Travel

Grapes

We traveled to wine country recently. No, not Napa Valley, although I have been to that beautiful area, the wine country I am referring to is in the south central region of New Mexico. Even though California is renowned for producing wine, according to the New Mexico Wine Growers Association, New Mexico is the oldest wine growing region in the United States. (Incidentally, another bit of trivia I picked up is that there are wineries located in each of the fifty states.) The first stop of the journey was in Deming, New Mexico at Luna Rossa Winery. The location of this winery was a surprise because this area is arid and appears to be too much of a desert to sustain grapevines. None the less, Luna Rossa Winery is the larger, multi-staff winery of the two we toured.  It has a large mail order enterprise, which bodes well for my future cravings. The other winery we visited is La Esperanza Vineyard and Winery, located in the beautiful Mimbres Valley. It is a small, family run business on the owner’s homestead. It is named after the daughter of the original landowners and is run by Esperanza and her husband David.

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Both wineries had wine to my liking and while I am no sommelier, the wine I sampled was just as good, if not better, than the wine I sampled in Napa Valley. In fact, I would have to say that I liked the wine I sampled at these wineries better than the wine I sampled in Napa Valley because I purchased bottles from each winery, while I did not sample any wine I felt compelled to purchase while touring in the Napa Valley region. My favorite of the purchased bottles was a blend called Born in Space, which was purchased from La Esperanza.

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To my chagrin, La Esperanza does not sell by mail order and I did not have the foresight to purchase multiple bottles. More wine tours are definitely on the itinerary as we travel to various states. I definitely have to stock-pile bottles of wine that tantalize my palate due to my recently adopting the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas:“ Sorrow can be alleviated by good sleep, a bath, and a glass of wine”.

food        The epicurean delight prepared by my sister Celeste to accompany the wine.

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Celeste and JimMy sister Celeste supervising Jim’s wine portions.

Spending time with my sister Ingrid is always a good reason to visit Memphis. Ingrid is one of the those rare people who always has a smile on her face and a pleasant disposition. She is also my biggest fitness motivator. A visit with her is not complete without our three-mile run at Shelby Farm.

To compensate for getting me out of bed at dawn for the run (she said that we had to beat the Memphis heat), Ingrid presented me with a ticket to Motown The Musical for my “early” birthday present. I enjoy live theater and don’t go as often as I would like so this was the perfect gift. Having Ingrid and my best friend Karen accompany me to the show made for a perfect girls’ day out!

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I have to say hearing all those songs from my youth caused the body to rock and sway. I wish I could deny recognizing each and every song performed, but I can not. During my childhood, my mother played the early Motown songs until the lines wore off the vinyl. The later Motown releases were during my adolescence, a time when Karen and I were co-conspirators. Yes, the phase of my life has arrived where I reminisce about the mischief Karen and I were up to “back in the day” (as my daughters are fond of saying when referring to my youth) when any given Motown song was popular. They are memories that I will cherish for life. Thanks Ingrid and Karen for being a part of my birthday celebration and helping me create more cherished memories.

For many years I have wanted to explore more of New Mexico, but various obligations, until now, have prevented me from doing so. There are mountains, plains, deserts, ghost towns, lakes and almost everthing associated with New Mexico all within hours of the cabin.  When we first arrived this year, it was still at the tail end of monsoon season and thunderstorms can make traveling off the beaten-path difficult.  Even though the truck is built to tackle most anything, it is far too easy to get into the back-country of New Mexico during inclement weather and find yourself really stuck! So, we tried to pick a day when the thunderstorms were more spotty than widespread to embark on a day trip to the Slaughter Mesa.  Slaughter Mesa has a mountain peak that is 8763 feet and despite the fact it is  less than two hours from our cabin, we had never been there.

First stop off the pavement was Quemado Lake. It is definitely on the “return to list” with kayaks or paddle boards.

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Although there was a very large forest fire in this area several years ago, it still has some of the biggest Ponderosa Pines I have seen in a while. They absolutely dwarfed Pamala! Unfortunately, this one was blocking our path up the canyon.  Note to self: pack chain saw for next trip into the wilderness!

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Making our way up to higher ground, beautiful grasslands surrounded us.

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The thunderstorms laughed at our efforts at planning around them and seemed to stalk us all day but we remained dry except for a little sprinkle here and there and fortunately, although we heard alot of distant thunder we didn’see any lightening.

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As we worked our way up over a rocky ridge, we were treated to this view of the valley that we would descend into.

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On our last stretch of dirt road before reaching pavement, we came upon a few of the last remaining buildings of Mangas ghost town.

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After working on the truck since January until literally 2 hours before we left, we finally started our annual Westbound migration in mid-July. A little later than we wanted to avoid the building heat and humidity of Southwest Florida, but migrating we were. For some reason the trip West, although we did things and visited people, seemed to pass in mostly a blur with few pictures taken.

