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The Story of New Mexico: The Penistaja Badlands

Doh! It's Homer!The Angel #3Swiss Cheese Rock

Last month, we visited the Penistaja Badlands. We were on another tour with the Story of New Mexico, a program offered by the Department of Continuing Education at the University of New Mexico (UNM).

Penistaja Mesa climbs to 7,205 feet (2,196.08 meters) above sea level. It is located approximately two hours from Albuquerque in northwestern New Mexico (in Sandoval County) west of the village of Cuba. It lies between Ceja Pelon Mesa (to the west) and Mesa de Cuba (to the east). Its badlands are often considered one of the nine San Juan Basin Badlands, but they are relatively unknown. They lie in the Nacimiento sedimentary layer, which is approximately 65 to 55 million years old (the Paleocene Period).

According to our guide, Michael Richie, the name comes from an attempt by the Spanish settlers to represent Native American words. In this case, it is believed that the name loosely translates as “a tree to lean against.” This is supposedly based on the fact that a trading post with a large tree once existed near this location. That’s his story anyway and, until someone else comes up with a competing theory, we’ll go with it.

We left Albuquerque on a cool, cloudy spring morning. We drove for almost two hours, until we reached the turn-off onto a graded, dirt road. After a few turns and much bumping, we had arrived.  During our drive, the weather had warmed somewhat, but the skies were still disappointingly cloud covered.

We set off to explore the badlands, which wind in and out around the mesas and buttes. In some places, the slopes towered hundreds of feet above us. The washes (canyons) twisted and turned in a rock-filled labyrinth. Petrified wood spilled down the slopes to cover the bottoms of the washes. In some places, we found huge petrified tree trunks, including one monster16+ foot stump seemingly still growing from the ground. As we hiked, the skies continued to change: cloudy to mostly cloudy to sunny and back again. The winds picked up later in the day and made it feel even cooler.

One of the highlights of Penistaja Mesa is the three, mysterious, stone cairns spaced about a half mile apart along a straight line across the very irregular mesa edge. There is no record of them in any known archaeological data base. Each cairn is over 8 feet tall with a four feet wide base. They are constructed in a mortar-less style similar to that of the ancient Anasazi pueblos. It has been speculated that they could be anything from markers for a pre-Colombian trade route to entertainment for bored Spanish sheep herders, who once herded their flocks over these lands. No one knows.

Six hours, 5+ miles, and 2,000+ feet of elevation change later, we returned to our vehicles tired, but satisfied. As we made the long drive back to Albuquerque, we looked forward to our next tour: a return to the Lybrook Badlands.

We have posted a gallery of photos from the tour: The Penistaja Badlands. Enjoy!

Posted in Uncategorized

The 2013 Supernationals Custom Auto Show

1919 T-Bucket Roadster 'Transparent T''55 Chevy Sedan Delivery'72 Chevrolet Blazer

Last Friday, we attended the 2013 Supernationals Custom Auto Show at Expo New Mexico (the New Mexico State Fairgrounds) in Albuquerque. As the Albuquerque Journal said the show “features enough intricate paint and muscle to make a car buff out of you.” More than 200 custom vehicles from 11 states were on display at this, the 22nd Annual Supernationals Custom Auto Show.

Since 1992, the Supernationals have been “the” premier annual automotive event in New Mexico. Each year, the show attracts custom cars, street rods, motorcycles, muscle cars and more from throughout the country, as well as local and regional vehicles for both show and competition display.

There were many notable vehicles on display. One amazing car was the “Scythe,” a high-powered violet car called “the most customized car of its time” by auto enthusiasts. Although it started life as a Ford Mustang, you would never know it to see it. The body has been completely redesigned and features triple headlights, a twin-turbo Shelby engine, doors that open like wings, and hubcaps with turning chrome scythes. Another notable car was the “Speed Demon,” a custom desert racer with a Chevy engine, which set land speed records in excess of 440 miles per hour!

