as 2000 years.  The National Park Service provides permanently installed binoculars so that we could see the artwork “up close” and it is truly amazing.  That being said, we have no pictures to capture this amazing depiction of life of centuries ago.

The Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Park holds the distinction being the only National Park with the Historic Route 66 running through it.  In the area of the park available to visitors, there is no sign of the road but they do have a monument to the Historic Roadway and the remains of a Studebacker that was half-buried in the sand.

As we traveled south, we entered the “Blue Mesa” area, where colors were clearly the result of wetter climates centuries ago, with the shades of blue, gray and purple.

The Agate Bridge is an amazing example of petrified wood — spanning 110′ across a cavern.  You can see the concrete support that was installed in the 1950’s, but eventually Mother Nature will win out and the bridge will collapse.  Throughout of journey, we saw evidence of changes that occur in the forest, both major and minor.

The Petrified Forest is littered with the remains of those trees of thousands of years ago.  Many of them, ironically, have broken into pieces that eerily appear to have been cut with a chain saw!

Our last stop was the Crystal Forest, where a 3/4 mile path takes you through an amazing collection of petrified wood where the interior of the trees have become totally crystalized.  The colors resemble the painted desert – in the rust, orange, blue and purple of the desert we had traversed over the past 4 hours.  

After leaving the Park, we returned to Holbrook to trace more of Route 66. We HAD to find the Wigwam Motel, which is such an iconic symbol of what this historic byway was in its heyday.

It is hard to read, but sign says “Have you slept in a wigwam lately?”

It was an amazing afternoon!

One of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World

Neither words nor pictures can capture the grandeur of the Grand Canyon!  While both of us had been here before – it was during our youth, so everything is “new and known” at the same time.

We arrived in Williams AZ, known as the “Gateway to the Grand Canyon”, on Wednesday afternoon and settled into the Grand Canyon Railway RV Park.  Quite functional and easy access to both the town and to our train expedition the next day, the character of the park is severely lacking.  The Grand Canyon Railway is the major source of revenue for the town of Williams, which at one time was a “destination on Route 66.”   It still retains several establishments leveraging the Route 66 theme – and every budget hotel chain for overnight accommodations for those wishing to stay close to the Canyon.

Route 66 is “The Theme” for Williams AZ – the Pie Photo was at Pine Country Cafe.
Our friend, Chuck Evans, said we HAD to go  for their pie – it is the “star of the show”

We saddled up our bicycles and, having completed a tour of town well within a hour, found a lovely little watering hole at the Grand Canyon Brewing & Distilling Company!  We have so enjoyed in both our boat & land-yacht travels experiencing local breweries and distilleries – and this was no exception.  The bartender, Paul, had spent several years in the Virgin Islands prior to coming to Williams (never could get his story on how THAT happened!), so we had lots of conversation about Jost VanDyke & Foxy’s, Speedy’s Taxi and a myriad of other colorful memories.  We are departing with a numbered bottle (#201) of their small batch whiskey!

On Thursday morning, we boarded the Grand Canyon Railway at 9:15 for a 65-mile, 2 1/2 hour trip to the Canyon.  The original railway was the vision of William Owen “Buckey” O’Neill, the major of Prescott.  After five years of lobbying for funding of the railroad, he was successful – his underlying purpose being to reduce the cost of transportation of his mining operations.  On September 17, 1911, the first steam train took passengers and supplies from Williams AZ to the South Rim of the Canyon.  The Railway revolutionized the Canyon, sharing its natural wonder with the general public.

During its heyday, the Atchison, Topeka & SantaFe Railway Company had two scheduled arrivals each day to the Canyon – and as many as six special trains might also be deployed.  The train was the preferred method of travel until, of course, the advent and love affair of the American people with the automobile.  The final rays of sunshine for the railway occurred on June 30, 1968, when Train #14 pulling only one baggage car and coach car left the Grand Canyon Depot with just 3 people aboard.

