Part 8: Albuquerque, NM to Hot Springs, SD


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The Trip

We returned from the wilds to visit friends in Alberquerque, Los Alamos and La Junta, CO.  From there, we had dinner with a mog buddy in Denver and then headed north toward Mt. Rushmore.

The Photos

The photos below are what we saw.

A recurring theme in this segment is wild fire.  The fire that forced the evacuation of Los Alamos, NM was still burning out of control.  The fire, outside of Cochiti, NM was clearly visible from I-40 in ABQ.  The smoke plume looked like a mushroom cloud from a nuclear explosion.

Further north, the extent of the currently-burning area became more apparent.

We got to Santa Fe and wanted to camp in the canyons nearby, but the roads were all closed due to the fire danger.  In the end, we camped at a conventional RV park south of Santa Fe after a time-consuming backtrack through the city.

Next day, we headed north to Los Alamos to see Patrick and Jamie.  The entrance highway to the lab area passes great cliffs.

At the Los Alamos air strip, we passed 3 air cranes that were being used for fire supression.  These aircraft carry large amounts of water that is dropped from the air to help retard the advance of the fire.

The Los Alamos air strip is small, but due to the government presence, it has a huge 8x8 fire truck.

After a great dinner and a pleasant night in Los Alamos, we headed toward Taos, NM.  Along the way, we traveled in the Rio Grande river canyon and spotted these rafters doing an organized float down the river.

The Rio Grande gorge is quite large; a mini-grand canyon in it's own right.

We wanted to take the dirt road that crosses the Sangre de Christo range to Raton, but the road was closed due to fire danger.  We took US 64 instead and it was a nice route.  Once we hit Raton, NM, we turned east toward the Capulin vocanic cone.  There is a road that goes up to the top of Capulin and the view was impressive.  From the peak of the cone, we could see some of the other volcanic cones in the area.

This is a near-classic cone just to the west of Capulin.  Another cone is visible in the profile on the horizon.

Another near-purfect cone.

The center of the caldera at the top of the mountain is rather deep.  A rangerette there told us that a black bear cub was spotted there that morning and that it had killed a deer and drug it into the brush for breakfast.

We were on the lookout for the bear on the trip down from the peak.  Lo and behold, we spotted it just a few hundred meters from the parking area.  When he heard the 1017, he bolted at high speed.  Oddly, this black bear is blonde.  I feel a joke coming here, but can't bring myself to put it in writing.

Black bears are a species, not a color.  The cub slithered under the guard rail and waited for our passing and then returned to something on the road.  Road kill perhaps.

From Capulin, we traveled to La Junta, CO to visit friends and do some needed maintenance actions on the truck.  We have had a mushy clutch pedal for months and my repair kit was sent to Rob.  The installation was easy and after a bleeding of the air in the line, the clutch works as it should.  Along the way, we also repaired a tire that had a slow leak due to creosote we hit in Baja on our last trip.  Additionally, we adjusted the brakes and rotated the tires.  After several days with our hosts, Rob and Erin, we headed to visit another mogger, Jay, in east Denver.  Along the way, we spotted this huge flag waving in the strong breeze.  We suffered very high winds earlier in the day east of Denver, but the winds generally died down by the time we hit town.

We spent the night at Jay's shop and saw his work-in-progress Unimog trucks that he was rebuilding for customers.  Next morning, we headed north toward Cheyenne, WY.  Along the way, we passed this small refinery operation on the north side of Denver.  The snow-capped Rocky Mountains are visible in the distance.

On I-25 we passed this Stewart & Stevenson truck in the oncoming traffic stream.  Looks rather like the 1017, doesn't it?  That is because the 1017 was it's role model.  Our rig is ex-military (Navy) and was built way before this truck was designed.  This is likely a 2.5 ton capacity model (ours is a 5 ton).

Along with the S&S were these Hummers.  The rear one was being towed with a tow-bar.

Cheyenne, WY was only a few hours travel from Denver.  Outside of Cheyenne, we passed the local airfield that houses the Wyoming Air National Guard and their C-130 cargo planes.

Outside of Cheyenne, the terrain turned into prairie and provided great vistas essentially devoid of trees.  Small uplifts provided the basis for some of the cliffs visible in the distance.

Further on, the cliffs along the watercourse got bigger.

An odd formation visible from the road.  Named, I am sure, but I do not know the name.  My money is on "chimney rock".

We continued north to Torrington, WY and set up camp at the city park.  Amazingly, the camp sites were free and they had electricity to run our a/c.  That was a nice gesture since it was about 100 degrees and rather uncomfortable.

The park was right next to the North Platte river which was at near-flood stage.

Just upstream was some sort of weir.

Next morning, we visited the local cafe for chow and spotted this unique rig in the parking lot.

We continued north across the prairie on back roads and stopped at the Agate Fossil Beds NM.  It was interesting, but not as big as something like Dinosaur NM.  The grasslands visible from the monument were impressing.  I can visualize huge herds of buffalo covering the hills.

We briefly passed into Nebraska and passed some nice cliffs near one of the state parks.

South of Hot Springs, SD we passed a sign on the road for "Cascade Falls".  Expecting something significant, we turned around and went back to check it out.  The site was the local swimming hole; the "falls" were about 3 feet.

The falls are visible in the left center of the photo above.  Somewhat underwhelming.

We spent the night in an RV park on the north side of Hot Springs, SD.  Hot Springs, as the name suggests, hosts a set of springs that are warm, not hot (about 80 degrees according to the locals) and has had a VA hospital for many years.  A reasonable tourist industry has sprung up due to the springs.  We did chores (laundry, etc) and headed out the next morning, continuing north.  Outside of Hot Springs, the green rolling hills provided great views.

Our destination for the day was Wind Cave.  Near Wind Cave, we passed this lone buffalo bull dozing in the meadow.  This, I think, is the definition of a bull dozer.

Wind Cave was big, they told us that repeatedly during the tour.  But, quite underwhelming with regard to cave  decorations.  The primary formation present in the cave were box structures.  The boxes were formed when calcite was deposited in cracks and then the surrounding rock was dissolved leaving the cracks.

The box structures were deep.

Some areas were very intricate indicating large amounts of stress fractures, likely due to uplifting, before the erosion of the base rock occurred.  And, since there has been little damage to the structures, you can infer that the area has been stable since the erosion happened.

Very few of the areas had any subsequent deposits.  This section had small amounts of "popcorn", but not much else.

We greatly appreciate the hospitality of our hosts: Brad and Laura in Albuquerque, Patrick and Jamie in Los Alamos, Rob and Erin in La Junta and Jay in Denver.  The maintenance actions were greatly needed; our brakes were badly out of adjustment and the parking brake would not hold on steep grades.  Rob showed me how to perform this action myself.  Thanks Rob.

The prairie is something totally foreign to us.  SoCal is desert and brown is the predominant color, not green.  This area is blessed as an agriculturally productive area, but as with most things, a positive begets a negative.  In this case, harsh winters.

Tomorrow, on to Mt. Rushmore.

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Photos and Text Copyright Bill Caid 2011, all rights reserved.
For your enjoyment only, not for commercial use.