And let’s not forget motorcycles. There seemed to be almost as many custom bikes as cars. Some of the most amazing bikes were by RK Concepts. Their stainless steel bikes looked like something out of the Mad Max movies. The gas tank for one of the bikes was a fire extinguisher to be worn on the rider’s back!

Hot wheels; cool engines – what more could you ask for? We have posted a gallery of photos from the show: The 2013 Supernationals Custom Auto Show. Enjoy!

Posted in New Mexico

Celebrating New Mexico

Although our site has been on-line since 1998, this incarnation celebrated its first birthday yesterday! The past year has been about celebrating New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment. Over the last year, we have posted twenty galleries with almost 700 photos. From our Christmas traditions to our curiosities, from our landscapes and badlands to our movie ranches and balloon fiestas, we have shown you a small slice of the amazing state we call home.

Next year will be more of the same and hopefully something new: galleries of interesting places we have visited outside of New Mexico. From New Mexico, we will have more galleries of badlands, curiosities,  landscapes, and who knows what else. From outside New Mexico, we may post galleries of sights in California, Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, and Washington, DC.

Enjoy!

Posted in News

The Story of New Mexico: The Movie Ranches

The SaloonThe Church

In October 2010, we were fortunate to visit two of New Mexico’s “movie ranches” on another tour sponsored by the Story of New Mexico, a program offered by the Department of Continuing Education at the University of New Mexico (UNM). It was the first and only time they have offered the tour.

The Bonanza Creek Movie Ranch

The Bonanza Creek Movie Ranch is located in the foothills eight miles south of Santa Fe and about an hour from Albuquerque. With over 12,000 acres, it’s also a working cattle ranch, raising primarily Longhorns. The first movie filmed at the ranch was The Man from Laramie (1955). Since then, more than 60 movies have been filmed at the ranch, which has five sets: the Movie Town, the Mountain Homestead, the Pond House, the Prairie Homestead, and the Fort. Unlike most sets, which are merely facades, all buildings have four sides and many of them have usable interiors. We visited all of the sets, except the Fort.

The Movie Town location is set in the 1800 to 1900s era and features views of plains, mesas, and rolling hills with mountains on three sides. It has 24 utility type buildings, four streets, a saloon, bank, hotel, blacksmith shop, train station, large barn, and connecting shops. The last movie filmed at this location was Cowboys & Aliens (2010).

The Mountain Homestead location features an 1800 to 1900s house, log cabin, small barn and outhouse situated at the base of a mountain. In the rear of the house, thick forests border on two sides. The last movie filmed at this location was Appaloosa (2008).

The Pond House location features a 1920s two-story house with a fresh spring-fed pond at its back door. The site also features two barns, an adobe house, a large church, and two smaller houses. Two-hundred-year-old cottonwood trees surround the site and make for a fabulous backdrop of gold as summer gives way to fall. The last movie filmed at this location was Astronaut Farmer (2006).

The Prairie Homestead location features a stucco house with its own fireplace. The site also features a log cabin, two corrals, a cellar, and outhouse. Plains surround this homestead to allow for 360 degree shoots. The last movie filmed at this location was 3:10 to Yuma (2007).

The J. W. Eaves Movie Ranch

The J.W. Eaves Movie Ranch is located near Santa Fe about an hour from Albuquerque. In 1958, Eaves bought “Rancho Alegre.” The first production filmed at the ranch was the CBS television series Empire (1962).

In 1969, Gene Kelly, the famous dancer, showed up.  He wanted to make a move called The Cheyenne Social Club with James Stewart and Henry Fonda.  (It was the only western that Gene Kelly directed and produced.)  Eaves and Kelly made a deal that they would split the costs for the movie set.  It was agreed that the buildings would be built full-scale and that the replica of the 1800’s western town would remain on the J.W. Eaves Ranch. Over the years, the ranch grew to more than three dozen buildings, including a church used for weddings.

Since the early 1960s, over 250 other productions have filmed here, including Chisum (1970), Silverado (1985), Lonesome Dove (1989), and Wyatt Earp (1994).

