June 12, 2016 Heron Lake State Park, New Mexico

Aspen Grove
Aspen Grove

Exploring Southern Colorado

Skunk Cabbage
Skunk Cabbage

At these high elevations, this Skunk Cabbage seems to grow prolifically just about everywhere.

The West End of Colorado FR 103
The West End of Colorado FR 103

I had checked out FR 103 on my New Mexico and Colorado Atlases and wanted to see if I could drive it in the Prius to try and find the catering building of the Cumbres & Toltec RR out in the middle of nowhere in Colorado. The atlases showed  a few miles of drivable gravel road before it appeared to turn into 4-wheel drive road, when you entered FR 103 from the west, so I figured I would see just how bad it got.

As you can see from the image above, the road starts out in pretty good shape as you head down into a beautiful valley, but after about four miles, as it heads back up into the woods, it deteriorated quite rapidly, forcing me to turn around at about the five mile mark.

View From Colorado Route 17
View From Colorado Route 17

So, back out to Route 17, and north across the state line into Colorado to try FR 103 from the east side. The image above is from the side of the road as you descend into Colorado. If you look closely, the gravel road on the right that heads uo into the mountains is one I will take a little later in this post.

At the summit of Cumbres Pass there is a gravel road to the west that takes you about two miles up to the Trujillo Meadows NF Campground, so I had to check that out. There is a very nice campground up there at over 10,000 feet of elevation with several sites that would easily handle my rig, but, unfortunately, the campground looks like a bomb hit it. It used to be a well wooded campground but the bark beetles have killed a very large portion of all the surrounding woods up here and the forest service obviously felt the need to take down all the dead trees in the campground, leaving it completely bare, nothing but stumps. Still a nice place to truly get away from it all.

Aspen Grove
Aspen Grove

I continued east on Route 17 to Road D-5, just past Fox Creek, and that connected me to FR 103’s east access. FR 103 is a fairly decently maintained gravel road with a fair share of washboarded stretches for about 14 miles in, where it becomes a little narrower, slicker, and less well maintained.

Aspen Grove
Aspen Grove

I passed several aspen groves along the first several miles and finally had to stop and get some shots.

Approaching Storm
Approaching Storm

At about 6 or 7 miles in, the sky began to darken and I could see lightning flashing to the north.

Afternoon Storm
Afternoon Storm

In this area, there were a couple of meadows where one could possibly pull off the road and find a decent boon docking site, something I may well do in the future. I think I would dare take the motorhome out to at least this point, though I don’t think I would dare go beyond these meadows as the road does get narrower and there are no obvious places where a large rig could get turned around.

Afternoon Storm
Afternoon Storm

The rain was soon upon me as I made the final push to get to the catering building, about 15 miles in from the east end of FR 103.

Switching Track
Switching Track

kLunchStop

All these shots were taken in the rain so they are a little dull and spotty, but I found it kind of interesting to see all these people and all this activity out here in the middle of nowhere.

lLunchStop2

The Cumbres & Toltec RR serves a complete dinner, included in the price of your ticket, out here in this building. The road at this point became so bad that I could not get down to the building to check it out, plus the rain was really starting to come down heavy and I had a narrow, winding uphill to do in what was now a very muddy road, so it was time to turn around and head out.

Approaching the Water Tank
Approaching the Water Tank
Cumbres & Toltec Railroad Engineers
Cumbres & Toltec Railroad Engineers

As I slid and sloshed back up the road, the heavy rain turned to marble sized hail and within seconds the road was now white with hail. This was my first experience with the summer season’s afternoon storms, and it was a little terrifying for a few minutes. At 10,000 feet of elevation, I guess you must be right inside the storm as I could quite literally “feel’ the thunder as it seemed to explode around me and the hail was so heavy, I could not see the narrow road in front of me. But it was all over in a few minutes and I was able to make the return back out to Route 17, no worse for wear.

Cumbres & Toltec Open Gondola car
Nice Ride !

A shot of the open gondola car as the train passed in a little nicer weather.

My Second Cattle Drive
My Second Cattle Drive

Exploring Colorado Route 250 to Platoro

Only a few miles up Route 250, a wide, well maintained gravel road ( though quite dusty and washboarded in sections ), I encountered my second cattle drive of the season. This lone cowboy and his dog were single handedly driving about a hundred cattle up the road to greener summer pastures.

