Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Ending the Summer with Family Visits

Well, we've been home in Seattle a month, with many excuses for not finishing this summer's blog.  But the excuses have run out, so here we go with our final installment.

We finished our biking in Salzburg, and could have simply taken the plane straight home to Seattle.  But that would mean missing a chance to see some of our widespread progeny along the way.  When we saw that Icelandair flew to Chicago as well as Seattle, that gave us an idea that indeed became reality.  We lessened the jet lag from 9 hours to 7 by coming to Chicago and gave ourselves 2 nights to recover by booking a hotel there.  That day in Chicago was somewhat stupor-like, but we succeeded in FedExing our bike suitcases to R&E Cycles in Seattle for some repairs and reassembly, and even got in a 5-mile walk along Lake Michigan and past the Chicago River, seen to the right.

Then by taking Amtrak to Santa Fe NM we got another night of jet lag recovery in one of their sleeper cars, and rendezvoused with daughter Rebecca and her husband Sean for some sightseeing.  As it turned out, Rebecca and Sean arrived one day after us, so we ended up with 4 nights of recovery, more than enough to readjust.

On the flight from Munich we had a chance to have a tour of present, past and perhaps future trips.  Before our plane had even reached cruising altitude we crossed the Danube, and recognized Vohburg, one of our favorite towns from this summer.  Half an hour later we were high over Holland when we recognized the distinctive outline in canals of Deventer, a Hanseatic city on the IJssel River that we visited a year ago, and the 27-km-long Houtribdijk that we rode across a few days later.  Then, as our plane reached the North Sea coast, we got a view of Texel Island and perhaps of the future.  We had hoped to bike there this year but the wind and the timing were off.  Holland's most-visited island, it's almost 20 miles (30+ km) long and famed for its cycling as well as its beaches.  To say it's high on our bicycling bucket list is an understatement.

New Mexico was another world away from all that.  One of our first stops was the cathedral-basilica of St. Francis.  In broad outline it resembled many of the churches we saw this summer, but when you got down to details it was more like seeing two kids of the same age side-by-side rather than two brothers or even cousins, compared to churches in Germany and Austria.

 The look of New Mexico is also unlike anything in Europe.  It's a fairly dry state, although many of the mountains do manage to catch just enough rain to maintain thin forests.  But when you get down to the "lower" elevations it is quite parched.  Lower elevations in New Mexico is a relative term since the Rio Grande valley is almost a mile (1,600 m) above sea level at Albuquerque, and Santa Fe, in a side valley near the Rio Grande, is at 7,000' (2,100+ m).  We drove with Rebecca and Sean to Taos, stopping for a "forest view," and then to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, one of the 100 highest bridges in the world and 7th highest in the U.S.  Pretty dramatic!

 The highlight of the whole trip was Bandelier National Monument, where ancestral Pueblo people lived from c. 1150 CE to 1550 CE.  Their homes were a combination of caves and buildings made of volcanic tuff.  A diorama in the visitor's center showed how they were built and may have looked like when in use, and a walk through the former village shows what it looks like now.

The valley is walled off on one side by a rock cliff with numerous caves, some of which may be visited.

Many caves were used as part of the living area, most likely as "back rooms" behind buildings once again built with blocks of tuff.  The cliff face then became the back wall of the structure. The first photo below is of one structure that was put up by the National Park Service many years ago as a model of what they may have looked like.  In the other photos, the holes where the roof poles were once anchored into the cliff face are quite obvious.  If you look closely in the last photo you can also see petroglyphs that were carved by someone standing on one of the long-gone roofs.

In addition to the human history, there was plenty to admire in the flora and fauna, including a grasshopper that looks exactly like a leaf (he's in the center of the fifth photo), and a praying mantis.

The most exciting part of the walk was saved for last -- Alcove House.  This is a cave 140' (42 m) above the valley, reached by four ladders.  As you can see from the second photo, we were required to keep Rebecca under close supervision.

We had one more adventure, taking NM 14, aka the Turquoise Trail, through Madrid to Sandia Peak.  On the way we stopped at Cerillos Hills State Park for a hike past a number of old mines.  They were pretty unimpressive as mines go, and largely closed in 1884 when stricter mining safety laws went into effect.

The dryness was betrayed by cactus, although the occasional juniper seemed to suggest it wasn't quite a desert.  Sean shared a hard-learned piece of advice -- do NOT touch those cherry-sized buds, as the teeny-tiny needles poking out their red sides are far worse than the huge ones on the cactus leaf since they are so fine they are almost impossible to find and remove.

Our final destination on the Turquoise Trail was Sandia Peak, 10,700' (3,250 m) above sea level and therefore more than a mile (1,600 m) above Albuquerque, spread out below us.  In the distance were several thunderstorms, identifiable from the streaks of rain reaching from the sky to the ground below.  The next day the two of us visited the Albuquerque Museum of History and Art, and found a painting by Peter Hurd, Shower in a Dry Year, showing the same thing.  Hurd, by the way, studied under N. C. Wyeth and married N. C.'s daughter, sister of course to the equally famous Andrew Wyeth.

It was a great 5 days catching up with Rebecca and Sean's lives.  It was time now for one final stop on the grand tour back home -- LA -- to catch up with son Brian, d-i-l Ardy, and grandkids Cedro and Draelen.  Our visit coincided with the 100th anniversary of Culver City, where they live, and the school that first-grader Cedro attends was in the celebratory parade.  El Marino was an elementary school the city was thinking of closing when some forward-thinking parents and teachers came up with the idea of making it a language school.  Today it has two programs, one in Spanish and the other in Japanese, where kids are immersed in that language starting in kindergarten, then gradually increase the amount of English in their curriculum as they move on towards fifth grade and the need to transition to normal all-English instruction when they graduate to middle school.  The school had two groups in the parade, one for each language group, and our dear extroverted Brian was the March Leader for the Japanese group, of course.  Cedro did a good job following the dance they had been taught to march to, while Draelen somehow managed to sleep through the cacophony. 

After the parade we headed to a nice cafe in downtown Culver City for brunch, and Draelen rejoined the celebration, with the assistance of a banana.

We'll close out our family visit with some family portraits.

Thanks, dear readers, for joining us on our travels.  We're already making plans for next summer, so check back next June to see where our Wanderlust takes us!