Four Corners, Part 6 (Reflections)

On August 20, 2017 · 0 Comments

I decided to have a little fun in the final article of the Four Corners series. A couple of my earlier posts mentioned a trip through the same general area many years ago. It served as a short leg of my longest road trip ever, eventually covering 8,000 miles (12,900 kilometres) in 28 days during the early summer of 1992. I wondered how memories tucked away for a quarter century would compare to the present. I hadn’t returned to Four Corners, Chaco Canyon or Mesa Verde in the intervening twenty five years so this would be an interesting experiment.

Four Corners

Well of course we stopped at the famous Four Corners marker. You didn’t really think I’d name this entire series of articles "Four Corners" and never mention the actual geographic spot, did you? The marker made its first Twelve Mile Circle appearance back during the earliest days of the blog in a post I called Four Corners- USA. The photograph I chose to illustrate that earlier article came from the 1992 trip.

1992


4 Corners

A much younger me stood on the exact spot necessary to split my body into equal portions of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

2017


Four Corners

Obviously the location didn’t change after 25 years. However, wow, the Navajo Nation certainly spruced it up and made it look nice. The earlier image showed what amounted to a marker plopped onto a parking lot protected by guardrails. Now an attractive masonry and stone patio neatly encased the entire area. The set of stands where Navajo artisans sold their wares also improved remarkably. Permanent wood and stone structures replaced what previously looked like those flimsy temporary stands hawking fireworks around the Fourth of July.

It didn’t seem as remote as I’d remembered either. Sure, it was still out in the absolute middle of nowhere. This time we stayed overnight in Farmington so the drive to the marker took only an hour. That probably made the difference.

However, standing on that spot produced the same exact thrill. Bestill my geo-geek heart. Even the kids enjoyed it.


Chaco Culture National Historical Park

Chaco Canyon quickly became one of my most cherished memories from the earlier trip. I’d never heard of Chaco before that. That single viewing impacted me profoundly. I was so excited to return there, more than any other site on our trip. Check out these compare-and-contrast photos of the Kin Kletso pueblo taken from approximately the same spot atop the mesa twenty five years apart.

1992


Kin Kletso - 1992

That dark smudge on the right didn’t come from a bad scanning job, it came from a bad photo. Those of us of a certain age will remember the days before digital cameras. They probably existed in 1992 although a casual photographer such as myself didn’t know anything about them. I probably couldn’t have afforded one even if I had. I used a crappy point-and-shoot Kodak Instamatic with 110 film. That little blob was my finger straggling over the lens. We never really knew when a photo might be wonderful or horrible. With film, casual tourists didn’t snap a dozen photos of the same thing and delete all but the best one. That was too expensive. So I took the photo, sent it off to be developed after I got home, waited another week to get it back, and hoped for the best. Apparently I deemed it "good enough" to keep.

2017


Chaco Culture

The recent image came out much better. Some of the scenery changed a little, the bushes and access road most noticeably. However, Kin Kletso itself didn’t seem to change at all. Every stone in place in 1992 appeared to be remarkably the same after all those years. I tip my hat to the National Park Service for their great stewardship and preservation.

Getting there seemed a lot easier. I can’t recall if U.S. Highway 550 had four lanes back then or not. It certainly did not have a 70 mile per hour (112 kilometres per hour) speed limit. Even if it did, I doubt the camper we drove would have hit that speed. The sixteen-or-so miles of gravel and dirt road from the highway to the park remained as lousy as ever though. I still found it unnaturally amusing that the park itself featured nicely paved roads. From any direction, visitors had to travel over dirt, a roiling dust storm behind them, only to arrive at a blessed asphalt oasis in an otherwise empty desert.

The park itself gave me the same thrill even after so many years. I’d love to return and spend a few days probing the remote corners I’ve not been able to reach yet.


Mesa Verde National Park

Did it really take us more than half an hour to get from the Mesa Verde visitors center at the park entrance to the main attractions? I’d totally forgotten about that. It didn’t create any real hardship although it cut down our exploration time a little. The best photo contrast took place at Spruce Tree House.

1992


Spruce Tree House - Mesa Verde National Park

The earlier photograph actually turned out pretty well given the limitations of the camera and the person behind the lens.

2017


Mesa Verde

As with Chaco, everything remained pretty much the same at the actual ruins. Even the soot from ancient campfires along the mesa rim retained familiar patterns. The big spruce tree blocking the view disappeared somewhere over the course of time. However, other than that, I couldn’t tell much difference.

Mesa Verde seemed a lot more crowded this time. That might have been due to time of year rather than increased popularity. Last time I visited in late May, right before Memorial Day and before the summer vacation season. This time we arrived in late July at its height. We couldn’t see some of the features I’d visited earlier because they required tickets that sold-out for the day before we arrived. Nonetheless, we improvised and had a fine time. Our pivot to the Petroglyph Point Trail wouldn’t have happened otherwise and I got to see something new.

My memories of these places held up pretty well. Naturally I’d forgotten a few of the details although I did confirm my favorable impressions of three remarkable places.