Mom Looking Out for Junior
Mom Looking Out for Junior

Just as with the first cattle drive I encountered back outside Raton a couple weeks ago, the cowboy came up to me and told me to just slowly head into them,” they’ll move “. And they did, but it took about five minutes of looking at the messy butts of a lot of cows and calves to nudge through the herd and get back on my way. I could easily have reached out my window and touched many of these cows as I made my way through.

rBlocked

These next few shots are actually are from my return back down Rte 250 later in the afternoon, this and the next few taken through my windshield, when I met up with the same cowboy and cattle drive about 3 hours later. Turns out to be a slightly different feel when you run head first into them and they have to make their way around you, than when you work your way through them from the rear.

Hereford Bull
This Guy Has Me Worried

This lone bull, about the size of my Prius, had me more than a little worried when he seemed to look down at me from in front of the car, as though he was trying to decide if he should push through me, or go around. Thankfully, some cows to the left moved around me, giving him room to move that way also.

Hereford Bull
That’s a Lot of Animal
Colorado Cowboy
Colorado Cowboy

Quite a job to tackle by himself, I would think. When the herd was moving through this area of cabins with no woods or fences along the roadway, the cattle were scattering all over the place and he was bouncing from one side of the road to the other trying to gather them all in and keep them heading in one direction. I wish i could have gotten some shots of his dog, looked like a sheltie/sheepdog type, as he raced all over chasing strays back to the road, seemingly without any commands that I could see or hear, from his master.

Elevation 9,000 Feet and Still Climbing
Elevation 9,000 Feet and Still Climbing

Views From 10,000 Feet

Colorado at 10,000 Feet
Colorado at 10,000 Feet

I ended up going about 18 miles into the mountains on Route 250, mainly to check out the two National Forest Campgrounds, Spectacle Lake CG at about 6 miles in and South Fork CG about 18 miles in. Both campgrounds were secluded and fairly nice with interior roads and several campsites that were able to handle larger rigs. I might well try one or both someday in the future, this is just breathtakingly beautiful country.

Colorado at 10,000 Feet
Colorado at 10,000 Feet
Colorado at 10,000 Feet
Colorado at 10,000 Feet
Colorado at 10,000 Feet
Colorado at 10,000 Feet

I got a little spooked as I was taking the shots above, when rocks began crashing down into the road behind me from the steep slope on the other side of the road.

Mule Deer
Rock Throwers

I looked up and there was the reason, two mule deer does scrambling up the steep talus slope, probably to get away from me.

Colorado at 10,000 Feet, Impossibly Green
Colorado at 10,000 Feet, Impossibly Green

The hillsides are an unbelievably brilliant green and the sky an incredible blue. The air so clean and dry … WOW !!!   Spring in the Rockies!

Colorado at 10,000 Feet
Colorado at 10,000 Feet
Colorado at 10,000 Feet
Colorado at 10,000 Feet

Years ago, I made a trip out here and had a little trouble with the altitude. This time, I suppose because of my slow, months long pace of gradually climbing up in elevation as I made my way north and up, through New Mexico, thankfully, I am not experiencing any of the same symptoms. Just another perk, I suppose, of the leisurely pace of a fulltimer.

Sunbathing Horses
Sunbathers

Had to take a shot of these two, seemingly really enjoying the warmth of the noonday sun at 10,00 feet.

Abandoned House
Abandoned House

And I can never pass by a deserted building.

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May 7, 2016, Logan, New Mexico

Abandoned Farmhouse, New Mexico
Abandoned Farmhouse, New Mexico

Route 66 and Exploring the Back Roads Around Logan

Since I had to take a short trip back to Tucumcari to grab some groceries before breaking camp Monday and heading farther north, I decided to head south a bit and check out the Caprock Amphitheater that I had noticed on my New Mexico Benchmark Atlas.

Abandoned Farmhouse, New Mexico
Abandoned Farmhouse, New Mexico

Driving the backroad to Caprock, I passed this abandoned farm building and stopped to poke around and get a better look.

Abandoned Farmhouse, New Mexico
Abandoned Farmhouse, New Mexico
Abandoned Farmhouse, New Mexico
Abandoned Farmhouse, New Mexico

Most likely was quite the place in it’s day, and I got a kick out of the dark blue interior walls, still vivid after all these years of neglect. The number of cow patties inside the building gave witness to it’s importance to the range cattle who obviously use it to escape the summer heat, though I am uncertain how they get inside since there are stairs at every entrance point.

