Chaco Culture National Historical Park

Click on any image to enlarge

The main point of this adventure is to see the Autumn Equinox at the Chaco Culture National Monument.  I had tried to see it last year, but instead had a mishap on the way.  Also, I found that the campground was full and I would not have been able to stay there in any case.  So this year I am going earlier to assure of a spot in the campground.  It has been many years since I have been tent camping, so I expect this to be a learning experience.  I just hope I did not forget to bring something important.

The last portion of the road to Chaco is gravel. Recent rains have damaged some parts of the road.

I don't know if this is a domesticated or wild animal. Probably domesticated, as he was still in the general area five days later.

As usual, it takes longer to get going than expected.  Once started, the trip is uneventful.  The campground is reached by 4:30, and even by that time the choice tent sites were taken.  There are few empty spots by evening.  I’m glad I came Monday for the Equinox which is on Friday morning.

It had rained last week, but already the wash is dry. When I was here last year, water was flowing.

The recent rain has turned the vegetation in the wash from brown to green.

Setting up the tent is a small struggle.  I have a little scare when I can not find the tent poles at first, but they showed up.  I am setting up the stove when I find I had forgotten to bring the 20-gallon propane tank.  All is not lost, because I had bought two small propane bottles just this morning.  It was a spur of the moment purchase.  I did not think I needed these bottles because the stove and lantern could both be run off the large tank.  Now I’m happy I made that impulsive purchase.  I won’t have to eat cold food all week.

There were not many campsites free, but this one nestled against the rock became mine.

The campground host is giving a talk on ravens.

Several coyotes like this one crossed my path during the week at Chaco.

About sunset I wander to the campfire circle.  The camp host gives a campfire talk on the subject of ravens. Did you know that ravens have the largest range of vocalization, second only to humans?  A coyote wanders by during the talk, probably attracted by the recorded raven calls the speaker was playing.  The whole audience stands to try to see the beast.   A bat flutters overhead.  All this against a most beautiful sunset behind Fajada Butte.




Piedras Marcadas Canyon

As well as being part of the Petroglyph National Monument, Piedras Marcadas Canyon is part of Albuquerque Open Space. The city provides a parking area with a short walk through a neighborhood to get to the canyon. (Click any photo to enlarge.)

Petroglyph National Monument has several distinct areas.  The volcanoes had been visited last summer.  Today we visited Piedras Marcadas Canyon.  This is a short hike in the area where the west mesa joins the sandhills on the west side of the Rio Grande river valley.

Albuquerque can be seen on the east side of the Rio Grande.

It was a wonderful afternoon for a hike; some thin clouds diffused the sunlight so it was not too hot.  Rain the night before had cooled off the areas to a pleasant temperature.  The sandy path is along the base of the mesa, with opportunity to clamber on the basalt rocks if desired.

The basalt boulders on the slope, covered with a desert patina, are ideal for inscribing various images.

As its name implies, Piedras Marcadas (“marked rocks”) is known for the petroglyphs inscribed on the blocks of basalt.  In ancient times, a lava flow covered the area west of the river in a layer of basalt.  The flow stopped before reaching the river, and over time the softer soil was eroded from underneath the lava, leaving a ledge of rock.  The ledge eventually broke, creating a jumble of boulders along the edge of the west mesa.
Weathering created a patina on the rocks.  People would remove this patina to create contrasting areas that form the petroglyphs.

Aspiring artists across the ages have left their marks on the rocks.

I was not able to identify all the wildlife that was seen in the canyon.  There was a pair or mourning doves, a small sparrow, several lizards, a chipmunk, something that may have been a large chipmunk, gopher, or ground squirrel (it was far away and shone white in the afternoon sun), and a jackalope!  OK, so maybe it was only a jackrabbit, but it could have been a jackalope!

Later visitors don't always respect previous artists' work. Not the bullet holes some marksman has placed in the images of the hands.

I tracked the jackalolpe … er … jackrabbit across the canyon floor, attempting to sneak close enough to get a good picture, but the creature was too wily and cunning to allow himself to be captured that way.  These animals can blend in to the desert landscape so well that they become practically invisible unless they move.  When motion is first detected, out of the corner of one’s eye, this rodent can easily be taken for a coyote, based on size alone.  They can be huge!