Articles in the Four Corners Series:

  1. Orientation
  2. Hikes
  3. Towns
  4. Native Americans
  5. Breweries
  6. Reflections

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

Four Corners, Part 5 (Breweries)

On August 17, 2017 · 1 Comments

Every longtime reader in the Twelve Mile Circle audience already knew that this article was going to happen. Here comes the one about my latest brewery adventure. As always, I’ll try to put a bit of a geo-geek spin on it. I won’t talk about any actual beers because that wouldn’t meet the stated purpose of 12MC. Nonetheless, I’ll be understanding and sympathetic if you decide to skip this note and come back in a few days. That’s part of the deal I make when I write these travelogues. I always slip-in a brewery article and the audience has no obligation to pay attention to it.

Can You Say Nano?


Comanche Creek Brewing

What an adorable little brewery I found in Eagle Nest, New Mexico. Just look at it, a single small cabin with a porch. I can recall only one smaller brewery I’ve ever visited, and I’ve been to more than four hundred now. This one didn’t seem to have enough size to even qualify a microbrewery; clearly it ranked as a nanobrewery. Welcome to Comanche Creek Brewing.

My relatives in nearby Angel Fire recommended it, assuming I could find its secret location. The brewery sat at the end of a long gravel road (map) terminating at the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. Handmade signs pointed the way. Actually the hardest part might have been finding the exit from Highway 38 heading north out of Eagle Nest. The signs made it pretty self-explanatory afterwards. I did have a "where the heck are we" moment though, as we pushed farther away from civilization.

The brewery took pride in staying open during its stated hours. Its website did counsel patrons to "call if it is a blizzard, we are probably still out here but check in just to make sure." It rained heavily the day we visited so we assumed they’d be open regardless and that was the case. Everyone huddled under the small front porch to keep warm and dry. Standing room only in the middle of nowhere. The brewer/publican/owner/etc. stood in the cabin doorway handing out beers as needed. My relatives said this was the first time they’d ever seen other visitors. I figured they must have been mountain bikers disappointing that rain canceled their runs at the nearby ski resort. I devised a formula. Mountain Bikers + Rain = Drinking. They filled every place in town.


Unplanned Geo-Oddity


Bathtub Row Brewing

New Mexico and Colorado both had smallest counties that differed dramatically from any other counties in their respective states. Los Alamos County, NM measured 109 square miles (282 square kilometres). Broomfield County, CO covered even less, only about 35 mi2 (87 km2). As I noted in an earlier article during this series, Los Alamos existed solely because of the laboratory located there that developed the atomic bomb. I also talked about Broomfield awhile ago. This county used to be a town split between four separate counties. Broomfield got tired of dealing with all those different rules so it formed its own tiny county in 2001.

I’d planned in advance to stop at a brewery in Los Alamos, the Bathtub Row Brewing Co-op (map). It fell along our direct path so it seemed logical. However, Broomfield, towards the end of the trip, came as a complete surprise. We stayed with friends outside of Denver who asked if we wanted to go to a brewery for dinner. Of course we did. Only after I returned, as I updated my brewery visit list, did I discover that Nighthawk Brewery (map) fell within the diminutive borders of Broomfield County. Surely completing an economic transaction within a county "counted" more than simply crossing its border.

I don’t know if I’ll keep a running tally of brewery visits to tiny counties. I will note for the record that I regularly frequent a brewpub in the smallest county equivalent in the United States (within the independent city of Falls Church, VA). Add Los Alamos and Broomfield to the list for what that’s worth.


Beer Crawl in Durango



I’ll mention the close proximity of several breweries and brewpubs in Durango, Colorado because I don’t want my map to go to waste. This simple interactive guide kept me on track as we navigated through town. I felt pretty proud of my quick handiwork so I decided to inflict it upon the 12MC audience as well.

No, we didn’t hit all of the breweries in one epic crawl. My visits are about responsible drinking, involving samplers or flights, not pints. Of the five visited, we went to one for dinner our first evening, then out to the remote one (Ska) around lunchtime the next day, then another three right in town during the afternoon and evening. We didn’t make it the final one or to the distillery. Blame it on palette fatigue.


The Full List

Some readers may be curious so I decided to provide the full list of breweries and brewpubs we experienced during our journey, in order. Twelve visits in ten days seemed pretty respectable.

  • Creek Brewing Company; Eagle Nest, NM
  • Enchanted Circle Brewing; Angel Fire, NM
  • Bathtub Row Brewing Co-op; Los Alamos, NM
  • Second Street Brewery; Santa Fe, NM
  • Three Rivers Brewery; Farmington, NM
  • Steamworks Brewing Company; Durango, CO
  • Ska Brewery; Durango, CO
  • Animas Brewing Company; Durango, CO
  • Carver Brewing Company; Durango, CO
  • BREW Pub and Kitchen; Durango, CO
  • Nighthawk Brewery; Broomfield, CO
  • Platt Park Brewing Company; Denver, CO

The lifetime total stood at 422 visits as the trip concluded. I’m moving right along.


