Sunday, September 9, 2018

Arches National Park

Arches National Park is located very close to Moab, Utah. This was our third visit and it was just as inspiring as the first time. This year we made a point of doing more hiking. We didn't do the best planning on our first hike as it was pretty hot but still mostly doable. We hiked down a trail called The Park Avenue Trail, one of the first major attractions within the park. It's a one-mile trail that follows the bottom of a canyon at the feet of some of the park’s gigantic and well-known monoliths.

It was too hot to hike the entire trail but we did our best. Brian is dwarfed by the huge rocks and we were both feeling the heat at this point.

We continued on in the car and explored some of the well-known spots that were fairly close to the road, such as Balancing Rock

The Three Gossips with Sheep Rock on the lower right

Turret Arch

and Delicate Arch, the arch that is on the Utah license plate. I took the photo of Delicate Arch with my telephoto lens. The hike to reach the arch itself is a steep 3 mile hike over rock, not something we thought we should do. It's rated as strenuous, and the Park Rangers even had a tent set up at the trailhead to check with people before they attempted the hike, a good idea on sunny days with temperatures in the 90s. Maybe in our younger days when our hips and knees were working a little better ...

There's an area of Arches called Devils Garden which is one of the premier spots in the park. We hadn't hiked any of the trails in Devils Garden in previous years so it was on our bucket list for this trip. After experiencing the heat and crowds on the first day we got smart, got up early, and did most of our hiking while it was relatively cool and not too crowded.

We went to the furthest arch, Landscape Arch, first. It's the longest of the natural arches in the park and has one of the world's longest stone spans. It stretches 306 feet, just slight longer than a football field and is only about 11 feet thick at its center.  In 1991 a 60-foot-long slab of rock fell from the bottom of the arch. There were hikers in the area who heard cracking sounds and were able to flee as a 60 foot long rock slab peeled away from the right side of the arch. When the dust settled there were 180 tons of fresh debris under the rock. It's believed that unseasonably heavy rains the prior ten days caused water to seep into the sandstone pores and the weight finally caused the arch to lose its struggle with gravity. Today there are concerns that the passage of time will cause the arch to weaken further so hikers aren't allowed under the arch anymore. 

After leaving Landscape Arch and heading back to the trailhead, there were some shorter trails to other interesting arches. We hiked to Tunnel Arch

and Pine Tree Arch where everyone (us included) was having their picture taken.

It was a very enjoyable couple of days. We love this area of southern Utah and will continue on our journey to some of our favorite places.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Ouray Colorado

Ouray (YOUray) is awesome. It is located in the San Juan Mountains, where many of the mountain peaks are over 14,000 feet.

We have driven through Ouray before but this was our first time staying here - unfortunately we could only get a spot for 3 days. I think we'll be back. We had a great view from our RV space, somewhat hazy the first few days due to smoke from the terrible California fires.

We spent our time hiking and looking at mountains, cliffs, waterfalls and rivers. One hike took us to the bottom of Box Canyon to see the falls which plunge 285 feet. The water is low due to the drought, but still seemed to be going through at a pretty good clip. In the photo below, water is cascading down a chute just above the outlet at the bottom.

Much of this area was mined for many years. Old mining equipment can be seen behind Brian.

The Million Dollar Highway, listed as one of the most dangerous roads in the world, stretches for about 25 miles and follows the route of U.S. 550 between Silverton and Ouray. It's also one of the most spectacular roads in the world. It goes over Red Mountain Pass, named for the mountains it passes through.

We (Brian) drove the Million Dollar Highway several years ago with the Bus towing our car. While it could be a bit hairy at times, it was doable as long as we took our time. We came into Ouray this year from another direction so decided to take the car back on part of the route. We were able to stop and enjoy more of the scenery.
The origin of the name Million Dollar Highway, built primarily by Otto Mears, is disputed. There are several legends including that it cost a million dollars a mile to build in the 1920s, or that its fill dirt contains a million dollars in gold ore. Who knows.
This was once an area rich in ore containing silver and gold. The remains of the Yankee Girl mine are part of the Idarado Mine. Evidently there was such a rich vein of silver that the ore was sent straight to the smelter. Mine tailings, a trestle, and buildings are still visible. As we understand it, there is a major clean-up operation going on.

