Aztec Ruins, New Mexico and Mesa Verde, Colorado

For a few weeks in 1994, I took a trip out west, driving my 1986 Toyota Celica from Delray Beach, Florida to Utah and back. I intended to spend about a week with the Sierra Club, working on trail maintenance in the Collegiate Peaks in Colorado, but also visited a number of other sights. I did not keep a diary of the trip, but did write postcards and a letter to my mother, which she retained. Thus, while I do not know the start and end dates of my trip, I know a few of the intermediate dates, as I recorded when writing to my mother.

I drove through Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and into Texas. I stayed in hotels for a few nights, but camped out for the night at Brazos Bend State Park, south of Houston.

Deer, Brazos Bend State Park, Houston, Texas

Deer at Brazos Bend State Park, South of Houston

7-25-94
Dear Mom,

Found the Mobile Credit Union without trouble. Camped outside Houston. Took about 40 miles to get to State Park. Cost $5 to get in + $9 to camp. Didn’t think it was worth it considering Motel 6’s are $25 or so & not 40 miles out of the way. Found Art Museum in Houston. They didn’t have Vigée LeBrun in their collection like I thought, but they had one from Univ. of Arizona on loan. I think I have slide [of that one] from magazine, but I’m unsure. I know Arizona didn’t answer when I wanted to order slide; they didn’t have slide or postcard with this loan, only expensive book. Camping was o.k., but I think I need sleeping pad for $9. Fork & spoon rusted, so I’ll look for lexan. Only knife was stainless!

Looking back 20 years, I’ll note that I was frugal in part because I was in-between jobs. I wanted to camp not only to save money but also for the experience of camping, but I didn’t want to drive far out of the way just for the sake of camping. Thus, in hindsight, I could have stayed at a Houston motel. On the other hand, if I’d stayed in a motel, I would have missed seeing the deer.

* * *

July 29th: My next stop was Carlsbad Caverns National Park, in southeastern New Mexico. I don’t recall why it took me three days (July 26th, 27th and 28th) to drive there, as it could have been done in one day of driving. I don’t have any photographic evidence or written records indicating other tourist stops along the way.

I was using a Canon A1, which was a good 35mm single lens reflex camera. Unfortunately, the slow Kodachrome 64 that I was using did not combine well with the low light levels and the lack of a tripod, and all I have to show for the visit to Carlsbad Caverns is one barely passable image:

Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico

Carlsbad Caverns

[July 29, 1994]
Dear Mom,
Stayed @ Motel 6 in Pacos, TX. In morning drove to Carlsbad Cavern. Larger rooms & passages than Mammoth, & nicer formations. Mammoth is longer. Probably camp tonight, maybe in Cuba, N.M.

In those pre-GPS days, travelers had to rely on paper maps, and I had an almanac in my car.  Cuba is outside Albuquerque, and I do recall camping somewhere near Albuquerque. Looking at a map now, I likely drove from Carlsbad to Albuquerque through Roswell, but I have no recollection of that. I do vaguely remember that I took one road over a mountain, and discovered that the road was several miles of a dirt road, with a very jarring ride.

* * *

July 30th: In the morning, I drove to the northwest part of New Mexico, where I sent another postcard back to Florida:

7-30
Dear Mom,
Gas was cheap in E. Texas, where it’s refined, but more in W. Texas. Here in N. Mexico, it’s very expensive except for Albuquerque. Near Carlsbad in the S.E. & Farmington in the N.W., Unleaded is 85 octane, & my car needs 87 minimum. They don’t even sell such cheap gas in the East. I used the Super, which is 1.34 for 89 octane, which would be called Plus in the East. They also sell leaded gas here everywhere. Strange. Bought new metal utensils @ WalMart. These are o.k., all stainless.

After sending the postcard, I visited Aztec Ruins National Monument, which preserves structures of the Anasazi. (The site was misnamed “Aztec” by American settlers in the mid-19th Century.)

Aztec Ruins National Monument, Aztec, New Mexico

Aztec ruins

 

Aztec Ruins National Monument, Aztec, New Mexico

Aztec ruins

A kiva:

Kiva, Aztec Ruins National Monument, Aztec, New Mexico

Kiva

Another kiva:

Kiva, Aztec Ruins National Monument, Aztec, New Mexico

Kiva

A wall:

Aztec Ruins National Monument, Aztec, New Mexico

Aztec ruins

I enjoyed archaeology, but for some reason I never mentioned Aztec Ruins in my postcards home. I speculate it is because I pushed on afterward to Mesa Verde National Park, in Colorado, which was far more impressive in my mind, both in terms of the beauty of the canyon, as well as the beauty and complexity of the human structures there:

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Mesa Verde

The Spruce Tree House:

Spruce Tree House, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Spruce Tree House

 

Spruce Tree House, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Spruce Tree House

 

Spruce Tree House, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Spruce Tree House

 

Spruce Tree House, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Spruce Tree House

 

Spruce Tree House, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Spruce Tree House

 

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Mesa Verde

The Square Tower House:

Square Tower House, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Square Tower House

 

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Square Tower House

Cliff Palace is the largest cliff dwelling in North America:

Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Cliff Palace

 

Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Cliff Palace

 

Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Cliff Palace

Balcony House:

A park ranger leads a tour to Balcony House, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

A park ranger leads a tour to Balcony House

7-30-94 P.M.
Dear Mom,
Camping @ Mesa Verde. Tent seems to be sagging in the middle & I don’t remember it doing that the 1st time. Maybe it did, or maybe I staked it down funny. Saw most of the sites here today. Two sites req’d tickets, & they only give one ticket per day, & they didn’t have any left when I arrived. But I went to the 1st site @ 4:00 & a lady said she couldn’t climb & gave me her ticket, & in the end there were many no-shows & a few people w/o tickets got in. But they hadn’t told people that was a possibility, & I’m sure some left. I went to the 2nd site, & again there were many no-shows, so I saw it 5:30-6:30. I think 1/3 of the people here are Germans. Some are even camping! They seem unfriendly . . . . But then again, people often seem unfriendly to me when I smile & say hello & they ignore me.

Twenty years later, I still don’t know whether the average German tourist in America is friendly or unfriendly. On one hand, I suppose that people are people, and every culture will have some who are friendly and outgoing and some who are reserved. On the other hand, perhaps there are real cultural differences from one country to another. Some say that Americans are superficially friendly but not necessarily sincere, whereas perhaps Germans are superficially unfriendly but they may be grand if you get to know them. But when my interaction with people is limited to a few seconds, a smile and a “hello” would mean something to me, even if it is superficial.

Next: The western trip continues, in Utah

 

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