We have posted two galleries of photos from the tour: The Bonanza Creek Movie Ranch and The J.W. Eaves Movie Ranch. Enjoy!

Posted in The Story of New Mexico

The Story of New Mexico: The Ceja Pelon Badlands

Cleopatra's Needle #1Mesa Top Vista #3The Two Towers #2

Last April, we hiked the Ceja Pelon Badlands on another tour sponsored by the Story of New Mexico, a program offered by the Department of Continuing Education at the University of New Mexico (UNM).

The Ceja Pelon Badlands are located approximately two-and-a-half hours from Albuquerque in northwestern New Mexico (in Sandoval County) west of Cuba. One of the nine San Juan Basin Badlands, they lie in the Nacimiento sedimentary layer, which is approximately 65 to 55 million years old (the Paleocene Period). The area is composed of sandstone alternating with siltstone and shale.  The badlands have a stair-step topology with three distinct layers: the base, the bench, and the mesa top. The layers are connected by a pair of 100-feet-high winding cliff faces. Each layer has a landscape of its own.

The base layer is a true badlands: a barren landscape with very little vegetation; mazes of ridges, narrow washes, and wide-open expanses; and quite a bit of petrified wood scattered about.  The bench layer has spectacular orange-red petrified wood with one of the largest concentrations of petrified wood in the southwestern United States.   Some of the largest logs are over 30 feet in length with fractured sections still in alignment. Volcanic ash from massive eruptions in the San Juan Mountains enriched the coloration and details during petrification. Upon reaching the mesa top, one can see why Ceja Pelon is so aptly named. Ceja literally means “eyebrow” but is often used to describe a mesa edge, while Pelon means “bald”. This “bald mesa edge” is twisted and fractured into all sorts of winding ramparts with lots of interesting sandstone formations. Bonsai ponderosa with exposed roots seem to grow magically out of bare rock. The mesa top has a lighter colored, more subdued petrified wood in addition to superb vistas of the high mesa desert.

We left Albuquerque on an overcast, blustery, spring morning.  We drove northwest on NM 550 towards Cuba and turned south on NM 197. A short time later, we turned onto an unmaintained, rough, but passable, dirt road. After thirty minutes or more of bumping and swaying, we had arrived. With the clouds and wind, it was definitely chilly. We donned our gear and set off to explore the badlands. Since our party was composed of experienced hikers, our guide, Michael Richie, set a fast pace, which forced us to shoot on the run.

We explored the base layer and took a break for lunch. Then, we scrambled up to the next layer, the bench. We explored the bench layer thoroughly and then scrambled up to the mesa top for more exploration. As the hours passed, the overcast began to break and we were rewarded with patches of blue sky. Our hike totaled a bit over 6 miles with a total elevation change of more than 2000 feet. It was one of our most strenuous hikes, but the spectacular views made it worthwhile.

We have posted a gallery of photos from the tour: The Ceja Pelon Badlands. Enjoy!

Posted in The Story of New Mexico

The Story of New Mexico: The Lybrook Badlands

The LandmarkThe Gray HillsThe Sock Puppet

Last June, we hiked the Lybrook Badlands on another tour sponsored by the Story of New Mexico, a program offered by the Department of Continuing Education at the University of New Mexico (UNM).

The Lybrook Badlands are located approximately two-and-a-half hours from Albuquerque in northwestern New Mexico (in Sandoval County) northwest of Cuba. One of the nine San Juan Basin Badlands, they lie in the Nacimiento sedimentary layer, which is approximately 65 to 55 million years old (the Paleocene Period). The area is composed of sandstone alternating with siltstone and shale.  The Lybrook Badlands are the largest of the Nacimiento formation badlands. Its box canyon-riddled mesas drop over 700 feet in four distinct, multi-colored, intricately eroded stair steps. The cliffs separating the steps complicate long-distance hiking. Easy routes between the levels are limited and difficult to find.