It's possible to drive through the old Yankee Girl town. I'm guessing it was one of those company towns where everyone depended on the company for everything, probably never getting out of debt to the company - 'I owe my soul to the company store.'

It also seems that this is the Jeep and ATV/UTV capital of the world. We've never seen so many of them in one place. It makes sense, though, because there are a multitude of trails through the mountains and mines. Pretty cool - maybe next time we'll rent a Jeep.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Finally Made It to Colorado

On the day we left Fountain Hills the high temp was supposed to be 114. Needless to say we were happy to escape. In the weeks before we left our routine had changed to adapt to the higher temps, getting up around 5 AM so we could do our walk before it got too hot. We stuck to the routine while getting the Bus ready to go, and pulled out around 7:30 AM. Pretty early for us.

We've been in Dolores, Colorado for the last week. It's a small town in southwest Colorado, west of Durango and quite close to Mesa Verde National Park, the Anasazi Heritage Center, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument and Hovenweep National Monument. They are all part of a large area where Native Americans, eventually known as the ancestral Pueblo people, made their dwellings and villages.

Hovenweep National Monument

Although no one has lived in them for over 700 years, the towers and cliff dwellings are still impressive. It's really interesting to see how well they were built, especially some of the taller towers.

There are cliff dwellings as well, evidence that a sizeable population lived in this canyon at one time. The eroded Boulder House can be seen in the photo below, under the curved overhanging rock.

Lowry Pueblo, Canyons of the Ancients

This pueblo was interesting for a couple of reasons. It's 2 stories tall, has over 40 rooms, and several kivas. Kivas are a large chambers, usually wholly or partly underground, that were used for religious ceremonies and other purposes. The main structure at Lowry is protected by a metal roof, and we were able to go in and look at several of the rooms. We think the walls in the photo above are probably part of the upper story and the main level is still partially underground. The architecture was influenced by Chaco Canyon, about 100 miles south.

Anasazi Heritage Center and Museum

This place was fascinating and really well worth a stop. There are displays showing the history and the methods modern archaeologists use to excavate and preserve artifacts. Many of the displays are interactive. There is a reconstructed pit house, which was basically an underground house that the ancients lived in before they began building pueblos. It really gave us a sense of what the people and their lives were like so many years ago. Very impressive and highly recommended as an introduction to this area. I didn't take any photos but the link below has some good ones.

Anasazi Museum Photos

Mesa Verde National Park

This was our second visit to Mesa Verde. The first time we went we did the more popular side of the park where the most famous ruins are located. We took the the ranger guided tour of the Cliff Palace, which is Mesa Verde's largest cliff dwelling, and took the Chapin Mesa loop road that went by many of the sites. Since this area attracts so many tourists at this time of year we decided to go over to Wetherill Mesa on the quieter side of the park.

Image result for mesa verde step house

We hiked down to  the Step House and were able to climb around and get a good look at things. It's amazing how the park service has managed to preserve so many of these sites while still allowing people to get up close and personal.

As we hiked back out of the canyon we could see many overhangs and other formations across from us.

In the photo of the rocks below I see what looks like a face. Above it, evidence of one of the many fires that have happened in Mesa Verde can be seen. Lots of black and dead trees, but vegetation starting to grow. 

 We also saw this little guy on our hike out - one of the more colorful lizards we've seen.

We really enjoy learning more about the history and culture of this area. We have explored many of the ruins in Mexico that have both architectural and cultural similarities. It's obvious that there were well established trade routes developed by the ancient Pueblans hundreds of years ago with people to the south and west.

