Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Monkeying Around - Part II

Note: Some how this post went live after I added all my pictures but before I added any text. Darn those little internet gremlins.

Our weekend jaunts continued when we drove Greg's parents to Chama, New Mexico to ride the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad on August 15th. The four of us have taken this trip a number of times and were very excited to repeat the experience. But, this trip was extra special as it was the Saturday night train which stops at Cumbres pass for dinner and a concert by Chris Collins. Greg found out about the train and found a discount coupon online! Greg's mom LOVES, LOVES, LOVES John Denver. Always has and always will. She met him once and he kissed her on the cheek. A moment I don't think she will ever forget. Chris Collins does a John Denver tribute.

We loaded onto the train about 5:00 p.m. and started out of Chama, NM. But, after we crossed over the highway, with next to no explanation, we backed all the way back to the train station. There was a leak in the first engine so we had to wait while they tested it and eventually switched us to another engine. But, once we got started the second time, things went smoothly.

We had a great train ride at sunset. The dinner was delicious, plentiful and well organized. Chris Collins is a very good singer. The crowd enjoyed singing along and Greg's folks were thrilled when they got called up to join Chris in a song and dance number. Chris even sang the John Denver song that Greg and I got married to - "Annie's Song" and ended the evening with everyone's favorite Rocky Mountain High. It was dark when we got back to the station at about 9:30. Then it was a couple of hours back to our home in Los Alamos. Such a fun and memorable evening.

Going around the bend

The views from the train are amazing

Greg scored a seat right by Chris Collins and Greg's folks and another woman got
picked to dance and sing with faux JD. They had a blast!

One of the wonderful things about living in Northern New Mexico is that I can take off at 3 p.m. on a Friday and we can get to amazingly, wonderful places for a quick weekend getaway! We are so fortunate to live where we live since we can't take off full-timing just yet. So, on Friday the 21st, I left work a little early and we headed northwest through Gunnison to Ouray.

Blue Mesa Reservoir outside Gunnison, Colorado

We have stayed and soaked in the areas around Ouray, but this was our first time staying in Ouray. We had a nice dry camping spot at the 4 J + 1 +1 Trailer Park. It is in the perfect central location for having fun in Ouray. We asked about the name. The owners originally were the 4 J and then had their third and then fourth child. All six of their names begin with, you guessed it - the letter J.

The park has very nice amenities including a laundry room, large bathrooms with showers. It is located along the river. There are full hookups, but we chose to stay in one of the dry spots which was less expensive.

Our very nice campsite at 4 J + 1 + 1

Within walking distance of the campground is the downtown Ouray park and they have a gazebo

We had a wonderful time in Ouray. We walked around town, had an evening soak at the Ouray Hot Springs Pool and ate a delicious dinner at Buen Tiempo Restaurant and Cantina. 

But, the highlight of the trip was hiking the Ouray Perimeter Trail. The hike begins across the road from the Visitor's Center. It is about a 4 mile loop hike.

The hike start across the road from the Visitor's Center in Ouray

Great views from the hike of the town park, Ouray Hot Spring Swimming Pool
and beyond it the campground. 
Hey look - it's Box Canyon Blog Mark & Bobbie's house. We stopped to catch our breath toward the beginning of the climb up the trail and recognized the blue house from Life's Little Adventures' blog.
We resisted knocking on the door and simply admired their killer view from afar.

Trail's edge looking down at Ouray, Colorado

Awesome views from the narrow trail
Waterfall selfie

The hike starts on a cliffside and then moves into a beautiful forest

Loved the river sculpted rocks

Views along the Ouray Perimeter hike
As you loop back toward town, you can walk by the canyon that is a favorite for climbers in the winter. We noticed all the piping that clearly shoots water down the edge of the canyon to enhance the ice. I can't imagine the guts and skills it takes to ice climb down or up this awesome canyon.

Million Dollar Highway from Ouray to Silverton. Can you tell that one whole lane is literally gone? No idea how they will fix it since it is a sheer drop into a canyon with a rock wall on the other side. During the day this drive to Silverton and then on to Durango isn't so bad. You can see that you are on the edge. But, we have also done this drive many times VERY late at night. As you make the tight turns there are often a variety of animals around the corner. We've seen deer, elk, marmot and a skunk. I don't mind driving the million dollar highway, but I have to admit it is a little hair raising at night.

Greg and I sort of stayed home for Labor Day weekend, but not really. Greg's folks also live in Los Alamos about a 4 minute walk from our home. They were going up to the Jemez Mountains to camp at San Antonio campground. One of their favorite spots. During most of the summer, San Antonio is on a reservation only system and they usually are booked solid. They have a variety of electric/water, no electric and walk-in campsites. There is a short, paved trail along the river filled with wildflowers. We came up on Sunday, brought dinner to cook, went for a walk along the river and then had a campfire. We stayed the night and got up early the next morning to say our goodbyes and then drive to nearby La Cueva for breakfast at the Ridgeback Restaurant. We highly recommend it. Excellent food and a really good price. But, don't be in a hurry.