We left Albuquerque on a clear, sunny morning.  We drove northwest on NM 550 towards Cuba and crossed the Continental Divide. A short time later, we turned onto a dirt road. In just a few minutes, we had arrived. It was already warming and we had the lightest of breezes. We donned our gear and set off to explore the badlands. Since our party was contained a mix of experienced and novice hikers, our guide, Michael Richie, set a slow pace.

We explored the top layer winding in and out along the edge. We scrambled down to the lower layers when we could and explored them in turn. As the hours passed, the heat began to take a toll on our novice hikers. With temperatures in the low 90s and virtually no breeze in the canyons, it was hot! We left the novices in the shade of a towering pine tree and set out on a fast, shoot-on-the-run, side hike. We were rewarded with spectacular scenery and a herd of wild horses. Our hike totaled a bit over 3 miles with a total elevation change of more than 1800 feet. Due to the heat, it was a strenuous hike, but the spectacular landscape made it worthwhile.

We have posted a gallery of photos from the tour: The Lybrook Badlands. Enjoy!

Posted in The Story of New Mexico

San Lorenzo Canyon

The LoafThe Two TowersVista #2

Last weekend, we hiked San Lorenzo (or Saint Lawrence) Canyon. The canyon is located about an hour south of Albuquerque and less than five miles west of I-25. It is jointly managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) as a primitive recreation area. A large rock face divides the canyon into lower and upper sections. The lower section, which we explored, is only about a mile and a half long and can be driven or hiked. The canyon ends at the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge boundary, which is off limits without permission. If you’re willing to scramble, there are a myriad of side canyons to explore.

We left Albuquerque on a chilly, sunny, fall morning. Most directions to the canyon recommend a vehicle with high-ground clearance and/or 4-wheel drive. However, we found neither was required; the road was in very good condition. We parked at the mouth of the canyon, geared up, and set out to explore. Temperatures were in the mid-40s. Our exertions were enough to keep us pleasantly warm without the need for jackets. We had a light breeze to cool us. Since the canyon is so short and such an easy walk, we decided to explore some of the side canyons. Scrambling up and down, bushwhacking through the countryside, we had an enjoyable three-hour hike.

San Lorenzo Canyon is made up of sandstone cliffs, slickenside walls, and hoodoos that line both sides of a (normally) dry creek bed. The geology is complex with evidence of tectonic plate movement, erosion, and volcanic intrusion.

The mouth of the canyon is guarded by a textbook example of the Rio Grande Rift: a huge mesa-like formation called an angular unconformity. This small isolated mesa looks like a loaf of sliced bread topped by a horizontal cap. The tilted beds of sand- and mud-stone are about 7 to 10 million years old and the horizontal cap is about 0.5 million years old. The formation was created on an extremely large plain as layers of sediment were laid down on the plain and, over time, drainage channels cut into it. The layers were built horizontally then moving plates deep beneath the surface tilted the plain. Wind and water erosion have exposed the portion that is visible today.

This tilting is reflected on a larger scale throughout the canyon. As you look at the formations, you can see how the layers tilt in various directions because of the movement that occurs along several faults at work in the area. The large rock blocks have slipped and tilted, much like books on a shelf. Evidence of this motion can be seen in sheer walls with polished striations all in the same direction. These marks, called “slick-sides” or slickensides (yes, that is the proper geologic term), are formed when moving fault blocks grind across each other.

We have posted a gallery of photos from the tour: San Lorenzo Canyon. Enjoy!

Posted in New Mexico

The New Mexico State Penitentiary “Old Main” Prison

Guard Tower (Main Entrance)GateCell Block #3

As part of the New Mexico Centennial, the New Mexico Corrections Department hosted monthly tours at the abandoned New Mexico State Penitentiary “Old Main” Prison.  We toured the prison in July. Our tour guide was an active-duty Corrections Officer who had worked “Old Main” in the late 1990s.