Abandoned Farmhouse Outbuilding, New Mexico
Abandoned Farmhouse Outbuilding, New Mexico

The outbuilding clearly shows the power of the infamous New Mexico winds and how quickly they can turn stucco and adobe to sand.

Abandoned Farmhouse Outbuilding, New Mexico
Abandoned Farmhouse Outbuilding, New Mexico
Three Youngsters Grazing
Three Youngsters Grazing

Had to stop and check out these three young horses grazing in a tight knit band.

Caprock Wind Farm
Caprock Wind Farm

Caprock Wind Farm

Caprock Wind Farm
Caprock Wind Farm

Turns out the Caprock Amphitheater is no more, just a few not all that long ago abandoned buildings and a sign directing you to an out in the middle of nowhere ticket booth window. What is there now is the headquarters for the Caprock Wind Farm, the only one yet where I was able to drive amongst and directly under these giant wind turbines. Kind of neat hearing them hum and whoosh while standing directly beneath them as the relentless New Mexico winds are transformed to electricity.

Abandoned Motel on Route 66, New Mexico
Abandoned Motel on Route 66, New Mexico

The Remnants of Route 66

Instead of taking I-40 into Tucumcari, I drove the twenty plus miles on Old Route 66, which parallels I-40. The arrival of the Interstate spelled doom to all the Mom and Pop businesses along this stretch of highway as evidenced by all the abandoned and boarded up roadside buildings.

Abandoned Gas Station on Route 66, New Mexico
Abandoned Gas Station on Route 66, New Mexico

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September 30, 2015 Grand Tetons

Horses and Grand Teton
Horses and Grand Teton

A Gorgeous Morning in the Tetons

Teton Bison Dawn Move
Teton Bison Dawn Move

As I moved down Mormon Row just as the sun was coming up, I had to wait for a herd of forty or more bison to trudge, single file, across the road, coming down from the hills to spend their day grazing in the meadows.

As always, click on any image for a larger, sharper version.

Sleeping In
Sleeping In

When I arrived at the pastures where the Triple X keeps their horses, I found this one sleeping in, enjoying every minute of the sun’s early rays on a cool autumn morning.

Horses and Grand Teton
Horses and Grand Teton
Horses and Grand Teton
Horses and Grand Teton

I had been hoping for a morning like this since I arrived here, clear blue skies and the herd on this side of the pasture where I could use Grand Teton for a backdrop.

Horses and Grand Teton
Horses and Grand Teton
Horses and Tetons
Horses and Tetons

The image above is made up of four separate photos stitched together yielding a print size of well over four feet.

Teton Bison Family
Teton Bison Family

Just a little farther north of the horse pasture is a field of several hundred acres where these free roaming wild bison can usually be found. Today they were slowly moving north along a rough gravel road on the east side of the field, again allowing me to use Grand Teton as a backdrop. A little patience was needed as it took the herd over an hour to graze their way to a point where they came out of the shade and far enough along the road to be able to fit Grand Teton in behind them.

Bison and Grand Teton
Bison and Grand Teton
Bison and Grand Teton
Bison and Grand Teton
Grand Teton and Cottonwoods
Grand Teton and Cottonwoods

Much farther out along this same rough road I came across yet another way to shoot Grand Teton. Exploring these back roads gets a little hairy in my no clearance Prius and today was no exception, almost getting bogged down not too far from where I grabbed this shot. I have visited this area several times over the years and never seem to tire of searching the area for wildlife and/or mountain shots.

 

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July 24, 2015 Wasilla to Cantwell, Alaska

Rainbow Over the Parks Highway
Rainbow Over the Parks Highway

A Few Surprises Heading North to Denali

Spotted Horse
Spotted Horse

Since I awoke to rain at my wonderful boondocking spot in the Wasilla Walmart parking lot, I decided to forego loading the Prius and getting soaked and so decided to make a final drive along some of the back roads in the area. I found this neat horse along the Farm Loop Road, grazing alone amongst the fireweed and knee high grasses.

As always, click on any image for a larger, sharper version.

Spotted Horse
Spotted Horse
Moss Abstract
Moss Abstract

These colorful mosses along the roadside also caught my eye and I managed to snap a couple shots as the sun was starting to poke through the rain clouds here and there.

