Pictures are on each day's page.
(Lodging at Holiday Inn Expresses for entire trip)
(Weather: Southwestern heat to 100 degrees, some rain, 104 degrees felt in Oklahoma)
Day 1 - Day 2 - Day 3 - Day 4 - Day 5 - Day 6-7 - Day 8 - Day 9-10 - Day 11
See the map below
Refer to Internet Site: www.newmexico.org and click on to "Live Chat" at the News Mexico Visitors Center which is located "live" in Raton. At that chat site, you can request information about any of the locations or ask questions about any location mentioned in this essay. Also, you can just type in location in New Mexico on a general search, such as "Chaco Culture National Historic Park" and review what appears on the search engines. If you prefer not to use a computer, just request books and other publications at your local library
When writing about a vacation trip, everyone wants details: What time did you leave? How far did you get that day? What did you see? I see images, not the time or routes. I want you to visualize what it is like to be at the top of the volcano known as Capulin Volcano National Monument. I want you to imagine the colors, from pink to gray and pumpkin orange back to blue of the distant mountains along a highway in New Mexico. I will not give exact days or times of comings and goings in this essay. However, I must take you back to Missouri. There's a beginning.
Miles were 3,400 or so. Three pages of routes, lodging, tourism sites all neatly typed. I couldn't wait to call my husband, Bill, 'Dorothy.' "This ain't Missouri anymore Dorothy!" That was said in Meade, Kansas.
Meade, Kansas had one welcome sign that's gone this year: "Welcome to Meade, Kansas, Population so much (can't remember the numbers), and Home to 'two old farts.'" I thought, "Tourism at its best in this town!" The next sign read "Home of the Dalton Boys ... They Shouldn't Have Left Town." They sure did leave town and stayed for eternity in Coffeyville. Now, the tourism promoters in Meade never accepted the "boys'" demise in a neighboring town, they just opened up the Dalton Boys Museum. It's a small museum. The Dalton Boys didn't stay long enough in Meade to make much history for the tourists!
I won't forget the Cajun gal at the convenience store in "somewhere" Kansas. She frankly told us she got rid of her oil man husband for a new husband who better think about moving to Louisiana or she would get rid of him, too.
Our trip was 11 days long. It began from Warrensburg, 7:00AM, July 11, and ended about 6:00PM, July 21. First, we went to Holden and on to the state line at Missouri 28 west and onto Ottawa, Kansas by 9:00AM. After Ottawa came Emporia and then Newton, Hutchinson, Pratt, Mineola, and Liberal for the first night on the road: That's 444 miles from Warrensburg.
What we saw were the buttes of the Kansas prairie especially at the National Park Preserve, near Strong City. The Preserve's Spring Ranch is a late 1800's restored mansion, a barn of several levels, and outbuildings of stone. Bill's favorite outbuilding, which he photographed against my warnings, was a three-hole outhouse. He thought his pictures of that outhouse would win at the Missouri State Fair. I told him to forget artistically capturing the texture of wood in the outhouse as stupid for any and every photography competition. He wouldn't listen.
Weather along these miles of prairie Kansas was bright and sunny, hot, upper 90's, and the beauty of the hills and buttes Kansas stretched as far as one could see. It's the west we were in. However, nearing Pratt, Kan., we realized something new was on the horizon: oil wells. That Cajun gal at the convenience store confirmed we were in oil country at Bloom, Kansas.
Nearing Liberal, Kan., we noticed that crop rows were few and more cattle appeared in the vast pastures decorated with sand hills and sage brush. At 5:00 PM we arrived at Liberal where dinner was at our favorite Kansas three-restaurant chain. The Cattleman's Cafe we discovered in Sublette, Kansas a few years ago, and in Liberal was another Cattleman restaurant. We were there before the crowd came and enjoyed the best home cooking we have ever had (except for Bubba's restaurant in Lorenzo, Texas). The one-owner, three-restaurant chain, is located in Sublette, Liberal, and Garden City.
The reason Liberal is often reported about on national news media is simple. The town citizens, outsiders, and English folks turn out for a pancake race on Pancake Blvd. This race copies the one big race of waiters balancing pancakes in England. Both races are timed to occur at the same time. I can just see the headlines: "Ida Sue of Pete's Cafe in Liberal has beat out Richard of St. George's Pub & Pancake House!"