Not all petroglyphs are from ancient times. People have continued scribing images int modern days. This one looks like Spongebob Squarepants to me!

I just bought a point-and-shoot camera and this was the first outing for the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10.  Why do I need this camera?  When hiking in the desert and mountains, one should always be prepared with water, jacket/blanket, first aid kit, etc.  A day pack works nicely for carrying this kit.  But I carry my Pentax DSLR in a Targus backpack, and this leaves no room for another pack.  A small P&S camera can be carried on my belt so that a day pack can also be carried.

Does this look like a musical note to you?

Of course, I always carry my iPhone with me, and it take good enough pictures for my purposes.  However, the iPhone (and most P&S cameras) does not do well for taking photos at a distance.  Birds and wildlife come out as little black dots because they are usually too far away.  The DMC-ZS10 has a 16X zoom, and this is the feature that sold me on it.  The features of this camera are:

The ZX-10 was not impressive in finding wildlife on the max zoom setting. Autofocus is slow, and without a viewfinder, I found it difficult to locate the aim point. Do you see a jackarabbit in this photo? Me neither.

  • 14.5 Megapixel resolution
  • 16X zoom, both wide angle and telephoto
  • Still and full HD video modes
  • GPS for geotagging photos
  • anti-shake

Of course, the rabbit did not make things easier by always moving to keep brush between himself and me.

Here he is in a rare moment out of cover.



Here’s what I learned about this camera today.  Note this is the first time I have used it, so there may be some learning curve still to come.

  • I was expecting the camera to have a “sleep” mode where the display would go off and the lens would retract after some time of unuse.  It does not have this, so I ended up turning the power off after each shot, mostly so the lens would retract and the camera would be easier to carry in my hand.
  • The zoom does indeed bring in distant objects and the anti-shake helps steady the photo.
  • There is no viewfinder; one uses the rear LCD screen to compose a shot.  I prefer using a viewfinder, but I did not expect lack of one to be as big an issue as it became.  Especially when zoomed in, I found it difficult to locate the subject on the screen.
  • The GPS has settings for ON, OFF, and Airplane.  The airplane mode turns the GPS on and off with the camera.  When ON, the GPS continues to run (and drain the battery) when the camera is turned off.  I elected to use the Airplane mode mostly so I would not forget to turn off the GPS at the end of the day.  However, this is not a good choice, as the GPS takes a while to locate itself when it first starts up.  As a result, my first few pictures on this adventure did not have a location.  Problem solved when I set the GPS to ON and let it run continuously.  Of course, I did forget to turn off the GPS when I got home, and by morning the battery was 1/3 depleted.


Adventure Maps

Short Hike in Piedras Marcadas Canyon at EveryTrail
EveryTrail – Find the best Hiking near Albuquerque, New Mexico



Michigan Adventure

Abigail is returning to Andrews University. School starts Monday. I’m taking the opportunity to travel to Michigan with her, help her move into the dorm, and visit with my brother.

Thursday, August 18

We have a 0600 flight, which means getting up very early. Of course, packing was not completed until late at night, so sleep was very slight. Not to worry, you can always sleep on the airplane! This early in the morning we were able to zip through security and were soon waiting in the departure area. I saw a woman using an iPad, which made me jealous, but not enough to shell out the bucks to get one of my own!

We landed right on time at 0940, and picked up our bags. My brother James was waiting at the cell phone parking lot and soon picked us up for the ride from Midway airport in Chicago to Berrien Springs, Michigan. It was an uneventful drive as we caught up on events.

James works for Adventist Frontier Missions (AFM), an organization that sponsors missionaries to unreached people groups. My visit coincided with their annual retreat, so in the afternoon we stopped off at the AFM training center where James had a commitment.

James has a large garden. Here Simon is holding an ear of sweet corn that has just been picked.

In the evening James and I attempted to play a computer game (Age of Empires) in multiplayer mode. That’s when I discovered his internet connection was not working. We also found that the software on Abigail’s laptop as not up to date. Looks like there will be some computer work for me to do during my visit. :)

James has a wonderful garden, which he showed off this evening. The sweet corn was ripe. It is the super-sweet variety, and was just wonderful eaten raw, seconds after being picked! James was afraid the raccoons would smell the corn and get it all in the night, so we picked all the sweet corn to use in a later meal.