We've finished our learning and exploring in this area for now and will be moving on to another small Colorado mountain town, Ouray. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2018


We're still hanging out in Arizona, feeling the heat. However, we had a very nice break when our friends Vin and Connie invited us to join them in Sedona for a long weekend. We've been to Sedona and the surrounding area a couple of times so we were more than happy to join them. Sedona is a gorgeous area surrounded by red rock formations. There are a variety of hiking trails and we were able to take a couple of very scenic hikes. Although it was a bit cooler than down here in Fountain Hills it was still pretty warm during the day - no complaints though. 
Sedona is also known for its mystical healing powers. There are several vortexes around Sedona. These vortexes are thought to be 'swirling centers of energy that are conducive to healing, meditation and self-exploration. These are places where the earth seems especially alive with energy. Many people feel inspired, recharged or uplifted after visiting a vortex'. People come from all over the world to experience them.
Sedona also has some very nice galleries, restaurants and shopping. All in all, a pretty nice place for a getaway.

We may actually be able to leave here in another week or so. Brian's done with his physical therapy appointments but will still be doing PT on his own. He's worked hard to get his rotator cuff and shoulder back in shape and I give him a lot of credit for that. His physical therapist even told him that he made exceptional progress. Go Brian!
We're having a few maintenance things being done to the Bus, then we should be able to load it up and take off. We plan to head to the mountains of Colorado and experience some cooler temperatures and do some hiking. After that we're not sure where we'll go, but it will definitely be wonderful to be back on the road.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Back in Arizona for ????

We made it safely back to Fountain Hills and it looks like we'll be here for a while. As they say, 'stuff' happens. Brian has a torn rotator cuff and will be going in for arthroscopic surgery on April 18. His orthopedic surgeon is in Phoenix at the Mayo Clinic, and he only does shoulders so we're confident we've got the best guy to do the surgery. But, the recovery period is a pretty long one so I guess we'll get to experience some of the higher temperatures we try to avoid. Oh well, it is what it is and we move on from here.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Tocuaro, The Mask Town

Tocuaro is a very small town about 10 miles from Patzcuaro. We have heard this is a famous place for mask making and wood carving. Most of the masks are carved from a single piece of wood. We went there a few years ago and could not find the mask makers. This year we learned that you have to roam the streets (there aren’t many streets) looking for signs. The doors are closed but they are probably open for business – not really stores as they work in their homes.

The most famous of the mask makers are of the family Horta. We met Juan Horta’s esposa (Juan died quite a while ago) and were able to see some of the works of her five sons -  Juan Jose, Modesto, Orlando, Hugo and Manuel. The sons do not seem to make a living as mask makers and spend time working in the US near Boston where they also do workshops teaching mask making. The photo above is from their shop, and we think it's Juan Jose in the photo.

We then visited with Felipe Horta (below) who is apparently a cousin of the other Hortas. He is quite a character and we had a really enjoyable time seeing his work and talking with him.

Felipe is not only a mask maker but a mask collector and has a room full of masks from all over the world - Africa, India, Indonesia, Thailand, and many other places. He gave us an interesting tour of his private mask museum at his house/workshop.

Felipe's masks and the Horta family masks are displayed and sold all over Mexico, and are found in museums throughout the world including the Vatican. Felipe goes to San Francisco every year for exhibits and workshops. One of the intricate masks he showed us was priced at $15,000 pesos or about $800 US, and would cost much more once north of the border.

Felipe told us that his masks and capes are worn in what is called a Pastorale. It is held in Tocuaro in February every year. The wooden masks are related to the characters of the Pastorela. Each one is a unique piece, a product of the creativity and imagination of the artisan artist who creates it. Like most objects of popular art, the masks went from being simple but ingenious to larger sizes with more intricate carving. Each showcases the skill of its carver. Year after year they compete among themselves for the honor of having their mask best characterize the three most important characters in the traditional Pastorela. In general terms, the omnipresent characters in the Mexican Pastorelas are the angel (representing the archangel Michael), the shepherds, the hermit (who embodies the spirit of the ancestors) and the devil - always interested and willing to steal the Child Jesus.

