Well, this isn’t really about Alaska, but it is about what I did this past week away from Alaska (mostly), so I’m sticking it into this site.
I spent the period of February 15-25, 2014 traveling about and taking some R&R time at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico. I stopped at a lot of airports: PSG – JNU – ANC – PDX – LAX – SAF, ABQ – DFW – LAS – SEA – KTN – WRG – PSG. Excluding my home airport, that was a stop in eleven airports of which I spent time on the ground in eight of them. Needless to say, I spent a rather large amount in the air and in airports.
I also spent the beginning and end of my stay in New Mexico in the capital city of Santa Fe. It is a mid-sized city with the historical downtown area composed of artsy shops and many fine dining establishments. At least in February, it didn’t feel too touristy. The more commercial area (which I did not go to) is located to the southwest. The historic area is quite amenable to walking. Even at night there were quite a few people walking about the city. I stayed at the Sage Inn located around a mile from the town square. It is close enough for a nice walk, or there is an hourly shuttle that runs between the hotel and the town square from morning to evening.
At the return end of my stay in Santa Fe I got to browse the Sunday arts and crafts booths at the Railyard Park’s Famers Market. There were quite a few artists offering their work: pottery, fabric, glass, jewelry, etc. The back part contained what looked like more permanent fixtures offering chocolate, teas, other foods, and a tasting room of the Vivac Winery. I picked up some teas, couple bottles of New Mexico wine, and a small clay cup.
There were a couple of shops that I particularly enjoyed. One is called Ten Thousand Villages and offers Fair Trade products from around the world. The other is Savory Spice Shop offering a huge selection of spices, herbs, and blends as well as a selection of local gourmet offerings. I purchased a few Indian and African spice blends. I put them in the suitcase for travel home and realized I should probably isolate it in a separate pocket so that the contents wouldn’t smell like spices for weeks.
The end of my trip coincided with the start of Santa Fe Restaurant Week. I took advantage of one of the special offerings to get a three-course meal at Vanessie. For $30 I chose the soup, a beef tenderloin filet, and a dessert.
Earlier in the day I went to Omira Brazilian Steahouse. It is an upscale buffet style steakhouse grilling and barbecuing various meats the Brazilian way. The miscellaneous items buffet section can be had by itself for a lower price, and even vegetarians will find a good selection here. I found this restaurant a great place to try out various types of meat during a single meal. I would almost consider coming back to Santa Fe just for this experience.
Most of my time was spent at Ghost Ranch, a Presbyterian Church (USA) education and retreat facility. It is located about one-hour north of Santa Fe in the middle of nowhere. The closest town is Abiquiu. This is the home of Georgia O’Keefe. The scenery is spectacular. With this winter being so dry and mild, it felt like spring during my stay. A few of the nights got quite cold and some of the days were rather windy, but they were still fine for the hikes that I took.
There are three main hikes directly accessed from Ghost Ranch. The first goes up toward and next to Chimney Rock. Although this ones climbs and with some steep gradients, the trail is relatively smooth (i.e., no scrambling about rocks and such) and fairly well marked. I found this one the easiest. You can start to get good vistas by going up about a third to half of the way.
The second one I hiked was the Box Canyon. This one follows a small creek for most of the way. It requires some dexterity throughout and a little bit of scrambling up boulders right at the end. Although you don’t get the wide vistas with this trail (because you’re boxed in a canyon most of the way) you get an intimate look at the rising cliff walls as well as colorful images in the stream and streambeds. The trail switches between the creek banks requiring stepping onto rocks and jumping over the water.
The third one I hiked, and the one I didn’t complete to its end, was the Kitchen Mesa. It is relatively easy for the first half before the trail hits the base of the mesa. At this point the trail becomes increasingly steep, rocky at times, and loose and sandy at other times. The trail winds up the steep incline of the mesa until it reaches the cliff face. At this point progress consists of scrambling and climbing rocks and boulders. The very last part of this first half concludes by scrambling up a crevice in the cliff face which isn’t quite vertical. I found climbing up far more difficult than coming back down the same. After reaching the top I lost the trail after about 200-300 yards. Upon examining the satellite image from Google Maps I got an idea of where the trail went afterwards. What I did instead was go to my left (to the edge of the bottom of the sideways “U”) and took in the vista from there before coming down. This was by far the most strenuous and technical of the trails.
On Saturday morning I set my alarm to awake for the sunrise. And what a great sunrise it was. I literally ran/jogged up the Chimney Rock trail until I got to a good vista. (The Moves app on my iPhone recorded me averaging 4.6 mph on a course that was at least half uphill.) And then later in the day I went up the trail again because the clouds were so fantastic.
What I learned from my hiking is that I feel like I’m still in very good physical shape. I have good strength and stamina, my speed seems to be pretty good, and I don’t seem to have any problems with agility or balance. I am still willing to tackle physically demanding challenges and take reasonable risks. So I’m not that old yet .
There is no cell phone coverage here (except for a few isolated spots depending on carrier) and WiFi is limited to two buildings. You might think you would miss the always-on connection, but really, that is not the case. It is kind of refreshing to have to intentionally seek out an online connection a few times a day and just know that the world can continue to spin around while you are disconnected.
It’s been quite a few years when I’ve been really had the chance to spend hours on photography over a span of a week. I truly enjoyed the time I had. I’m told that autumn is one of the best times to be in New Mexico with the aspens changing color and the weather still amenable to outdoor activities. I would like to return here again during that season.
Because this was the off-season, it was fairly quiet at the Ranch. There were only a couple of other workshops going on at this time. The most crowded I saw was maybe 40-50 (including staff) in the dining hall at one time. I’m told that during the summer high season there can be 450-500 guests plus many more staff and volunteers. I think I’ll stick to the off-season.