WCWS Road Trip: Capulin Volcano National Monument

After dropping Stacia and Andrea off at the airport I headed west immediately; it was time to get back to the mountains! I’d hoped to be able to hike New Mexico’s Sierra Grande, Union County high point but as I entered New Mexico the summer afternoon thunderstorm clouds began to gather.

Understanding that hiking it just wasn’t a good idea, I continued on. The storms had brought in some afternoon cooling so I decided to check out Capulin Volcanic National Monument along the way.

Since the visitors center was closed for renovation, I quickly perused the temporary gift shop and headed up the mountain. While the ranger at the top said that I could hike the rim trail, she did point out the gathering clouds “about 11 miles away” and asked that if it got much closer that I come down.

The rim trail was only a mile long so I knew it wouldn’t take me long to hike. Because I hadn’t had a chance to check out the visitors center, I was really excited to see the interpretive signs along the way. Capulin Volcano is only 60,000 years old!

It was a really different set of views than I’ve had in the past. I could see Black Mesa, Oklahoma’s state highpoint, off in the distance:

My views of Sierra Grande were excellent but the clouds continuing to gather around its summit confirmed to me that I’d made a good choice in taking a pass.

Back at the car, I grabbed Sprocket and walked him around the parking lot while inhaling a sandwich. My pup is one patient dude.

On The Page: Under The Banner of Heaven

In early May, High Country News published a piece on the polygamous Mormon community of Short Creek. This reminded me of Jon Krakauer’s Under The Banner of Heaven. I’d read this book a long time ago, back in college. I didn’t remember a whole lot about it and I’d learned much more about the history of the West, traveled through Mormon Country, and generally figured I was in a better place to absorb the book.

I wasn’t wrong. Getting deeper into Under The Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith was a lot easier for me now that I could picture the country on the Utah-Arizona border where Short Creek’s FLDS community is located. I’ve also read more about other exploration of the west. For example Krakauer suggests that perhaps Mormons who had been involved with the Mountain Meadows Massacre may have been involved with the killing of William Dunn and the Howland brothers who abandoned John Wesley Powell before they descended Separation Canyon (historians have long believed it was the Shivwits Band of Payutes who killed the explorers).

Also fascinating is the revisionist history of the Latter Day Saints (LDS) Church, more commonly known as the Mormons. I honestly found this uneasy relationship between fundamentalist Saints and the mainstream branch of the religion more fascinating than the central narrative of Ron and Dan Lafferty’s crimes.

Ron and Dan struck me as “typical” religious nuts of any stripe. Killing their sister-in-law, Brenda, and her daughter because God told them to was just the culmination of a descent into increasing extremism. Brenda had stood up to Ron and Dan as they attempted to rope her husband Allen into their delusions.

I devoured this book on my trip down to Oklahoma City. Despite being really tired (definitely recovering from the end of the school year!) I was pretty happy to find a quiet spot and do some reading. Like all good books, this one lengthened my reading list but I learned a lot about how pieces of western history fit together.

Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum

It’s always jarring when you’re on vacation to visit sobering memorials and museums. I don’t want to ever be the one that turns away from the darker parts of our past so I always force myself to go. While in Oklahoma City for the WCWS, we couldn’t skip the bombing memorial.

This memorial was interesting because I remember when the bombing happened. I was in third grade in the spring of 1995, my best friend’s birthday was in just a couple of days. We saw the pictures and knew it was horrible but that’s about all my 9 year old brain could comprehend. I was really curious to visit the museum and help bring all the pieces together.

As we stepped through the gates on the west side of the memorial, we were greeted with the giant reflecting pool on what had been Oklahoma City’s 5th Street. This now decommissioned street was where Timothy McVeigh had parked the now infamous Ryder truck.

Stacia, Andrea and I all agreed to start in the museum to give context to the memorial. This is one of the best museums I have ever been to. I have a low threshold of patience for museums with lots of video content and while I still felt there could be fewer videos (or at least shorter ones), the exhibits were put together excellently.

Back outside, we visited the survivor tree and then wandered over to the site of the federal building and saw the chairs representing those who died in the bombing.

We wandered around the grounds for awhile taking it all in. The memorial was really well done. If you’re in OKC, you can’t miss it, it’s hard but you must go.

WCWS Surprise!!!

Many of you know that I have a minor obsession with baseball.

My obsession with college softball is worse. I actually played D3 ball when I was in college. I was certainly no star (ha) but as my dad always said most people don’t get to play in college so I feel pretty lucky. I’m even more lucky to have met a wonderful friend while playing. We were often trouble (I can get you a rainout…) but of the best kind.