Day 1 Pictures
Kansas is gone the next day and the "Welcome to Oklahoma" is right in front of us as we travel to Hooker, Oklahoma. Yes, the Hooker Chamber of Commerce goes all out with its town's name. And, the Warrensburg Chamber of Commerce could learn a lesson from Hooker. Warrensburg has the Old Drum story: The story of man’s best friend is a dog. Just think what my town could do: Warrensburg has gone to the dogs, Old Drum Days, Old Drum "dogs" (hot dogs), and the national center for artists who compete against each other in creating poker-playing dog paintings. But, alas, Hooker has Warrensburg beat by many tourism dollars spent in that town just because of its "hook" you might say.
Hooker's welcome sign is a 1900's painting of a lady of the hooker profession pointing to the sign’s lettering: "Welcome to Hooker." But, that's not all. Right near that sign is another sign that reads: "Home of the Horny Toads." I think that means the high school football team is called the "Horny Toads."
Never think that you are far from home. When I met my first Navajo of the trip, he set me straight. We were at a convenience store in Clayton, New Mexico, and I was standing by the car when the Navajo came up with his grandkids. He noticed our license plate and asked where in Missouri. I told him Warrensburg. "Know right where that is," he said. He went on to explain he had been stationed at Ft. Leonard Wood a long time ago, "Back then came up to Springfield. Warrensburg is on up from Springfield, isn't it?" Darn, I thought, "I can't get away from the term, 'It's A Small World!'"
The west, as one can imagine the west looks, soon disappears to the plains of oil wells by Guymon, Oklahoma. When Guymon is long past on the hiway, the countryside becomes no longer western, but what I call the southwest. Sand has obviously replaced any resemblance to Missouri dirt. The terrain doesn't look western even though oil wells can still be seen. No more little sand dunes peeking out of thin grass and white rocks. In the distances there is a blue hue, gray turning to black, and pink of the far landscape with big and little dust devils dancing their dust away. The time of day and how the sun shadows in the distance makes the southwest. Color in an environment of dryness looks like it is a brownish cream color marked with green on those plants that survive the heat and no water. Even though some might think there is nothing to see in the desert and the expanse of sameness, there is something there. It’s a color, a feeling, and time. Time doesn't matter in minutes, days, and rush to go someplace. The southwest took millions of years to create it, and one can see those millions of years in buttes, mountain ranges, and ancient volcanoes.
Oil wells are now replaced by volcano fields. The remains of those volcanoes look like upside-down pointed ice cream cones. What came out of those volcanoes were blasted out of the cones and crashed everywhere. Cows graze around the black boulders, houses are built around them, and some tourists take small fragments of the aging lava rocks home with them. Most of the volcanic rocks stay where they landed and where lava pushed more rocks on top of each other. Capulin Volcano, a national monument, is the mama of them all.
We drove up the side of Capulin, visited the park visitors' center, and went on to the mouth of the volcano. Walking around the mouth is strenuous because of altitude (over 8000 feet), so I declined to follow Bill and stayed where I had been before. The upward trail I followed went to a lookout. The silence of the air, a few birds did chirp, but there was nothing but miles of vastness to see at my lookout. One just has to sit there and behave. It's another world.
It is difficult to describe Folsom, New Mexico. The story of who found the Folsom bones and points is sad, and the town is sadder. Folsom is a few miles from Capulin, and it consists of an age ridden hotel and a general store still showing it's grandeur even though it "was on its last leg" one might say. The plump gal sitting by the front door was friendly as we stared at a large room filled with display cases, various old-time stoves, pictures of the way things used to be, and yellowing encased articles about the Folsom find. The museum was depressing. The story of who made the Folsom discovery is depressing. An African-American ranch hand found the primitive bones and points. His life changed after that and not for the better.
After Folsom, came Raton. We stopped at the major state tourism office there. That's where "live" folks will answer your emails about New Mexico. It’s a chat line of sorts. First reply when I emailed them was asking if I had their state travel guide (In Missouri this is called the Missouri Travel Planner from the state Division of Tourism). Of course I had ordered it a week or two before our trip, but their travel guide didn’t arrive to us until we got home. However, I managed to get 6 copies as soon as I got to any tourism office in New Mexico! We had originally wanted to ask questions about tour planning at Chaco, but decided to just go there and see what we could for a tour. The "real" person I had emailed was out to lunch, but the ability to ask a tourism representative through emailing before even leaving home was such a miracle of tourism.
