We accelerated the pace of our return home to the Fort as more towns, counties and states issued tighter restrictions on a daily basis. Ever in need of espresso and tea to sustain the journey we did venture into a number of towns for take out beverages and food. While passing through we usually managed to take a quick tour of the historic or downtown areas before departing for our next fika.
Below are some photos from the final days of OTR 4.0.
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Be seeing you!
Video Clip, Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina
C.S.A. cannons on Seminary Ridge, Gettysburg Battlefield
After deciding to shorten our trip due to the Covid-19 pandemic we are still keeping to more scenic routes, backways and small towns whenever possible as we return to Connecticut.
From Texas we passed into Louisiana and toured the low country along the Gulf before heading north and making stops in Lafayette and Baton Rouge.After Baton Rouge we continued north into Mississippi and spent a night in the beautiful town of Natchez which sits high above the Mississippi River on a bluff. From Natchez we traveled north on the Natchez Trace Parkway. The NTP is a 440 mile road that follows the path that Native Americans and later Euro-Americans used to travel by foot back to Tennessee and Kentucky after floating down the Mississippi on rafts to trading posts. The entire route from Natchez to Nashville is a national park. There are many historic sites as well as hikes and walks that can be accessed on this beautiful trip. We followed the road as far as the Tennessee/Alabama border before departing to travel east across Northern Alabama.
We will pick up the Blue Ridge Parkway in Asheville, North Carolina and plan on driving the full route which terminates in Front Royal, VA.
We have included a collection of some of our favorites sights as we drove through Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.
During our time at Big Bend NP we used the town of Terlingua (pop. 58) as our home base. Terlingua is only about twelve miles north of the Study Butte (stew-dee) entrance into the park and has a well stocked general store (Cottonwood GS) for provisions and a half dozen restaurants and shops in addition to motel, camping and RV accommodations. Terlingua has two paved roads – FM 170 which runs east to west terminating at Route 118 which runs north to south from Alpine to the park entrance.
Terlingua came into existence around 1900 after the discovery of cinnabar. The commercial value of cinnabar derives from the extraction of quicksilver, aka mercury. Shortly thereafter about a half dozen mining companies staked claims and set up operations. Over time the companies were consolidated as the Chisos Mining Company but still became bankrupt in 1937 due to falling market prices. During WW2 several mines were re-opened as heightened demand caused prices to rise but by 1947 the mines were again closed.
Many of the miners that worked these mines were Mexicans who came north for the work. Many of the descendants of the Mexican miners still live in Terlingua and the surrounding area. We visited the Terlingua cemetery where a number of the miners who died working the mines are buried and which also is the final resting place for many victims of the 1918 flu epidemic. The cemetery is still in use today.
The town itself is pretty ramshackle which frankly is part of the charm. The local residents are very laid back and friendly. The Terlingua Ghost Town is where most of the restaurants and shops are located – scattered amongst the ruins of the mining company buildings and housing. Many of the current businesses occupy the abandoned mining company structures.
We found Terlingua to be an excellent spot for visiting BBNP if you decide to stay outside the park and had a lot of fun after our hikes unwinding and meeting people in the restaurants and bars in the ghost town area.
Be seeing you!
P.S. Terlingua has the most stunning sunrises which you can watch from most anywhere in town as the sun rises over the Chisos Mountains, Class 1 dark skies for awe inspiring star gazing and the loudest packs of coyotes we have ever heard.
After departing Carlsbad Caverns NP we traveled through oil country (see Carlsbad Caverns blog) and on through a number of small Texas towns on our way south. Our first stop was in Pecos. We stayed just a short while as the traffic from the Mid-Continent Oil Field has just overwhelmed the town with heavy trucks crossing through the main intersection from all four points on the compass.
We stopped for a picnic lunch in the tiny town (pop.479) of Balmorhea (bal-mor-ray). Balmorhea has a small water canal that runs through town surrounded by Cottonwood trees offering a shady, tranquil spot for our meal and a break.
From Balmorhea we continued south on Texas Route 17 to Fort Davis. Historic Fort Davis, managed by the National Park Service sits just outside of town. This fort operated from 1854 to 1891. Throughout much of its tenure the cavalry and infantry troops stationed here were tasked with protecting emigrants heading west to California from Native American attacks. During the Civil War the Union troops were withdrawn from the fort and it was occupied by Confederate troops from Texas.
Afte the war the fort was reoccupied by U.S. Cavalry troops including several companies of Buffalo Soldiers. From that point forward the troops were again focused on providing safe passage for emigrants and commercial freight operators. With the surrender and deportation of the majority of the Native Americans towards the end of the century the fort was abandoned.