Karen, Jack and Frances. Jack is Greg's parent's Bishon
Yes, that is a dog stroller. Jack is totally blind and has trouble walking.

Greg and his parents on the trail. Jack loves his stroller. 

San Antonio campground

The boy never leaves the man

As with much of New Mexico and southern Colorado, we have had an interesting summer with more than our usual amount of rainfall. The normal monsoon season seemed to last all summer with beautiful days and late afternoon storms. I never get tired of our beautiful, New Mexico skies.

New Mexico is known for our amazing skies and sunsets. 

Storm rolling in to Los Alamos, NM making Pajarito Mountain look insignificant

Monday, September 14, 2015

San Antonio Hot Springs, New Mexico

The top pool of San Antonio Hot Springs from Summitpost.org.

(By Greg) There is a hot springs up in the Jemez Mountains that is pretty cool ... or hot!  It is up near a town called "La Cueva" high up in the mountains above Jemez Springs. To access it you must take Hwy 126 past San Antonio Campground (a rare, relatively new Jemez campground with electric / water hookups).  You take Forest Road 376 about 5 miles and then you will see a couple old buildings up on the right side and the hot springs are up a slope in that area. GPS Coordinate of the hot springs: (35.939821, -106.643455)

The hot springs is nice as it sits on the steep side of a canyon and has great views and great water. The water pours out of a spout and you can sit under the water spout as it pours out.  Apparently, a crew was drilling for access to the geothermal water and hit it big with a huge amount of hot water pouring out.  It was too much, or too minerally and they abandoned the spring, and now it is open as a day use area for the public to enjoy. (There may be more to this story, but the bottom line is they created a hole with a large amount of hot water pouring out - thank you very much!)

The top pool is the hottest and then there are about 5 pools on the slope below that folks can enjoy for slightly cooler soaks.

Looking up to the to pool back in 2005
Joe, Greg and Merrily
Clothing is NOT optional and the forest rangers are overly vigilant in keeping it that way (even though the State of New Mexico tourism dept. advertises it as clothing optional). This is true of all the national forest natural hot springs in the Jemez Mountains, so make sure you bring your suit.

Here are some more photos of the hot springs from our prior visits in 2005 and 2006.


San Antonio Creek at the base of the hillside hot springs

Karen's sister Merrily and our nephews enjoying the natural springs

So relaxing!

The slope up to the pools is a bit sleep, so leave great Gramps at home.

The problem with FR 376 is that it is a 4x4 high clearance road with big nasty ruts in a few places. You can't get a standard car up this road, from my experience.  I had a Jeep a few years back that could make it and I took folks up there and we enjoyed the hot spring a ton.

I currently own a Honda CRV all wheel drive. It does pretty good on most dirt roads but it is no Jeep. I don't feel it is the car for getting to the hot springs on FR 376.

I was looking at a map of the area the other day and noticed that FR 144 goes along the canyon ridge right near the hot spring. It struck me that maybe I could drive out there in my CRV, as 144 is a much better dirt forest road then FR 376. I decided to drive with my GPS and figure out if one could get to the hot spring from the west rim of the canyon.

There are a ton of great boondocking spots along FR 144, by the way!

After a lot of hunting around, I found a meadow area on the rim that had a rough trail that led down the steep canyon slope to FR 376, very near to the short trail up to the hot springs from 376.

This trail is extremely steep and you have to side slip down some parts of it, but it is doable by most people in good shape.  I wouldn't take Mom, Gramps, or the kids on this trail as it may be too much of a slope for weaker hikers.  It's not a long trail.  You go down about 350 feet to the bottom.

The climb back up is a real heart pounder. I had to stop quite a few times to let my heart recover from it's massive pounding on the way back up!

The area where this trail / route starts has a few, pretty nice boondocking locations with great canyon views. I plan to boondock up there and hike over to the hot springs at some near future opportunity.

I believe you can get some pretty big RVs back into this area.  The road it not too bad. (Don't trust my word, explore it before you try!)

Here is the GPS coordinate of the area to start the hike down from the top of the canyon: 35.946813, -106.644565 .  It wasn't hard to spot the little trail down.

There is also a Forest Road just a little further north that leads from FR 144 down to FR 376.  It is FR 378.  It's not as smooth as FR 144, but I believe I could take my CRV up and down it with no real serious problems. I plan to give it a try soon.

If you take this road down, you can drive back south on FR 376 to the base of the hot spring area for the short hike up the slope to the pools.  You must open a rickety wire gate at the top of 378 and close it behind you. Cows were standing at the gate when I explored this area. (I guess the grass was greener on the other side? But I kept them from getting through.) There is one big bump to get over right at the top of the road but then it's not all that bad going down. You might have to move a couple of large rocks off the road as you move down it. It's not maintained as well as FR 144.

Here is the GPS coordinate of the top of FR 378:  35.961354, -106.636398 .

There is a surprisingly good little breakfast cafe (maybe lunch and dinner too, but we had breakfast) at the intersection of Hwy 4 and 126.  It's called Ridgeback. It's next to a small market and in front of the rustic La Cueva Lodge.