In Raton, there is only one place to go besides the local historical society. After a studious time at the historical society learning about Raton, we were told to go to the Schuller Theater downtown. Old theaters can be restored, and the Schuller is active community with the class and glamour of really being able to go to a "real" theater!
Also, we returned to our favorite Mexican restaurant in Raton, La Cosina. Mountains are around Raton, because the area is called the Raton Pass. This town is still at the high altitude like Capulin, so both places have winters just as we experience or worse.
Day 2 Pictures
The altitude and scenery soon change after Raton and heading for Cimarron which is an artsy town and a central supply for the National Boys Scout camp. We drove through many canyons of green pine trees and, of course, volcanic rock. Taos is about 60 miles from Cimarron, and along the mountainous drive into Taos, one begins to see artists' homes hidden in part along the hillsides. Taos was the same: Very silent in my opinion. I went to all the art shops as before and saw new art statues of playing horses lying on their backs at the main art studio. All I wanted to do was sit in the town’s plaza and watch whatever happened. Nothing happened. A few tourists walked by, the lemonade man had his stand going, and I was forced to leave my bench so Bill could take my picture in front of the Taos sign. I will readily go back to Taos and do nothing but find my favorite park bench and plant myself there for more than an hour.
One of my favorite studies of the "ancient" ones of the Pueblo was at Bandelier National Monument where one can walk along the trails past the kivas and camping areas to the cliff dwellings. At the cliff dwellings, Bill couldn't wait to dare me to climb up the ladders so he could capture my best side.
That evening we arrived by way of five or six lanes of rush hour traffic in Albuquerque. There is something on way to Albuquerque that reminds me of Kansas City US I-70 going through the central core of the city. The interstate hiway walls in Albuquerque are painted blue and pink. That’s not all. On the hiway into Albuquerque we saw more than just paint. There were paintings of native American symbols along the road under bridges and into the city. Couldn't believe no one had done graffiti on the walls to damage the bears, birds, and other designs on those hiway roadside walls. Can one imagine what Kansas City could have in art: A cowboy roping a steer? How about a depiction on Mike Murphy of the famous KCMO cattle drive driving a bunch of dogies into downtown by way of a concrete wall painting?
In Albuquerque we visited our author buddy, Madge Harrah, who wrote the Blind Boone book for children. What a treat to visit a southwestern home complete with an interior porch garden, a Navajo "Two Grey Hills" rug hanging on the wall, and to talk about the places both of us had been, and what was going on in Warrensburg. There was one difference though. Madge offered me a heavy, silver, depression era, piece of Navajo jewelry to hold. The wealth of some Navajos is in jewelry, not in cars or houses. I was holding the value of one person who made the squash blossom flowered designed necklace over seventy years ago. I looked at the intricate silver design and could only picture some one spending hours, days, and months making what I held.
Day 3 Pictures
The next day we were going to Chaco Culture National Monument by way of an 20 mile washboard sand road leading to Chaco. That took a while going only 10 miles an hour. Chaco is a site of a civilization of "ancient" ones (known as those who came before the Pueblo). The site is a mecca for religious perfection of the ancient ones. Chaco residents, lead by their priests who looked for perfection in the skies and on Earth, thrived because what they built was perfected and aligned with the changing skies. The Chaco culture was a strong one for several hundred years except when imperfection stepped in. Nature messed it up. Droughts came for years and Chaco residents began to doubt their priests. Eventually, the Chaco residents just left, died, or mingled with other cultures. No one knows. They just vanished and the ruins of Chaco are still known as a place of mystic and spiritual emotions.
Chaco was built by thousands of "ancient" ones to match the perfection of the sky to the earth, the Aztec ruins in Aztec, New Mexico, was a newer generation of the "ancient" ones. Also, these "ancient" ones are too considered ancestors of the Pueblo. At the Aztec ruins, there is a very large ceremonial kiva restored to give the visitor a feeling of actually sitting in a kiva and imagining what could have occurred in such a big kiva.