Fort Davis is a great stop if you are interested in the history of the American West. The fort is in excellent condition and you can visit recreated barracks and living quarters.
We stayed the night at the Hotel Limpia (constructed 1912) in the town of Fort Davis (pop.1210). The Limpia is a charming western hotel with an excellent restaurant – Blue Mountain Grill.
Our next stop on this leg was Marfa, Texas. Marfa (pop. 1,981) is another town in Far West Texas that started out as a water stop for the railroad. Today the rail still exists and is operated by the Union Pacific Railroad with six to ten freight trains crossing through the middle of town each day.
During WW2 Marfa was home to a Army Air Corps training base which was abandoned after the war. Marfa became famous as an artists colony after NYC artist Donald Judd moved there in 1971 and purchased some of the empty hangers to permanently house collections of his work and those of other minimalist artists.
While we enjoyed Marfa we came away somewhat disappointed after reading and hearing all of the hype about the town. The minimalist large “art” installations are just not our cup of tea. The town itself is still charming with many examples of well preserved western architecture. There are a number of interesting shops and excellent restaurants albeit the prices are inflated for the tourist trade.
If you do go to Marfa we highly recommend the Hotel Paisano as a base for your stay. The hotel was orignially constructed in 1929 and served as a hub for cattle ranchers and tourists for several decades. The hotel fell into disrepair in the early 2000’s but was purchased and entirely renovated. Today it is a charming hotel with a good restaurant and bar along with great courtyard for relaxing with a cocktail or two.
A political/cultural item we would mention regards a phenomenon we have seen in several places. As Marfa became know as an artists colony a number of “outsiders” have come to town and purchased and renovated properties effectively pricing locals out of the market. The county enacted an adobe tax on adobe structures to capitalize on the rising market which raised property taxes 60% for all owners of adobe structures. Local folks who have made no improvements to their modest adobe homes are caught up in this and are hurting.
Lastly, and very importantly there is an excellent third wave coffee shop in Marfa trading as Do Your Thing Coffee and a very good roaster in town – Big Bend Roasters.
We are off to the rugged backcountry of Big Bend Ranch State Park.
We made the short hop east while staying in Marfa to spend a pleasant afternoon in Alpine, Texas. A brief history of Alpine can be read below on a photo of the town placque. Alpine’s origins lie with the railroad but today it is anchored by a state university.
The good news for us is that Alpine has a vibrant street mural scene, a terrific book store and a solid coffee shop to complement the classic early 1900s western architecture. There are 45 street murals in downtown. As those of you who follow us know that is a winning combination for us.
You can see more street art and coffee experiences on our Instagram accounts: #streetartfromtheroad/#fikawithfiona
After our stay in ABQ we began our journey to southern New Mexico to visit White Sands National Park and Carlsbad Caverns National Park. We travel the backways as much as we can in order to take in as much natural beauty as possible. Fortunately, New Mexico offers many opportunities to travel overland on dirt roads and trails through public lands managed by the BLM and NFS.
From ABQ we journeyed overland via the Quebradas Backway which took us through rolling hills and canyons. Beautifully striated ridgelines are in view to the west throughout the length of the backway.
After completing the backway we continued further south stopping in Truth or Consequences before camping north of Las Cruces. Truth or Consequences was originally named named Hot Springs for the 40 different hot springs located in the town. The town changed its name to Truth or Consequences in 1950 to in order to have the radio show of the same name aired in town for the shows tenth anniversary. Our only recommendation if you find yourself in T or C is to stop into Ingo’s Art Cafe, have a cup of coffee and meet Ingo.
White Sands National Park is the largest gypsum dunefield in the world. It is truely unique with its ever changing landscape of wind sculpted dunes that cover 275 square miles of the Tularosa Basin. The other unique feature is that the national park sits inside the White Sands Missile Range. When missiles are being fired the park closes for obvious safety reasons – check before you go so you are not disappointed.
We think the park can be experienced in one day by driving the loop road and taking a couple of hikes into the dunes. You will also see kids sledding on the dunes.
After leaving White Sands we traveled up into the Sacramento Mountains of the Lincoln National Forest. The Sacramento Mountains rise right up out of the basin floor to an elevation of over 8000 feet above sea level. There are a number of vista points that provide surreal views of the White Sands dunefield below.