Stacia and I were usually the ones at team parties that were in the corner huddled over the standings trying to figure out what our route to the playoffs was (spoiler, it was always hard and we never made it when playing together).

Despite distance, Stacia and Dre journeyed to Utah to support me at my wedding and I was so so lucky to stand up with them at their wedding.

Photo Amanda Summerlin

A couple weeks ago was the culmination of EIGHTEEN MONTHS OF SECRECY on the part of Dre and I… Stacia and I had always promised to go to the WCWS together. Dre wanted to take Stacia for her 30th birthday. Stacia got the tickets for her birthday back in December but she didn’t know I was coming until AT THE AIRPORT IN OKC! (Actually, she swears she knew something was up but whatever.)

I did not expect tons of softball—that I wasn’t even playing—to be so exhausting. We were never at the Airbnb; not that I’m complaining! We got to watch 10* games of excellent softball!

*10… but one of them was 17 innings….

We got rained on. I lost my voice. We kept score every game. We witnessed the longest WCWS Championship Series Final game ever.

I felt incredibly lucky to spend time at ASA Stadium watching some excellent softball. Neither Washington or Oregon took home the trophy but I really enjoyed the whole thing. It won’t be next year but I’ll definitely be back. This is some of the best sport out there. Just turn it on, you’ll see.

WCWS Roadtrip: Pecos National Historic Park

After leaving Santa Fe, I knew I didn’t need to rush on to Oklahoma City so I started looking for things to visit. One of the things that immediately jumped out to me as I looked at my Gazetteer (yup, even with phones and technology, I travel with the red De Lorme atlases!) was Pecos National Historic Park. It wasn’t located very far off the interstate so I piloted Ruth that a-way.

This was yet another NPS unit that I knew nothing about when I showed up (just like Chimney Rock earlier in the trip). I was really excited to see the trail rules sign as I walked into the visitors center that said that dogs were allowed on the trail!

Pecos National Historic Park documents the Cicuye pueblo and the Spanish missions that came afterwards starting with Coronado in about 1540. (Yes, I typed that right FIFTEEN FORTY.) The mission came to be called Pecos. This was the site of the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 (oh, don’t you worry, The Pueblo Revolt has ended up on my reading list, you’ll hear about it eventually).

Because of the revolt, the Spanish actually built two mission churches at the site. The first was bigger, its footprint is the rock wall surrounding the ruins of the smaller second church.

I really enjoyed visiting this park. The video at the Visitor’s Center felt a little dated but had a ton of information. I did inquire about how closely this pueblo was tied with Chaco culture and the answer I got was pretty… unsatisfactory? My curiosity was mostly roused after having left Chimney Rock that had both kivas and pit houses. There seemed to be a lot of things labeled as kivas at Pecos and nothing called a pit house so that sort of piqued my interest. Anyone know anything about that?

…guess I need to go visit Chaco Canyon

 

WCWS Roadtrip: Santa Fe, New Mexico

After I finished up in Los Alamos, I made the short drive down to Santa Fe. It was really hot so it was clear that this was going to need to be a dog friendly adventure (aren’t they all?) but fortunately Santa Fe was super welcoming. I’m always a bit hesitant about walking into shops with Sprocket but honestly? no one has complained yet. (He usually just lays down and goes to sleep.)

I’ve passed through Santa Fe before but I’d never just wandered around the Plaza. The park in the middle was really pretty and I loved the old architecture. Unfortunately, I’m not super excited about either turquoise jewelry (or really any jewelry) or Native American art so most of the shops didn’t really strike my fancy.

We wandered up to the area around the St. Francis of Assisi Cathedral but I was afraid to go inside with Sprocket. (Yes, I appreciated the irony even in the moment.)

Next we explored a side street sort of randomly. I didn’t particularly have a game plan for this adventure so we were just wandering! Fortunately, it took me to the oldest church structure in the USA and the oldest house in the US!

While I was looking for a place to eat lunch with a patio and some good New Mexican food, I stumbled across 109 East Palace, the Santa Fe base of the Manhattan Project where arrivals visited before heading up “The Hill” to Los Alamos.

It took a little deciding but I finally sat down for lunch at La Casa Sena. Sprocket and I were treated excellently, I greatly enjoyed my jalapeño-cucumber margarita and my lunch was fantastic. It was nice to sit in the cool patio and enjoy my book!