“Old Main” is located south of Santa Fe off N.M. 14. Built in the 1950s, “Old Main” was the state’s maximum security prison and had a capacity of 900 inmates. It was closed in 1998 by Governor Gary Johnson. Since then, the site has been used as a location for film productions including the 2005 remake of The Longest Yard as well as National Guard and New Mexico State Police training. There’s no electricity, heat, or cooling in the prison and wildlife has claimed parts of it. “Old Main” is best known for the prison riot that occurred on February 2 and 3, 1980.

The riot was one of the most violent prison riots in the history of the American correctional system. At the time of the riot, there were more than 1,100 men in the prison; it was severely overcrowded. Prisoners were not adequately separated and many were housed in communal dormitories. It began at 2am, Saturday, February 2, 1980 in south-side Dormitory E-2 when two prisoners overpowered an officer who had caught them drinking homemade liquor. By the time it was over, the riot had led to the deaths of at least 33 inmates. (According to our guide, the death toll may have been higher, as a number of bodies were incinerated or dismembered during the course of the riot.) More than 200 inmates were treated for injuries. Twelve officers were taken hostage. None of the officers was killed, but seven officers were subjected to beatings and rapes. Without a doubt, the worst atrocities occurred in cell block 4 which housed informers, the mentally ill, or those convicted of sex crimes. When rioters found blowtorches brought into the prison as part of an ongoing construction project, an ‘execution squad’ was formed to extract their revenge on the inmates of cell block 4. Victims were pulled from their cells to be tortured, dismembered, decapitated, or burned alive. Thirty-six hours after the riot had begun heavily-armed State Police officers accompanied by National Guard servicemen entered the charred remains of the prison to restore order. After the riot, new facilities were built and over time all the inmates were moved out to other sites.

The results of the riot can still be seen throughout the prison. The burned out dormitory has been left as it was after the riot. Filled in axe marks on the floor show where inmates were decapitated. In two spots in cell block 4, the charred imprints of blow-torch victims are clearly visible. According to our guide, various attempts to wash, bleach, or paint over the figures on the floor with paint have failed.

The tour was eye opening. To hear our guide’s calm description of the horrible events that occurred over those two days was chilling. The description of the conditions which existed in the prison put it into perspective.

We have posted a gallery of photos from the tour: The New Mexico State Penitentiary “Old Main” Prison.

Posted in New Mexico

The Story of New Mexico: The Mesa Chijuilla Badlands

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In late October, we hiked the Mesa Chijuilla Badlands on another tour sponsored by the Story of New Mexico, a program offered by the Department of Continuing Education at the University of New Mexico (UNM).
The Mesa Chijuilla Badlands are located approximately two hours from Albuquerque in northwestern New Mexico (in Sandoval County) west of Cuba near the Mesa de Cuba Badlands. Although they lie in the San Juan Basin, they are not considered one of the primary San Juan Basin Badlands.

We left Albuquerque on a cold, sunny fall morning.  We drove northwest on NM 550 towards Cuba and turned south on NM 197. A short time later, we turned onto an unmaintained, but passable, dirt road. After several minutes of bumping and swaying, we had arrived. We donned our gear and set off to explore the badlands. It wasn’t long before we shed our jackets; although it was chilly, the lack of wind and our exertions made us plenty warm. Our guide, Michael Richie, set a slow easy pace to accommodate some of the participants, which gave us more time for independent side explorations.

The badlands wind along the eroded base of the Mesa Chijuilla. In some places, the mesa towers hundreds of feet above. The terrain was rough, but passable with only a few scrambles over tumbled rock or traverses across steep slopes. The area is littered with boulders, large and small, creating boulder mazes to navigate. Although not as plentiful as at some other badlands, hoodoos are present; finding them becomes a matter of exploration. There is lots of vegetation, primarily sage, pinon, juniper, and bonsai ponderosa. The occasional petrified log adds a bit of time travel to the badlands.