Lincoln NF has hundreds of hiking trails through out the forest. The town of Cloudcroft sits at the top of the range, a cute mountain town that is a good base camp for hiking in the forest and offers several good restaurants and coffee shops. High Altitude outfitters is an excellent shop for anything you need for your outdoor activities and Black Bear Coffee will get you caffeinated. A number of the trails utilize the railbed from the former Almagordo & Sacramento Mountain Railroad which hauled timber down through the Fresnel Canyon. The railroad shutdown in 1947 but a number of the impressive trestles are still standing and can be seen while hiking. We also came upon several abandoned homesteads while hiking in the forest.
As we mentioned in closing our last post we were planning on traveling south to spend two days exploring and camping at Chaco Culture National Historical Park near Nageezi, NM. Chaco Canyon was occupied as early as 900 B.C. and as an archaeological site is on par with the fantastic Mesa Verde cliff dwellings. Unfortunately, the storm that passed through northern New Mexico rendered the 25 mile dirt road into the park impassable.
Not to worry! Northern New Mexico is rich with significant archaelogical sites. In fact, there are 19 ancestral locations which can be accessed in the Four Corners Region. So after a brief stopover in the badlands surrounding Angel Peak we set our sights on Bandelier National Monument.
The Angel Peak Recreation Area is managed by the BLM. It is a beautiful area of desolate badlands, occasionally marred by oil or fracking sites scattered through out the 10,000 acres. Angel Peak is still worth a visit.
We joined Route 96 to make the drive to Bandelier NP. Route 96 runs north then east skirting the northern boundary of the Santa Fe National Forest and parallels the Old Spanish National Historic Trail. This area is sparsely settled with only five settlements along the 60 miles -between Cuba and Abiquiu. The total population of all of the settlements is apx. 500 people.
Abiquiu is where artist Georgia O’Keefe did much of her painting while in New Mexico. We plan on visiting the Georgia O’Keefe Museum when we visit Santa Fe.
Bandelier National Monument is a relatively small (33,000 acres) monument but protects an area of mesas and canyons where humans lived as long as 11,000 years ago. This area features both cliff dwellings and multi-room dwellings on the canyon floor. Much of the material here is tuff (compacted volcanic ash) which allowed the Puebloans to carve into the cliffs.
There are a number of dwellings where you can climb up into cliff dwellings using ladders modeled after the ladders the Puebloans used. The Alcove House pictured below provides the opportunity to climb up a series of ladders and provide the view of the canyon that the Ancesteral Puebloans had so long ago. Additionally, there are many petroglyphs on the cliff walls.
BNP was closed to the public during World War 2 as the buildings and lodging were appropriated for the Manhattan Project which was based in nearby Los Alamos. The Bradbury Science Museum in Los Alamos depicts the history of the Manhattan Project which produced the first atomic bombs which were dropped on Japan in an attempt to hasten the end of the war with Japan. Replicas of the “Fat Man” and “Little Boy” atomic bombs pictured below.
BNP is within easy driving distance of Santa Fe. The park offers primitive camping and there are hotels in nearby White Rock. We would recommend visiting in the off season as parking is limited and the crowds make for lines if you want to climb up into the dwellings (according to the park rangers). We recommend one to two days here in order to hike the Frey Trail, visit the Long House, the Alcove House and the Falls Trail.
Be seeing you!
P.S. The Revolt Coffee truck is parked on Route 4 in White Rock so you can grab a great coffee to go on your way into or out of the monument.
This trip will take us through New Mexico and deep into (the heart of) Texas before turning east along the Gulf Coast and eventually driving back to Connecticut. As usual we began our trip in Salt Lake City where we have been storing the Beast between trips.
After a day of travel to SLC and a day of preparing the Beast for this journey we departed for Moab, UT. We spent an overnight in Moab, UT (Moab Coffee Roasters) before traveling to southwestern Colorado to view some of the finest examples of Peubloan cliff and mesa communities in existence today.
Mesa Verde National Park was created by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 for the explicit purpose of preserving the remarkable Ancesteral Peublo architecture. Mesa Verde was occupied by the Pueblo people for about 750 years beginning in 550 A.D.
MVNP is definitely a bit off the beaten path but we think more than worth the drive. The park is laid out with a loop drive that allows you to see many of the cliff villages from excellent view points. There are a number of kivas that have been excavated which are easily accessible by foot.
In the summer months you can also tour several of the cliff dwellings on ranger guided tours. The Far View Lodge offers acommodations with outstanding views of the mesa and canyons below. There is also a small musueum located in the park about twenty miles from the entrance.
There are a number of indigenous sites in the Four Corners area which could easily be combined with a visit to MVNP for an extended tour; Canyons of the Ancients and Chaco Culture National Historic Park are two major sites.