I was really drained after lunch. I’m not sure if it was the heat, the driving, or just the residual school year catching up with me but when we headed up into the mountains near town to find a camping spot, I promptly climbed in the back of the Jeep about 4:30pm and fell asleep. I managed to rouse myself about 8pm to take Sprocket for a walk and went back to sleep for the night. I guess I needed a vacation or something, ha!

WCWS Roadtrip: Los Alamos, New Mexico

After I left Chimney Rock, I headed south through Chama where we stopped to stretch our legs and then continued south towards Los Alamos. I’d never been to the Atomic City but it seemed as good a time as any to check it out.

I started at the Los Alamos History Museum first thing the next morning. I knew a little bit about Los Alamos but only in the vague sort of way where I remembered that it was important from AP US History and what I gleaned from Elizabeth Church’s excellent novel The Atomic Weight of Love.

I certainly knew nothing about the history of the Los Alamos Ranch School and my New Mexican history in general is pretty shaky. I was pretty shocked by the pretty impressive list of alumni and other attendees.

Even though I knew a little bit more about the development of the bomb, it was really interesting to learn more about Oppenheimer and the rest of the scientists as well as how the social order worked in the early days. The museum gives an excellent concise but powerful picture of Los Alamos’s role in ending the war and the development of the atom bomb.

After I finished with the history museum, I headed down to the Bradbury Science Museum. Affiliated with Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Bradbury is free but honestly, I didn’t enjoy it anywhere near as much as the history museum. The displays felt really busy which made reading them and following the story difficult. It was loud and I really just couldn’t focus so I decided it was time to move on.

Among the serious things I learned at the history museum I also learned this fun fact: Oppenheimer, called “Oppie” by peers, made a mean martini. I made sure to get a photo with him.

WCWS: Chimney Rock National Monument

The places nearest to where you live always get ignored. As I left Durango, I saw a sign reminding me about Chimney Rock National Monument. I’ve driven by the sign several times but never actually stopped. In fact, I wasn’t even sure why the Monument existed…

I debated for awhile and by the time I reached the turn off just shy of Pagosa, I’d resolved to stop. Unfortunately for my happy pup, the main part of the Monument can only be visited on a tour and dogs are not allowed. They do have a three dog kennels near the cabin where I signed up for the tour. Sprocket, as you might expect, was sad to be left but he was resigned to his fate. I waited until the last minute to put him there and then hid from him…

I hopped in the Forest Service van to head up to the ruin site (yes, this is a Forest Service National Monument!). We started at the lower site. Our tour guide, Rick was great and did an excellent job of tying the story of Chimney Rock in with Chaco (spoiler: they’re very closely tied!).

Since Rick was also a geologist, he was sure to point out cool geological features like these shrimp burrow fossils:

The hike to the upper part of the ruins was slow going since most of our crew was slightly older than me (as one might expect on a Tuesday!) but I was definitely into the improving views of the South San Juans (including Summit Peak that I summited a couple years ago!).

Finally, we reached the Great House near the top of the mesa. The very impressive rock work is Chacoan in nature and even more fascinatingly, is in signalling distance of a mesa that stands above Chaco.

At the very top, we discussed a proposed (and mercifully failed) proposed hotel project for the top of the mesa. (Thanks Peregrine falcons that nested here!) Our guide gifted us these nifty “I made it to the top” cards that made me laugh.

After the tour, I headed back down to the visitors center and retrieved my only slightly grumpy pup before we headed back down the road.

I’m glad I paid the $12 for the tour. After being in the region for a few years I’m starting to piece together the parts of the Chacoan story and every place I visit helps out a lot. Be sure to support all of our National Monuments these days; they matter. A lot.

Uncompahgre Plateau… Peak Undisclosed

It was the last week of school and I might have bought a bottle of wine. My roommate might have “stolen” a couple of glasses from me which lead to a second bottle being opened. This might have hatched a plan for evening hiking the next day.

We might have tackled a 10+ mile hike after work. These might be the photos from a site that might be on the Uncompaghre Plateau.

Aw, we’re always hiking alone so Sprocket and I never have great summit photos!

There’s no might about it, that’s my little town in the valley:

 

After School Canyons

I wandered into my roommate’s classroom after-school looking for some motivation to go running. She declared the 75-degree weather too hot to run. I disagreed with 75 being too warm to run but when she suggested heading out to Uravan for a hike followed by Blondie’s burgers and shakes, I wasn’t about to say no.

It actually turned out to be close to 85 down near Uravan which is a little hot for Sprockey-Poo so he and I spent most of our time in the very bottom of the canyon. It was lovely though!