Our first stop was in Orlando to visit our friends Rob, his wife Meghan and their two sons, who recently moved from Fort Myers. (regular readers may remember we visited Rob’s parents in Alaska during our travels last year) They had dinner waiting for us when we arrived (late) and we spent the evening and next morning over breakfast catching up. When it was time to leave the boys were trying to leave with us. Future adventure travelers perhaps? Still hot and humid.

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From there we paid a visit to our older daughter and son-in-law in Jacksonville. While there Andre, our son-in-law, and I did the Crocodile Crossing zip line tour at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park. Unfortunately cameras were not allowed on the course. We had a blast but man was it hot and humid in the tree canopy! Did I mention we were leaving Florida to escape that?

The next few days found us wandering around Georgia and North Carolina. We visited Tallulah Falls in North Georgia. Still hot and humid with a nasty late evening thunderstorm thrown in for good measure. Glad we weren’t in a tent!

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Being novices to whitewater rafting, we went on our first “self-guided” whitewater trip with Rolling Thunder River Company on the Nantahala River in North Carolina. Of course it was my job to keep our Funyak upright and pointed in the right direction while under various threats to my well-being from Pamala. It didn’t help that the rental company refers to the two person boats as “divorce boats”!

Here we are deciding (I’m deciding, Pamala is reiterating previous threats) how to approach an upcoming class 3 rapid notorious for flipping rafts.

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Me doing my best to avoid said threats.

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And a happy, mostly dry, Pamala after my successful navigation.

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Still hot and humid, although the forty-something degree water helped. From there we were headed to a friends cabin in the boonies of North Carolina to spend the night. We were following hand written directions, so after passing a few gravel roads, when they said “go about a mile and a half and turn left on rough gravel road”, this wasn’t exactly what I was expecting! At least we knew it was the right gravel road. Still hot and humid.

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We made a few more stops along the way which were mostly uneventful…except one.

Beware of the town of Calhoun Tennessee, it is a SPEEDTRAP! 

And yes we were trapped! A $215 lesson learned!

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In retrospect, it is hard to believe that we have been traveling to Albuquerque annually for over 15 years and never once booked a hot air balloon ride. Albuquerque is the home of the largest balloon festival in the world. No where else have I visited and awakened to see the sky littered with colorful balloons of various sizes drifting over the city. Sooooo, finally, on our 21st wedding anniversary, we climbed into a hot air balloon basket and trusted our pilot, Dar of Rainbow Ryders, to dip us into the Rio Grande, clip the top of cottonwood trees and eventually ascend 4000 feet above ground level, giving us spectacular views of the world below us. The experience did not disappoint and was worthy of the 15 year wait. The two-hour flight could only have been enhanced by an in-flight gourmet meal with a three-person band serenading us. None the less, the entire experience, with the exception of an initial problem with the booking process, was enjoyable.  We especially appreciated the celebratory mimosas that awaited us once we were on the landing pad.

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You have probably figured out by our lack of postings that the “Big 2014 Alaska” trip, for all intents and purposes, is over. We arrived at our cabin/second home in rural New Mexico in late September. We thought we would venture out from the cabin on a short trip or two since we planned to stay through the end of December, but other than a few hikes and a little back road exploring, it just didn’t happen. We still have to get back to Florida, but that will mainly be a road trip visiting friends and family along the way.

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Our cabin is an ongoing project and we just keep finding things to do! One of the first projects was to import a little Inuit cultural influence in the form of an “Inuckshuk”.  We were introduced to these in Western Canada and immediately decided we needed one of our own. The Inuit used them for various purposes including navigational markers and indicators of a place of significance.

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We had tentatively planned to go to Moab, Bryce Canyon, and the White Rim Trail but ultimately decided to save those for next year. With winter quickly approaching and no trips planned we decided to winterize  the trailer and put it away for the winter. It was a bittersweet moment…

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… but a timely one!

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We had been planning this trip with Alaska as the focal point for many years. Sometimes you worry the experience will not equal the anticipation but that was definitely NOT the case. This trip delivered! Look for some “best of” photo compilations in the near future. We hope you have enjoyed following along on our journey and rest assured there will be more in the future.

For now it’s back to Florida and I have some interesting vehicle projects on the agenda.

Stay tuned…

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Remaining fit during our travels was a top priority. It was a hassle to make room for our bikes, but we did because they were an integral part of our fitness regime. Because space is a premium when rv’ing, I forfeited my weights and packed exercise tubing instead. I also had a list of exercises that required only body weight for resistance. Running shoes and other fitness apparel were also packed.

Well, let me tell you. Our commitment to fitness faded with each passing mile. There was always an excuse: too hot, too cold, not enough time, wrong environment, bears in the area…ad nauseam. I used the exercise bands once and performed body weight exercises twice. At the beginning of our trip, we biked once. The only substantial hike we did was in Montana, again at the beginning of our trip. I ran a total of three times in four months. Jim did not run at all. As the weeks passed, we participated in less and less physical activity.