The area we had been traveling has huge buttes of color in the red, pink, brown, black, and yellow tones of the rock formations. From Albuquerque to Farmington I wrote as a beautiful drive showing how the desert mingles with the lush green scenes along the highway affected by the San Juan River.
Day 4 Pictures
We were headed for Shiprock, our favorite photographic subject. This time I studied the rock so closely that I thought I was seeing the mythical bird with talons and wings. Shiprock stands alone. It is sacred to the Navajo, and Tony Hillerman has a mystery about Shiprock. We listened to his mystery, called "The Fallen Man," as we travelled to Shiprock. We left Shiprock to enter Arizona eventually. The landscape was the Red Valley area to the Lukachukai mountains and thru the pass to a trading post where we were definitely in the minority. It was not a tourism trading post. It was Navajo, and an older Navajo woman in typical Navajo dress took a double look at me. I was not of her world.
Meat of choice at this trading post is sheep, supplies are here for a long duration between shopping trips, and items for sheep raising. The trading post is the Lukachukai Trading Post. After the Red Valley drive, we headed for Canyon de Chelly, a major stop in our trip.
We arrived at the north rim of Canyon de Chelly and started picture taking. The canyon is a junior replica of the Grand Canyon. That's the way I describe the scene. Navajo women were sitting on rugs selling jewelry. Some were out of the heat under Mesquite trees. That's how I met Jerald.
During the third rim stop, we walked to the rim of that area and was organizing for pictures when I saw a very older Navajo woman snuggled under a tree with her Navajo rug for sale. I went back to another Navajo lady selling jewelry and told her I didn't think it was right for such an older woman to be out in the sun. The younger woman, JoAnn, and I started talking. She explained how the older woman earned her income by selling her rugs under a mesquite tree.
I also asked JoAnn about a guide to the canyon and explained we had confusion on how to take a trip to the bottom of the canyon, and she recommended her brother, who was a guide. That's how we met Jerald, who looked about 40. He was very friendly, told stories, and even his past. He said he went to visit another sister once in Indiana. No one there believed he was Navajo. So, he said he had enough of Indiana!
We spent over three hours in the canyon in our SUV instead of a rented jeep: Not a good idea. The valley floor sand was about eight inches deep, and we sure slid, fish tailed, and buried the tires in sand. Bill decided he couldn't drive in that sand, so Jerald took our SUV and did fine. When travelling to Canyon de Chelly ask for the guide, Jerald, at the park headquarters and recommend staying at the Holiday Inn and dine at the Thunderbird cafeteria. The cafeteria is Navajo plus its two large rooms of Navajo rugs for sale. It's a real education in Navajo rug art.
In Canyon de Chelly there is Spider Rock, home of Spider Woman. Also, many petroglyphs and dwellings during the valley tour. Spider Woman is the mythical source for the Navajo weaving story.
JoAnn Hunter, PO Box 1134, Chinle, Ariz. 86503, home phone: 1.928.674.5973 or cell, 1.505.612.0114 is your contact for tour guide, Jerald, and inquiry about her bead work designs. We purchased beadwork example of the Two Grey Hills design.
Day 5 Pictures
Our next stop was the nationally known and historic Hubbell Trading Post and Museum. Movies show this trading post, it's a real trading post, too, and it contains one of the largest collections of Navajo rugs. The Hubbell museum also has a demonstration area of loom weaving by local Navajo.
After Hubbell, we headed for Window Rock, headquarters for the Navajo government and other tribal concerns. We went into the nation's trading post there where there is a museum and supplies are purchased for jewelry making and rug designs. This trading post was for the Navajo interests not tourists. Later in the day came Gallup, which was having the biggest and longest flea market along the hiway I had ever seen. We wanted to go downtown and tour the Navajo Cultural Center. Recommend the Center for more visual learning of the Navajo traditions and art.
From Gallup and past the location of Zuni, we passed a sign of tourism where we should have stopped: "Get a Piece of Pie at the Pie Cafe, Pie Town, New Mexico."
The highway passing Pie Town, led us again to cross the Continental Divide again at 7,000 ft. We arrived for the evening at Socorro, which was no longer Navajo, but Mexican. The town's downtown plaza looked ordinary, but the southwestern colors were still apparent: blues, pinks, some orange, and a little yellow.