Articles in the Four Corners Series:

  1. Orientation
  2. Hikes
  3. Towns
  4. Native Americans
  5. Breweries
  6. Reflections

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

Four Corners, Part 3 (Towns)

On August 10, 2017 · 0 Comments

While the great outdoors flavored many of our decisions across northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, we also spent some time in "civilization" too. I tied to stay at least two nights in each place to create a little mental anchor. Otherwise we’d feel adrift in a vagabond existence. That offered time to explore a few towns along the way to complement amazing National Park Service properties. Nothing here should be confused with a comprehensive city guide. Sometimes we did the tourist thing and sometimes we avoided it. Twelve Mile Circle didn’t necessarily cling to conventions.

Santa Fe


Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe fell along our direct route. I figured we needed to stay near its historic Plaza (map) rather than a generic chain hotel out by the highway. I don’t mind cookie-cutter hotels ordinarily. It’s just a bed. However, Santa Fe always seemed to be one of those magical places best experienced in person. We needed to nestle near the action, an obvious choice for an extraordinary location.

The Santa Fe Plaza dated back to its earliest days as a Spanish outpost at the farthest reaches of the colonial empire. Don Pedro de Peralta served as governor of New Mexico and founded Santa Fe in 1610. Consider that for a moment. At that same time England barely maintained and nearly lost a foothold on the Atlantic coast at Jamestown. Meanwhile, the Spanish pushed their domain deep into the North American interior.

Santa Fe began as a walled fort to tame New Mexico and protect the Governor’s authority. The Plaza occupied a central space within that original fort. Santa Fe remained tremendously important continuously thereafter, with roads such as the El Camino Real and Santa Fe trail terminating there. It became and remained a capital city for much of its existence, and seemed a natural choice for the capital of the U.S. state of New Mexico. Albuquerque grew larger although Santa Fe never ceded its crown.

The Plaza didn’t disappoint either. Pueblo-inspired architecture ringed the perimeter, filled with the art galleries and jewelry stores that typified Santa Fe. We didn’t buy anything. We’re cheap. I enjoyed people-watching though. A row of stalls staffed by Native Americans selling traditional crafts defined its northern edge. Buskers of all types filled the square, my favorite being the men beating drums rhythmically accompanied by chants in traditional languages as sundown approached.


Los Alamos


Bathtub Row Brewing

Los Alamos offered a complete contrast to Santa Fe. It didn’t exist on a map until the Second World War ended. Even today only twelve thousand people lived there, many associated in some manner with the nearby National Laboratory. Everything seemed sleek and modern. No patina of age appeared on buildings, streets or landscapes. We didn’t stay overnight in Los Alamos although we stopped for lunch and toured the Bradbury Science Museum. There we saw artifacts from the Manhattan Project and replicas of the atomic bombs created in Los Alamos during the war. We also saw a curiously-named byway in the heart of town, Bathtub Row (map).

The United States government needed a remote, secret location to develop its atomic bomb. New Mexico met the criteria so the government seized the campus of the Los Alamos Ranch School. The most important scientists working on the Manhattan Project occupied homes on the vacated campus that once held the school’s teachers and administrators. Everyone else — the vast preponderance of workers — lived in temporary shacks or barracks. Only the original homes contained bathtubs. Everyone else used showers. Bathtub Row became shorthand for the the street where all of the bigwigs lived.


Durango


Durango, Colorado

Durango seemed a bit of a tourist town although we enjoyed it anyway. Once again, staying at a central location at the heart of town seemed to be the best alternative for us. Most of the action lined a half-mile stretch of Main Avenue east of the Animas River (map). Imagine a stereotypical "Western" town straight out of the old movies and that pretty much described Durango’s appearance. I’m not sure what drew me there other than its proximity to Mesa Verde, not that I regretted the decision. I liked waking up early each morning for a stroll through its quiet residential neighborhoods. It seemed like a well maintained and prosperous place.

Someone will be sure to ask if we rode the famous Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. Most people seemed to come to Durango for that express purpose. Our hotel sat within walking distance of the terminal. I’ve even enjoyed tourist trains in the past (e.g., the White River Flyer in Vermont; the Big South Fork Scenic Railroad in Kentucky). Still, we didn’t do it. I think we were all at the point where we’d seen enough scenery for awhile. Our boys also needed some downtime after continuous activity all week long. Plus, I’ll be honest, the six nearby breweries and brewpubs within Durango city limits might have influenced the decision.


Denver


Denver Zoo

I’ve been to Denver more times than I can count. We stopped there so we could spend some time with friends before heading to the airport, not to see anything specific. Our kids behaved themselves so well during the trip that we wanted to do something just for them. My older son in particular loves animals. He decided awhile ago that he wanted to visit every zoo in the United States and collect a map at each one. Hmmm… I wonder where he got that compulsive need to count things and look at maps? That’s how we ended up at the Denver Zoo (map). Our friends seemed up for it so they decided to tag along. I’m not sure they expected to spend six hours viewing, literally, every animal accompanied by a full set of stream of consciousness commentary. However, that’s how my older son roles. He earned it.


Articles in the Four Corners Series:

  1. Orientation
  2. Hikes
  3. Towns
  4. Native Americans
  5. Breweries
  6. Reflections

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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