Friday, August 19

Silver Beach is a nice park and beach area in St. Joseph. We spent an afternoon relaxing there.

I made pancakes for James, Pearl, and Simon this morning. The kids had made black raspberry jam from wild raspberries growing in the back yard, and this was delicious on the pancakes.

James took Simon to daycare on his way to work, while I took a look at the internet connection. The internet to the house was fine, but his wireless router had failed. James later picked up a new router which I installed for him.

The old train station at Silver Beach now houses a pizza restaurant. The food was yummy in a nice atmosphere. I haven't had Mizithra cheese in a long time!

Abigail met her roommate, Erica, at Lamson Hall. Together with Erica’s boyfriend, we moved Abigail’s stuff up to her dorm room on the third floor. There are no elevators in Lamson Hall!

AFM was hosting a picnic for the missionaries at their new training center. We joined them for a traditional picnic of hot dogs, potato salad, chips, and homemade ice cream. Most of the missionaries ere from southeast Asia (Philippines, Laos, Thailand, Papua New Guinea, etc.). They live in fairly primitive conditions a their diet can get monotonous, so they really enjoyed the picnic. I enjoyed visiting and discussing their work and adventures through the afternoon.

Saturday, August 20

Abigail, Simon, Pearl, and James on the shore of Lake Michigan, at Silver Beach.

Today we joined James at the AFM training center for worship services. The missionaries were in charge of the programming, and they must have absorbed the time values of the people they work with, as meetings started late, and lasted longer than planned. Everything was very interesting and inspirational as they related tales of adventure and of God’s leading in primitive areas of the world.

Sunday, August 21

The fountain at Silver Beach shoots up from multiple jets in a concrete plaza. At intervals water shoots into the air from the pedestals around the perimeter. It is as much a playground for the kids as a work of art.

This morning I helped James organize his office. Like most of us, he has accumulated lots of “stuff” that is not used on a daily basis. It was taking up valuable space and was not organized in such a way as to be able to find what is needed. We installed shelves on two walls that got stuff off the floor and able to be found. The office looks much better now.

In the afternoon, all of us went to St. Joseph, to Silver Beach on Lake Michigan. The Silver Beach Pizza was a wonderful place for lunch. Pearl and Simon took a dip in the lake. It was a beautiful afternoon for an outing.

Monday, August 22

Ready for a day on the Pine River.

Early Monday morning we dropped off the kids at day care, and headed north to the Pine River, near Cadillac.  When I lived in Michigan, James and I would canoe the Pine River annually, and we decided to repeat the trip this year.  I tried to talk James into taking kayaks, but he was afraid of doing the “Eskimo Flip” so we took a canoe instead.

With lots of curves, just enough faster water, and beautiful scenery, the Pine River was a wonderful place to spend a day.

Immediately upon pushing off into the river, we got hung up on a rock.  Nothing really exciting, except for the fear that if we made a wrong move we’d dunk into the river, which was very cold.  That rock did not want to let go, but we finally broke loose.  We congratulated ourselves on navigating several of the Class I rapids without mishap.  We caught up to three girls in kayaks and watched as one did not make a turn and was swept into the bank.  She made the classic mistake of grabbing an overhead branch and we watched as the river swept the kayak out from under her.  Splash!

mm-mm good! Grilled hot dogs for lunch.

We brought a bag of charcoal and some hot dogs, and grilled for lunch.  Very tasty!  Then James and I switched places in the canoe for the last part of the river.  Once again there was a learning curve as we floated backwards down the river toward the churning Class I rapids.  Back home with Richard I always sit in the rear and steer.  This was my position the first part of the trip, and I was surprised at the different skills required in the front of the canoe.  No worries – we quickly caught on and finished the float without incident.  Then it was another 3 hour drive back to Berrien Springs.

Tuesday, August 23

Hyde Park has some wonderful examples of Victorian architecture.

Abigail and I spent Tuesday in Chicago.  We chose to go to the Museum of Science and Industry to see the Body Worlds exhibit.  This is an amazing exhibit, featuring bodies of real people (who had donated their bodies to science) preserved by the Plastination method. The Plastination process results in very realistic models of the body’s soft tissues.  It was very impressive.

Ron the Piper played a tune on the recorder for us.