On return from Alaska, we were feeling quite sluggish and decided it was time to get back to a regular exercise routine. So we began with biking while we were in Montana. It was a sad attempt at re-entry into the world of fitness. We were motionless, breathing as if we had a pulmonary disease, more than we were in motion. I would like to use the excuse that we are flat-landers and are not accustomed to climbing on a bike. But that is a prevarication. During our annual sojourns to New Mexico, we mountain biked regularly. We are, just plain and simply, deconditioned.

Since accepting that epiphany, we have recommitted to fitness. We have been biking and running regularly. We hiked the 8-mile Narrows Rim Trail recently and captured some breathtaking views once we reached the top. Next on our list is the 16-mile Acoma-Zuni Trail. We hope to hike the La Luz Trail on Sandia Mountain, if we can get in shape for that hike before it is too cold. Oops, we are doing it again. Excuses, excuses, excuses.

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ADDENDUM: A few days after I wrote this post, I was attacked, not by a bear, mountain lion or wolf. No sir. I was attacked by a wild domestic dog. I sustained superficial wounds on the front of my leg and deep, or as we medical folks would say, full thickness wounds on the back of my leg. So now instead of getting into shape, I spend my days changing bandages and traveling 65 miles each way to go the doctor for wound care. So unfortunately, biking, hiking and running are on hold for now. Although I would rather have avoided being attacked by an animal, I think I now have a legitimate reason to delay regaining my previous level of fitness. Jim, however, has no excuse…so I say to him, chop, chop and no I don’t need you to stay here and help me change my bandages.

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As we worked our way south through Colorado toward our cabin in New Mexico, I was thinking about detouring over to Durango to ride the Durango & Silverton narrow gauge railroad. Rather than go that far out of our way, I decided to settle for the Cumbres & Toltec railroad from Antonito, CO to Chama, NM, which was on our route. When I mentioned the train ride, Pamala’s response was “And you want to do this why ?”. To which I replied “It’s an old-fashioned steam train ride through the mountains, hanging off of cliffs, why wouldn’t I?”. She once again saw the error of her ways and we booked the ride. We booked the cheap seats rather than the “period correct”, full service car, which turned out to be a good plan since I spent the vast majority of the time enjoying the views from the open gondola car. The weather turned out perfect for the day and the Aspen trees were changing so even Pamala ended up enjoying the ride.

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I stifled a moan when Jim suggested going to Rocky Mountain National Park. My immediate response was how many tree-covered mountains must we see? Were Denali, Glacier, and Yellowstone not representative enough? I love nature and enjoyed visiting the National Parks we patronized very much, but did not feel Rocky Mountain would be different enough from the others to warrant the time and expense of going there. Yet because Rocky Mountain was on Jim’s list for this trip, I acquiesced. So we traveled through the wind-blown prairie of Wyoming and encountered 19 degree temperatures and snow in order to reach the park. I must admit that I had awful flash-backs of the trip to the North Slope.

I was distracted from my flash-backs when we encountered multiple herds of antelope en route and immediately rewarded when entering the park by the presence of a large bull elk. A family of marmot and a herd of elk entertained us while we were at the visitor’s center. Upon reaching the park, I was pleased with the more temperate weather, since the park is located in the north-central region of Colorado. More on this later!

Perhaps because we were at the park on a Sunday, it was very crowded. We had to bypass many of the scenic turn-outs due to lack of available parking for RVs, but we were still able to experience, I think, the essence of the park. Driving the Trail Ridge Road through the park was quite an experience. It is the highest, continuous paved road in the U.S. reaching 12, 183 feet of elevation, and based on my declining level of physical fitness, I would never have reached the peak by foot. It is quite a steep climb up.

I discovered that Rocky Mountain is different from the other parks we visited in that it has three distinct zones: the montane, subalpine and alpine zones. The montane zone is the lowest (below 9000 feet) and warmest zone. Most of the animals are found here and this zone is indeed where we saw the bull elk. The subalpine zone is between 9000 and 12000 feet of elevation and is directly below the treeline of the park while the alpine zone is naturally above the treeline. When we reached the alpine zone, the weather was quite chilly (code phrase for unbearably cold) due to the elevation and lack of trees to block the wind. All the zones are beautiful, although I tend to favor the areas with trees over the rugged, treeless areas. We were in the park too late in the season to see the wildflowers that blanket the alpine zone in the spring and summer months. Fall was definitely in the air, as was evident by the brilliant foliage found on the trees in the montane zone.

I concluded that Rocky Mountain is unique in its own right. We experienced several climate and geographical zones within the park. Our senses were stimulated by the range of colors, the bodies of water and the wildlife. In addition, Jim is happy that he can now check Rocky Mountain National Park off his list, but I am still cold from the time spent in the alpine zone. I think I need another spa day to warm up! Is Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Spa and Resort near by?

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