Moss Abstract
Moss Abstract

By 10 o’clock the rain had stopped and the sun was drying things out so I returned to camp and loaded up the Prius, did my last minute stocking up on groceries for Denali at Walmart, and headed north on the Parks Highway.

Rainbow Over the Parks Highway
Rainbow Over the Parks Highway

North to Denali

About an hour or two into my drive north, the skies clouded over once again and I ran through some intermitant showers. As I passed the Mount McKinley Viewing Areas, both South and North, all I could see were low hanging clouds, clinging to the mountains to the west, no possible sighting of McKinley.

Pot of Gold ?
Pot of Gold ?

As the rain became a little more serious, I decided to pull off the highway around MM 203.5, a little south of Cantwell, and make camp for the night. I knew that the intersection with the Denali Highway was just a few more miles north of here and I figured this pulloff would be a good place to unload the Prius and explore the road conditions on the Denali Highway to see if I wanted to take the motorhome in there to boondock.

It turned out to be a bit of good fortune that I stopped at this particular spot as a rainbow appeared not long after I got myself setup. I wish I could have gotten some better shots of it, but I was really struggling trying to keep my equipment from getting too wet as this particular rainbow presented itself accompanied by the heaviest rains I have encountered so far here in Alaska. And when the rains subsided, the rainbow disappeared. Oh well, nice to see one after a long dry spell between rainbows for me. Though quite unexpected, I managed to pick up a pretty good Verizon data signal here and was able to do some blog posts from this location.

Mount McKinley from My Pulloff Campsite South of Cantwell

Mount McKinley from My Pulloff Campsite South of Cantwell

Finally, Mount McKinley Appears !

The very next morning, I was up a little late, for me, and when I went outside with the dogs at 7 AM, I was stunned by this view back south along the Parks Highway … Mount McKinley ! Absolutely clear blue sky and not even any mountain created clouds starting to show around the base or the peak of the mountain.

Mount McKinley from My Pulloff Campsite South of Cantwell
Mount McKinley from My Pulloff Campsite South of Cantwell

This was shot from my campsite with my 600mm lens from about 40 or 50 miles away. So since I never even saw the mountain in my two weeks in the area back on my last trip to Alaska, and since the extended weather forecast for my time here this year does not look too promising, I had no choice but to unload the Prius and backtrack 70 miles to try and get some shots of the mountain.

Mount McKinley from the North Viewing Area
Mount McKinley from the North Viewing Area

This is a shot of the tip of McKinley taken afrom the North Viewing Area along the Parks Highway at MM 162.7. Not the best place to get a shot of the mountain as other shorter mountains block the view. There is a large parking lot with side by side camping here, not my cup of tea for sure.

From the North Viewing Area
From the North Viewing Area

These are some of the mountains south of McKinley shot from the North Viewing Area.

MM 134.8 Denali Viewpoint South

Mount McKinley from the South Viewing Area
Mount McKinley from the South Viewing Area

Finally, a shot of Mount McKinley, 22 years in the making for me! This shot was taken from the parking area of this turnoff. Simply a spectacular sight.

Mount McKinley from the South Viewing Area
Mount McKinley from the South Viewing Area

To the right of the parking lot viewing area, there is a trail that takes you up a hill to another, even better viewing area, overlooking the Chulitna River. If you get here on a day when the mountain is visible, BE SURE to take the short walk up to this second viewpoint, it should not be missed. ( Also, be sure to click on some of these images to see the larger, sharper version )

Mount McKinley from the South Viewing Area
Mount McKinley from the South Viewing Area
Mount McKinley from the South Viewing Area
Mount McKinley from the South Viewing Area
Mount McKinley from the South Viewing Area
Mount McKinley from the South Viewing Area
View From South Viewing Area
View From South Viewing Area

The jagged peaks of the mountains surrounding McKinley are quite impressive in their own right.

Jagged Peaks
Jagged Peaks

After spending an hour or so here ( I even put the camera down for a bit, sat back and just drank in the grandeur of the scene in front of me, something I often forget to do ), I turned around and headed the 70 miles back to my roadside campsite.

Along the Parks Highway
Along the Parks Highway
Along the Parks Highway
Along the Parks Highway
Along the Parks Highway
Along the Parks Highway

What a difference a day can make! These three images above are of just one of the multi-colored mountainsides that were completely concealed along the Parks Highway by yesterdays inclement weather. They were passed by yesterday without even a second glance, and today, just breathtaking.

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