The 65 miles of track lay dormant for nearly 20 years until a crop duster & his wife, Max and Thelma Biegert, dedicated $15M and every other resource they could muster to reinstate train service to the Grand Canyon!  They & their team of experts had to restore the depots in both Williams & the Grand Canyon, repair 65 miles of weather-beaten track, rebuild washout areas and bridges, replacing over 30,000 railroad ties and countless more rails, beams and spikes.

Their hard work paid off, and on September 17, 1989 — 88 years to the day from the first train to the Canyon, the Grand Canyon Railway returned to service!  They currently provide two trains each day transporting 225,000 passengers each year (well over 2M passengers since it returned to service).  It is more than just alternative transporation – it is an opportunity for many who have never had the experience of rail travel and such a civilized way to make the 2 1/2 hour journey through 65 miles of majestic scenery and stress-free travel.

Our reservations were, of course, made months ahead, so it is the “luck of the draw” relative to weather.  The sun rises early here – 5:45a, which was just after the 5:30 train with his incessant whistle, came screaming right beside our RV park!  We had sun early but by the beginning of the journey, the clouds had rolled in and the forecast for the day was a high of 63 degrees and wind.

GC - Train

We had perfect seats in the dome car – so the view was amazing!

Arriving at the Canyon just before noon, we had our first glimpses of this Natural Wonder!  We knew that we were planning to return by car the following day, so did not feel the pressure to “run & see everything” when we only had ~3 hours before we had to board the train for our return to Williams.  But that did not in any way diminish the breath-taking sense of awe and amazement!

After a brief visit to El Tovar Hotel, the original hotel built and owned by the Atchison, Topeka & SantaFe Railway for their guests, we made our way west towards Bright Angel Trail.  After assessing the storm clouds gathering and listening to the weather alerts on our phones, we elected to stop in the Arizona Room for lunch.  We had not been seated more than 5 minutes when the skies opened up – to more than an inch of pea-sized hail, strong winds and rapidly reduced temperature.

As is often the case at the Canyon, the storm clouds move through quickly.  We ventured out to enjoy the clear, crisp air – throw a snowball or two – and enjoy the South Rim for quite a while before returning to the Depot for our return trip.

GC - Train with Champagne

The Admiral was happy when this greeted her as we boarded the train!

Friday promised and delivered a much more hospitable weather day and we took full advantage with an early departure and the bicycles loaded on the back of The Toad!  Traffic was fairly benign, but we know that once school is out for the summer, the crowds will exponentially increase.  There are more than 4M visitors to the Canyon each year!

Finding a parking place close to the Greenway/Bicycle path, we headed first to Mather Point – the most photographed and heavily populated area of the South Rim.


The Grand Canyon runs from the base of Lake Powell in Colorado to Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam in Nevada,some 288 miles.  Covering 1,902 sq miles, the Grand Canyon National Park was established 100 years ago this year to protect and preserve this natural wonder.  On the South Rim, at an elevation of around 7,000 ft, there are spots where you can see the Colorado River, some 5,280 ft (1 mile) below.  This past spring we were in Borrego Springs south of us in Southern California to see the Wildflower Super Bloom.  That entire region was at on time part of the Sea of California, but the land was created from the silt flowing from the Grand Canyon!

GC - The Canyon & Colorado River

If you look closely, you will see the Colorado River!

The bicycle path fortunately is not the most desirable for the walking visitor, so we headed west without traffic for the 2.5 mile ride to once again attempt to reach the Bright Angel Trail.

We returned to the car for a picnic lunch and then headed out east to South Kaibab Trailhead.  A much less populated area of the South Rim, it provided one of the highlights of our visit – up close & personal encounter with two elk!

We kept our distance while attempting to capture some pictures of these massive ladies.  They had certainly taken over the bike path, so after enjoying the view, we retreated back to the visitor center and our vehicle.  In all, we had done about 7 miles of well-maintained pathways that are anything but level.  What an amazing place – we look forward to returning to the South Rim and exploring the North Rim!

GC - The Canyon 12 - Piper Creek Vista