It seemed that most of Felipe's masks were representing the devil and he had fun hamming it up with them. The mask below is similar to the one Brian bought from Felipe. Note the blue bat, vampira, between the horns.  The masks can represent many different animals which have different meanings.

Felipe also wanted to show us the detail in his cape, which was really quite extraordinary. All handmade of course.

 And last but not least is an X-rated mask by Felipe.

We were happy to finally make it to Tocuaro and not only see the masks but meet the artisans. More information can be found at the following links, or by googling Horta, Tocuaro or Pastorales.

Felipe Horta Masks

Tocuaro masks and mask makers

Monday, February 19, 2018

Toritos and Catrinas


Patzcuaro is one of our favorite places and we wanted to experience Carnaval with the Toritos again this year.  Carnaval takes place on the three days before Ash Wednesday. The celebration begins on Sunday and ends late Tuesday night. Loud booms and fireworks announce the approach of groups of Toritos as they roam through the neighborhoods.We saw 2 or 3 groups on Sunday and heard them again on Monday and Tuesday. I guess the idea is to party, party, party before giving things up for Lent!

One version explaining the origin of the Toritos is that they were introduced in the 16th century to Michoacan lands by Vasco de Quiroga.  Their purpose was to attract the attention of the indigenous peoples who had taken refuge in the Sierra mountains before the arrival and cruelty of the Spaniards.

Another version of their origin mentions that the bulls were invented by the indigenous people to mock the bullfights practiced by the Spaniards and that Vasco de Quiroga only improved and organized them. Each town and its inhabitants were forced to help with the construction and decoration of the bull and to present it three days before Ash Wednesday

The Toritos dance traditionally contains several elements. There are those who dance around, usually 10 or more males dressed as women and the bull. There is a male who gets inside the frame of a bull and is the one who is responsible for giving life and movements to the bull with jumps and leaps. The men dressed in drag are pretty entertaining. We think they are called Maringuias and represent the women of the town the particular Toritos group is from. At least one person is disguised as the devil and more than one represents death. Interesting to see one of the Toritos in a Donald Trump costume.

Although Patzcuaro is always an interesting place to visit, coming for Carnaval and the Toritos is especially fun!


About 20 miles or so to the northeast of Patzcuaro off the new Autopista Cuitzeo Patzcuaro is the town of Capula where Catrinas are made. Catrinas are mostly doll size ceramic figures of a skeleton dressed in many and various elaborate costumes. We took a road trip with our friends Jerry and Paula and roamed around Capula, looking at literally thousands of these figurines. Yes, we did make a purchase or two. We see Catrinas all over Mexico but Capula is the world capital of Catrinas. There is a giant Catrina statue at the entrance to Capula, which is a very small town.

The Catrina was created by José Guadalupe Posada and made famous by the muralist Diego Rivera. It was presumably Diego Rivera who called her Catrina, a name with which she later became known, converting her into a popular Mexican character.

Although its image is associated with the Day of the Dead, the Catrina refers to many social situations of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The caricaturist José Guadalupe Posada made an illustration of a skull with a hat, which he named La Calavera Garbancera . At that time, it was called garbancera, named for those who sold garbanzas or chick peas. They were commonly of indigenous origins but ashamed of their roots and pretended to be European. With this skull, Posada criticized many Mexicans who, despite being very poor, seemed to follow the European way of life.

There were so many Catrinas in Capula that it was a bit overwhelming. There is a wide range in quality, which is reflected in the price of a Catrina. The prices, however, are considerably less in Capula than we have seen elsewhere. Makes sense since that's where they're made. The Catrina shown below is one of the ones we bought - love the detail as well as her pose.

We found a nice restaurant for lunch that had some fabulous murals depicting Catrinas.

The mural below from the restaurant shows Diego Rivera with Frida Kahlo. The detail in the mural was quite remarkable and very surrealistic. If you click on the photo you can zoom in to see some of the weird creatures.

This appears to be a Catrina of Frida Kahlo painting Frida. Interesting.

Some of the figures in the mural are similar to the Albrijes we saw in Oaxaca.