After several hours and many miles, we returned to our vehicle tired, but anxious to see more. Due to their close proximity, we decided to head for the Mesa de Cuba Badlands. Unfortunately, the road was badly washed out and impassible in our non-four wheel drive van. We decided to forgo the Mesa de Cuba Badlands and instead returned to Albuquerque.

We have posted a gallery of photos from the tour: The Mesa Chijuilla Badlands. Enjoy!

Posted in The Story of New Mexico

The 41st Annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

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The 41st Annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (AIBF) is now history. This was my 27th consecutive Fiesta. I made my first visit to the Fiesta in 1986 and was immediately hooked. This was a really good year for the Fiesta: only two days of flying were cancelled due to weather issues. As always, I had a wonderful time: old friendships renewed; new friendships made; lots of fun, shared experiences; and, lots of beautiful balloons!

This year I crewed for Cosmos I, owned by my friends, Jerry and Cindy Holmes of Fort Worth, Texas. Cosmos I is a special shape balloon, which looks like a cartoon space man. The envelope (the fabric portion of the balloon) holds 116,000 cubic feet of hot air, which is generated by burning propane. It is made by Air Fly Balloons of São Paulo, Brazil, which has also made other special shape balloons, including Farmer Pig, Crazy Crab, etc.

So, what do I mean when I say “I crewed for Cosmos I” you ask? Chase crew or crews help the pilot inflate and deflate his/her balloon for each flight. Since balloons usually don’t land where they take off, part of the process involves chasing the balloon from its launch point to its landing point. Crew sizes vary from 4-6 people for a non-special shape balloon to 20 or more for a special shape balloon. Most crew members are volunteers. At an event like AIBF, there may be upwards of 2,000 crew volunteers.

The Fiesta starts the first Saturday in October and runs through the second Sunday. For nine days, the skies of Albuquerque are filled with colorful balloons participating in a variety of flying events, including dawn patrols (balloons that launch prior to sunrise) and mass ascensions (when all 500+ balloons launch in multiple waves). In the evenings, ground-based events take place, including balloon glows (static displays of the balloons after sunset) and fireworks.

This year’s Fiesta featured over 500 hot air balloons representing 19 countries (the United States, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, Croatia, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, and Thailand). Over 100 of the balloons were special shapes. Some of the special shapes making their inaugural appearance at the Fiesta were:

•    Aaron, an Elvis balloon from Brazil (named for Elvis’ middle name)

•    Cosmos I, an astronaut from Texas

•    Funny Phant, an elephant from Brazil

•    Ice Cream Cone, a chocolate cone from Kentucky

•    Little Fireman, a fire helmet balloon from Brazil

•    Little Inspector, a penguin from Brazil

•    Red Bird, a woodpecker from Brazil

•    Shining Star, a wheel chair accessible balloon, from Spain

•    Simba, a lion head from Belgium

•    Squirt, a fire hydrant from Brazil

The Fiesta began with 13 balloons launching from a shopping mall parking lot in 1972. Today, the Fiesta is “the largest ballooning event on earth, the most photographed event on earth, and the largest annual international event held in the United States.” The 78-acre launch field is the size of 54 football fields put together. The Fiesta is one of the only balloon events where spectators are able to actually walk among the balloons and talk to the pilots and crews. In 2000, the Fiesta set a record of over 1,000 balloons!

A question I’m frequently asked is, “Why Albuquerque in October?” Albuquerque is located in a wide valley with a very unusual weather phenomenon called the Albuquerque Box, which allows balloons to take off and land in almost the same spot. The October weather is usually very suitable for the box.

The 42nd Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta will be held October 5-13, 2013. I’ll be there.

In closing, I leave you with the Balloonist’s Prayer: May the winds welcome you with softness. May the sun bless you with its warm hands. May you fly so high and so well that God joins you in laughter and sets you gently back into the loving arms of Mother Earth.

In the next couple of weeks, we will be posting three galleries of photos from the Fiesta: the Dawn Patrols, the Mass Ascensions, and the Special Shapes. Enjoy!

Posted in New Mexico