The Road to Durango
May 2000

Los Alamos National Laboratory Museum

We headed north out of Santa Fe towards Durango, Colorado.  First we stopped at Los Alamos to visit the Los Alamos National Laboratory Science Museum.  We thought that Los Alamos Labs was a nuclear outfit but learned they are involved in many other disciplines.  Robotics had emerged as a by-product of the technology for handling atomic material.  This robotics technology was later employed to perform the thousands of sampling and processing operations necessary to map the human DNA.
Here Mitch and Max are standing in front of a Cray I super computer.  As I recall it was built in the late 60's for several hundred thousand dollars and processed data at a speed similar to today's Pentiums.  I think the speed was around forty or fifty megahertz. 

We took the main road up the hill to Los Alamos.  It is a very steep road.  On the way out we crossed the bridge and went down the truck route which travels through a long ravine.  As we joined the main road below we notice a small fire in the trees over the next hill.  We now think this was the controlled burn that grew out of control the next day and eventually overtook the entire area. 

From Los Alamos we drove on to northern New Mexico.  It looked more like Montana here.  There was no sage brush or cactus, the mountains were full of snow, the rivers running high and the air moist and brisk.  After parking the trailer I turned on the laptop and sat down to catch up on a little office work.  An evening at the office is not so bad out here along the river.

Durango, Colorado

We arrived in Durango the next day and set up at United RV Park just north of town.  To the left of this picture is the office and three rows of RV parking.  Restrooms and laundry straight ahead, then to the right is the narrow gauge rail line.  The old steam train makes scenic trips to Silverton, Colorado every day.  The horse corrals and tent camping is to the right.  Below you can see the Animas River to the left of the tent area and horse pasture.   The river runs right through Durango where there is great river rafting with a park and bike trail along the side.  There are many cables hanging across the river holding gate markers for kyak racing.  One evening we went to the park and watched the fun.  The river was flowing fast and strong with the spring melt.

Max enjoyed pulling grass and feeding the ponies.

We were here for several days.  Two nights before we left San Diego the gray water tank that holds the shower and bathroom sink water had broken open.  We could still use the tank since the split was on the top.  We had ordered the tank and picked it up in Las Cruces New Mexico.  Durango looked like a great place to spend a couple of days replacing it. 

Our inverter had arrived in Santa Fe, so now we could begin connecting it as well.  An inverter converts 12 volt DC to 120 volt AC for our TV, microwave oven, and computers.  When we order something like this we use UPS or FedEx, plan ahead, and have it shipped to a town where we will be when it shows up.
Each day the Durango-Silverton narrow gauge railroad train steamed though the park.  The whistle would blow all the way up the canyon which is sprinkled with small crossroads and farm trail crossings.  Mitch and Max went out at every opportunity to set coins of every type on the tracks.
Mitch was very interested in making natural dyes.  He had learned about this at the Folk Art Museum in Santa Fe while preparing sheep's wool and making yarn. 

While Ed worked on the gray water tank, the boys collected a variety of plants and tree blossoms to make dyes.  Some they mashed and others they soaked in water and left in the hot sun. 

Mitch made a chart with a drawing and description of the plant and a sample of the color it produced.  They both painted pictures with their homemade paints. 

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

After Durango, we drove thirty-five miles to Mesa Verde National Park.   Needless to say the cliff dwellings are the attraction here.
This community is called Spruce Tree.

This national park preserves a spectacular reminder of a thousand year old culture.  Archeologist have named these people Anasazi, from a Navajo word translated as "the ancient ones."  Kopapelli, the flutist, is the famous icon of the Anasazi.
Max climbs down the ladder into a restored kiva at Spruce Tree.  "Kiva" is the Hopi word for this ceremonial room.  The kivas at Mesa Verde are under ground and may be compared to churches or community meeting rooms of later times.  Kivas also served as gathering places and places to weave. Access is by ladder though a hole in the roof.  The photo on the right is inside of the kiva.
The roof is built upon columns along the side of the circular structure.  Logs are placed on these columns to form an octagon and successive layers of smaller circular octagons are stack on top to form a log dome.  the dome is packed with small branches and the hole is backfilled with dirt to form a flat surface on the top. 

As the ranger pointed out, a flat surface is a highly prized commodity for cliff dwellers.

On the left archeologist collect data at Spruce Tree and tourists talk with the Ranger near one of the kivas.  Mitch poses for a picture with the ranger.  As the boys get more patches and badges on their shirts they also attract more attention. Sometimes they are asked to pose for pictures by other tourists.
Next we visited the "Cliff Palace."   We travel down a narrow steep path with many steps.  This site is a ranger lead program in order to ensure preservation of the dwellings.  The ranger also provides a lot of facts about the dwellings and current understanding of the people that lived here. 

A few decades ago theories stated that the cliffs provided a good place for protecting the community from warring tribes.  Today these ancients are seen as a peaceful, agriculture people and no evidence exists to show otherwise. 

Although we had a path with steps and a handrail, the original inhabitants of this site used only hand and toe holds chipped in the rock to climb directly up and down the cliff walls.  The original trail is on the right side of the picture below above the trees.

Anybody recognize this plant?  Since we're from the Pacific Northwest we're familiar with a plant called Nettles and know to stay away from it.  We had heard about this famous plant but nobody in our family had seen it before.

Yes, it's Poison Ivy.  I hope we can remember what it looks like since we'll most likely stumble into more of it on our travels.

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