The sun was shining in Berrien Springs Tuesday morning, but by the time we got to Chicago it was pouring.  Parking costs only $1 per hour, and the meters take credit cards.  However, the first parking meter I tried was locked up with a software fault.  By the time I figured this out and got a ticket out of another meter, we were thoroughly soaked.  Abigail and I spent most of the day at the museum, and when we came out the sun was again shining.  I consulted the Food Finder app which recommended Salonica and gave us a map.  We walked to Hyde Park, under the ‘L’ tracks, past some gorgeous Victorian architecture, and enjoyed a good meal.

At Salonica, we met Ron the Piper, a self-styled street minstrel.  Ron is a disabled Vietnam Vet that lives in the Hyde Park area, and he was full of information on every topic.  Ron had his instruments with him and insisted on playing the recorder for us.

Wednesday, August 24

Abigail dropped me of at the Hampton Inn in Crestwood on Tuesday evening and then returned to Berrien Springs because she had classes on Wednesday.  I had picked this hotel because said they had shuttle service to Midway airport.  Unfortunately, while the hotel has a van they do not provide shuttle service to Midway, about 10 miles away.  I was unable to get a resolution Tueday evening.

Abigail got lost on the way back to Berrien Springs.  That’s not hard to do in a large, strange city at night.  I brought up the maps app on my iPhone and was able to guide her onto a freeway.  From there she followed the signs back to her dorm.

Wednesday morning I tried another run at the front desk to arrange a shuttle to the airport.  The clerk was very nice and told me to come back at 10:00 when the shuttle driver arrived.  I occupied my time by eating at the free breakfast buffet, taking a walk, and shopping at Target for a phone charger (I had forgotten to pack one).

No luck on arranging a shuttle to Midway.  The hotel does not provide that service.  However, I have to give kudos to Greg Freeman, the hotel manager.  He had his staff contact Kayak to remove the erroneous shuttle information, and personally offered to take me to the airport.  The rest of the trip back to Albuquerque was unremarkable.

Tech Notes

Here are some notes on the tech tools I used on this adventure.

Kayak My Trips

I did all the trip planning online.  Airline tickets on, hotel on  While on Kayak, I signed up for My Trips.  This is a free service that creates a trip itinerary.  Since I booked the hotel on Kayak, that was automatically included in the itinerary.  I forwarded the confirmation email from Southwest to Kayak and the airline reservations were automatically added to the itinerary.  The nice thing is that the original booking email is saved and can be pulled up at any time.  I manually added itinerary items for the canoe trip and a play (which we ended up not attending).

Kayak has an iPhone app that syncs to My Trips on the web.  I found it very convenient to have my entire itinerary available in one place.  The app will also initiate alerts to remind of items in the itinerary.

Food Finder

I used the Food Finder app to locate restaurants near the Museum of Science and Industry, and Yelp to get reviews on the selected restaurants.  Food finder worked well for what I wanted.  I liked the map feature that guided us as we walked several blocks to Salonica.  Food Finder has no reviews, so I used Yelp to fill in the gap.


Apple’s standard Maps app was indispensable on this trip.  The iPhone’s GPS function along with the Maps app guided me in many situations.

  • Helped me navigate around Berrien Springs, a town I was not familiar with.
  • Helped us locate the canoe livery for the Pine River float.  It sort of helped with navigating the Pine River, though cell service was sporadic.  It helped to know how much further to the parking spot where our car was located.
  • Directed us to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.
  • Saved Abigail on her return from Chicago to Berrien Springs.  Abigail would read off street names and I would find them on Maps, and give her directions to get on the highway.  A point for AT&T over Verizon; in this case it was indispensable to be able to talk and surf at the same time.

Of course, the GPS function and constant map downloads runs the battery in the iPhone down quickly.  I wouldn’t recommend replacing a dedicated GPS receiver, but when you need help navigating now, the maps app is indispensable.

Grand Canyon South Rim

The black camera bag was hiding in the shadow behind the entrance to our room. Nearly an hour after leaving, I noticed we did not have the bag. Fortunately it was still there when we returned.

We got up bright and early for the drive from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon. After filling the ice chest with ice and the car with gas, we were off through the scenic San Francisco Peaks. As we drove through the beautiful forest, I said, “Dad, let’s get a picture of you in these woods.” We stopped, and I reached for the camera. OOPS! No camera! Immediately we turn around and head back to Flagstaff, hoping the camera bag would still be in the hotel room. By 8:30 we are back to the Motel 6. It is well before checkout time, so the keycard still works. I find the camera bag behind the entrance door. Hooray! But now we have to retrace our route through the San Francisco Peaks without stopping to sightsee. We have reservations in Cameron tonight, and all the Grand Canyon to see today.