Our third CT Road Trip of this home stay found Maria and me traveling to eastern Connecticut to visit the William Benton Museum of Art. The Benton is located on the Storrs campus of UCONN. We followed Route 66 from Middletown to Willimantic which took us through a part of Connecticut that still retains a very rural feel with small towns and many historic homes, buildings and farms.
We made Willimantic our first stop to check out Grounded Coffee Co. http://groundedcoffeecompany.org/ and search out street murals in the otherwise depressed downtown area. Grounded Coffee sits right on Main Street in a historic structure built in 1831. The cafe occupies the ground floor. The owners did a nice job working around the central four-sided fireplace in creating a comfortable and pleasing space. In addition to a full menu of coffee and tea drinks GC offers a light food menu. GC is definitely the best choice for coffee in the Willimantic area in our opinion.
Willimantic has been very active over the last several years in sponsoring and promoting street murals. We found many interesting murals, a number of which are historical murals depicting the history of “Thread City” as a textile hub during the first half of the 20th century.
The Benton Museum https://benton.uconn.edu/# is a very small museum located in the heart of the Storrs UCONN campus. There is no admission charge and unfortunately very limited parking (four spaces) adjacent to the museum. We were fortunate to arrive to find one of the spaces available (get a pass at the front desk for your car window to avoid being ticketed or towed).
The museum has a permanent collection in the main gallery – From Old Masters to Revolutionaries: Five Centuries of the Benton’s Best and an additional two galleries featuring current exhibits. We were able to tour the entire museum in under two hours. We found two of the three current exhibitions to be worthwhile – Halt the Hun: Atrocity Propaganda in World War 1 and DEMOKRACJA GRAFIKA.
“Halt the Hun” featured posters created by artists to rally Americans to support the war effort by buying Liberty Bonds while “DEMOKRACJA” provides insight into life in Poland during the Cold War. UCONN has had an exchange program with the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow since the 1980s which is where the majority of the prints on display were produced.
We recommend the museum with the caveat that you check out the current exhibitions before visiting as the permanent collection is small (but good).
For our next trip in January we are planning to cross state lines and venture north for more fika, street murals and fine art.
Our second road trip of this home stay found us in New Haven at the Yale University Art Gallery (http://www.artgallery.yale.edu). We were particularly interested in seeing the three exhibitions currently on display.
Of course all road trips require sustenance in the form of coffee pre-activity and a meal with wine post activity. We enjoyed fika at Fussy Coffee ( http://www.drinkfussycoffee.com) on Winchester Avenue. In addition to great coffee and light food, Fussy is strategically located next to the Farmington Canal Greenway which made for an easy and pleasant walk to Chapel Street for our museum visit. An added bonus of this location was the opportunity to view Kwadwo Adae’s mural “locomotion” which is on the FCG about three blocks north of Fussy Coffee (#streetartfromthe road).
After viewing the exhibitions, we made the short walk down Chapel Street for our repast at Atelier Florian (www.atelierflorian.net ). The focus here is on seafood. We tried the mussels, calamari and seafood tacos accompanied by white wine and found all to be delicious. A terrific spot for a mid-afternoon break.
P.S. As an added bonus we have included several paintings from prominent artists that we viewed on our way between the exhibitions.
William Bailey: Looking Through Time
This exhibition consists of a number of oil paintings by long time Yale art professor William Bailey. Bailey focused on still-life paintings at a time when abstract painting was very much in vogue. The majority of the paintings on display are large still-life oil paintings. The colors are muted yet vibrant while stylistically relecting many different artists and periods. Photographs of eight of his paintings on display are included below. Many of these paintings were done during his visits to Italy.
Place, Nations, Generations, Beings: 200 Years of Indigenous North American Art
This exhibit includes paintings, wood carvings, textiles, pottery, photographs and drawings from the Yale collection as well as several other institutions. The exhibition includes pieces from a variety of first nations and tribes across the United States. The curators have been quite clear in the narrative to acknowledge that much if not all of this work was essentially stolen from the rightful owners as tribes were forced onto reservations. Yale has returned hundreds of artifacts to tribal nations over the last several years.
Ceremonial Dress from Southwest China: The Ann B. Goodman Collection
This exhibit provides 15 splendid examples of ceremonial clothing worn for special occasions such as birth, marriage, death and harvest. The clothing is incredibly intricate and detailed. All of this clothing was made by women who typically do everything from gathering the cotton, dyeing the material, sewing and embroidering the outfits. The groom’s wedding outfit in the exhibition was made by his bride to be! There is also a display of hats and jewelry that were worn at these ceremonies. This collection was recently gifted to Yale but is only on display through January 5, 2020.