Here are some photos from my exploration of this area:

One of the boondocking sites near the trail down.

Looking towards the hot springs area across the canyon.

A view looking down into the canyon headed south.

A portion of the foot trail down into the canyon.

Where I parked near the start of the trail down.

A boondocking site next to where I parked at the top of the trail down.

More nice boondocking area on the canyon rim. Great views.

Looking down into the canyon.

Some boondockers along  the early part of FR 144 near the main hwy. The got their big RVs in just fine.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Monkeying Around - Part I

[By Karen]

For part-timers who work full time - we had an amazing August. We were the ultimate weekend warriors and then some. 

Redondo Campground in Jemez Mountains near Los Alamos New Mexico
The first weekend in August, Greg's parents were camping in their van at Redondo campground in the Jemez National Recreation Area. We are very fortunate to have access to the Jemez Mountains, Bandelier National Monument, Valles Caldera National Preserve and Pajarito Mountain all within a short 30-45 minute drive from our home in Los Alamos.

Redondo is a very nice campground with 60 sites, each with picnic table and fire ring. Three of the sites have covered shelters. There are vault toilets, no utility hookups or a dump station. The maximum length is 30 feet. We went up on Saturday and took them out to eat and for a drive.

For a delicious meal in Jemez Springs, check out
the Jemez State Stop

In the Jemez Mountains
We've had a lot of rain this summer as evidenced by the wildflowers
We took Forest Road 376 to the Gilman Tunnels

The Gilman Tunnels were part of the Santa Fe Northwestern Railway (SFNW) through the canyon which use to transport lumber from the Jemez Mountains. Forest Road 376 has some awesome boondocking, but the area near Gilman Tunnels is NOT suitable for an RV. Read our prior blog about Forest Road 376 here

Jemez Mountains
The next adventure was for our wedding anniversary weekend. Many of our early adventures together were on camping and hiking trips. We are happy to continue that tradition. We headed north to the Crestone Music Festival in the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado about a 3 1/2 hour drive from our house.  I took off Thursday and Friday. Thursday night we went to Orient Land Trust to camp and hike to the bat cave. We hiked at dusk to watch the bats take flight and then hiked back to the campground in the dark. I really enjoy seeing all the bobbing flashlights as everyone makes their way down the mountain.

Always in awe of this beautiful view from our campsite

One of the natural soaking ponds at Valley View
It was a beautiful, clear night. We stayed up late soaking at Valley View Hot Springs and stargazing. Every few minutes there were shooting stars. There were so many, we started counting. Greg saw 11 and I saw 12 - mostly not the same ones. It was such a magical night. Valley View Hot Springs is on the Orient Land Trust. Orient is a non profit dedicated to preserving the hot springs, viewshed, bat habitat, open space and agricultural lands.We hike and camp at Valley View often and are members. Valley View has soaking ponds along wilderness trials, geothermally heated hot tubs, sauna with cold plunge and a natural spring fed swimming pool. Friday morning after our oatmeal and hike, we swam for several hours in the swimming pool. It was the perfect temperature.  For more information, click here. Heads up: As with many beautiful, natural developed and undeveloped hot springs - Valley View is clothing optional in the campground and pools.

After the refreshing swim, we drove the 45 minute drive on Hwy 285 to Crestone. Turn at mile marker 105 (Moffat) and head towards the mountains to reach Crestone. The music festival was being held on the Challenger Golf Course. CrestFest operates the music festival and the money they raise goes to bring music to the schools of the rural San Luis Valley. A very worthy cause and great music. This was the 17th year of the festival. We were able to camp adjacent to the venue. They provided toilets, solar showers and water. But, they did not allow pets.

Our campsite (Humphrey is on the far left) at the Crestone Music Festival 

Best pizza ever! This is a portable wood stove pizzeria.
Hand made from a shipping container and a flatbed truck.
Ingenious and delicious

Last year we attended a music festival/campout that did not include food vendors. We were pleasantly surprised at the variety of food offered in Crestone at the festival. You could even say it was a food fest.

This is a very organized festival. They set up a number of large tent structures for shade and rain shelter. The Great Sand Dune National Park is not far from Crestone. Thus, we should have expected heavy winds. We were enjoying the music, when someone yelled "this tent is collapsing, run!" Not what you want to hear. Everyone scrambled as the tent stakes were pulled up one by one from the heavy wind that was immediately followed by a brief down pour.

One of several tents set up for shade and shelter from the rain

Greg and others hold down the corners of the large tent while
one of the organizers re-secures the tent stakes and lines

We have had so much rain this summer.
The rain leads to an abundance of wildflowers and happy campers.

Still happy after all these years!

Walking the golf course back toward the music festival grounds

Wearing my blanket that was my bridal shower gift (36 years ago)
crocheted by a family member
Next installment:
Chama Train and dinner with John Denver
Stargazing and soak at Valley View
Hiking and soaking in Ouray
Back to the Jemez Mountains and Bandelier for Labor Day hikes.

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