Dad taking in the view at Mather point

The view from Mather Point

The plan for today is to park at the Visitor Center, and take the bus up the West Rim Drive, stopping at various overlooks along the way. This is a good plan in theory, but in practice it breaks down. I would not recommend the bus approach, at least during the busy tourist season. There are just too many people for the buses to service. Buses are scheduled every 15 minutes, but I found that it takes two or three buses before you can board. It does not take too many waits at a bus stop before much of the day is gone. We had intended to go all the way to the end at Hermit’s Rest and work our way down, but Dad needed a restroom and that is where the plan broke down.

There was no restroom at Maricopa Point as promised, so we walked up to Hopi Point. By then all the buses coming up were full and there was no hope to get on. So we did some sightseeing while walking along the South Rim Trail to the next bus stop to catch a bus back down to the Grand Canyon Village. But the buses coming down were also full. Buses have seats reserved for Senior Citizens, but the bus driver said they were all taken. Furthermore, all the buses would be full just like his. When I asked what an 87-year-old man should do, he recommended walking all the way down to the bus stop for the Village Loop. Fortunately, other than needing frequent restroom stops, Dad is capable of walking a mile downhill, but it took us most of the afternoon. Then we waited 45 minutes to get a seat on a bus to take us to the Visitor Center.

If you are fit, plan to walk or bicycle the route, and not spending the day in a bus stop. Otherwise, just drive. Though cars are discouraged, I believe they are still allowed on the East Rim Drive, for at least part of the way.

Portion of Bright Angel Trail

Another portion of Bright Angel Trail. This trail is one of the most popular ways to get to the canyon floor.

The good news is that the views are spectacular. The Grand Canyon is indeed grand. It is just too big for a camera to do justice, but I tried.

View from Hopi Point.  The Colorado River can be seen far below.

While at Mather Point, I noticed some California Condors soaring overhead. I zoomed to maximum and snapped off several shots. Later I saw a man operating some direction finding equipment. He explained that he was recording direction of California Condors. Each condor is fitted with a couple of transmitters that are used to track their movements. Each condor also has an identification number on the underside of its wing. He asked if I had noticed the ID number of the bird I had photographed. I had not, and it was not visible in the picture on the camera, but back home I was able to further enhance the image and see the identification number. #80 is a 9-year-old female.

California Condor #80. Note the tag on the underside of the right wing. Condors are also fitted with radio transmitters so their movements can be tracked.

Along Desert View Drive

Colorado River at Navajo Point

At the far eastern end of Grand Canyon National Park is Navajo Point, famous for the Desert View Watchtower. We stopped there, and at several viewpoints along the way, as we finished off a spectacular day.

Desert View Watchtower

Petrified Forest

Newspaper Rock

The Petrified Forest is located on the south side of I-40; the Painted Desert is on the north side. Both areas are part of the Petrified Forest National Park. After having seen the Painted Desert, we continued on to the Petrified Forest. First stop was Newspaper Rock. The overlook is a ways above the actual rock with petroglyphs marked on it. Even with a telephoto lens, the figures look quite small. The rock and markings are bigger than they seem in the photo.

Blue Mesa Area

In my previous visits I had never taken the Blue Mesa scenic loop. Today we drove around that loop and exclaimed over the sights. It was quite hot in the sun, so no hiking the trail.

The Petrified Forest appeared different from how I remembered it from past visits. The Jasper Forest is an overlook today, but I recall a trail among the logs. I will have to look up pictures from former visits to confirm (or debunk) my impression.

At the Crystal Forest we could walk among the petrified logs. The heat and walking was getting to Dad, so we had to cut short the walk through the Crystal Forest. We headed out of the park and on to Flagstaff on I-40.

The itinerary included stops at Homolovi Ruins, Meteor Crater, and Walnut Canyon, but that was too ambitious a plan. Due to the late hour, we went straight to the Motel 6 in Flagstaff. Like last night, the skies were cloudy with rain showers. This caused us to cancel plans to visit the Lowell Observatory in the evening.