Day 6 Pictures
Uncle Murray knew exactly when we would arrive at his apartment. We were exactly one minute late! We put Uncle Murray in the SUV and headed out to lunch at a Mexican restaurant and to explore the biggest and best used bookstore in downtown Las Cruces. We hunted for more Tony Hillerman books, and I filled up our shopping cart with old editions of 'New Mexico' and 'Arizona Highways'
The afternoon was spent at the Flying P Ranch, Organ Mountain ranch, near Las Cruces. We visited the family last year. Eddie Pringle's mother is a neighbor of ours, so we are welcome to the ranch anytime. It was over 100 degrees when we visited them after a hot hike in Dripping Springs State Park, Organ Mountain area. The rest of the day was spent visiting with the Pringles and seeing their horses and long-horned cattle.
Day 7 Pictures
Our next stop after we said good-bye to Uncle Murray was Guadelupe Mountains National Park.
From there we went to Carlsbad Caverns which took us four hours of exploring beginning at the natural opening of the cave and exploring all we could plus a guided tour.
Did not stay for the bat flight in the evening.
We were too tired to stay much longer, so last night in New Mexico was spent in the town of Carlsbad.
Day 8 Pictures
We left New Mexico and saw oil well fields again along with salt mining. We were headed for Hobbs, New Mexico. The farms now show peanuts and cotton fields, but can see sand dunes and red soil. Drove through Lubbock and passed through Ida Lou. But, the big stop in this area was "Bubba's Texas" Restaurant at Lorenzo. At the intersection of US 62 and 82, this restaurant has the best buffet complete with cheese filled homemade rolls straight from the oven. Bubba's is about 15 miles east of Lubbock. In this Texas area, the temperature and humidity was going up to almost 104 by the time we arrived at Lawton, Oklahoma.
We stayed at the best-rated Holiday Inn Express in Oklahoma, and that was true. A very perfect Holiday Inn Express. Found a barbeque restaurant and then proceeded to a Comanche casino. Won two cents. With those winnings, we went to the Apache casino, at which I managed to loose $5. The next day we headed for the Wichita mountain range. The range is in a national wildlife refuge in honor of native Americans. The refuge is 100 miles square with many buffalo and other wildlife.
After Lawton, came Indian City, which I thought would be the biggest and most tacky Indian attraction I would ever be at. At Anadarko, Indian City is an older tourism attraction and for a fee one can walk around and look at Indian dwellings from the "old days" and then watch a 5 minute dance. I have seen many Navajo hogan dwellings, but never one like at Indian City! I think the owners need "upgrading" of their "Indian City."
At Norman, Oklahoma, we went to the university's Natural History Museum and got a good dose of learning through “hands-on” exhibits. Main exhibit was about prehistoric sea life, and let me tell you, I learned more about ancient sea life than I wanted to. Best native American exhibit and dinosaur displays to see there, too.
Rest of day was spent in long drive to Muskogee and an evening at the very dirty Creek casino at which I lost $5.
Day 10 Pictures
The next day was our destination to the Cherokee Heritage Center, Tahlequah. We toured the Heritage Center's outdoor village and then visited the Trail of Tears outdoor theater there. I am looking forward for a return to see the Trail of Tears play. The Cherokee businesses, including their casinos, are so much more advanced and profitable than other Indian businesses and casinos we experienced. I said to Bill, "The Cherokee know what they are doing." We met the genealogy director of the Cherokee Heritage Center two years ago, and he welcomed us again. Did find out that if one can trace their ancestry to any member of the Trail of Tears, then they are recognized as Cherokee, even though the bloodline is only a drop in the bucket. Many historic leaders of the Cherokee were not fully Cherokee.
After the Center's stay, we came home by way of a tour of Cliff Dwellers' Cave in Pineville, Mo., which is a town for canoeing tourists. We followed US Hiway 71 north until turn-offs to the back roads home.
Day 11 Pictures
This is the end of our 2005 trip. We have more details of driving routes, times of arrival, lodging, and mileage for those who are interested in traveling to where we found the "Land of Enchantment" in New Mexico and many of other places along the way.
See the map of our trip:
View 2005 Trip Southwest in a larger map