Established in 1926, Route 66 between Chicago, IL and Santa Monica, CA was one of the original highways. It was used as the route to California, first by the unemployed looking for agricultural work during the 1930's Dust Bowl years, then during WWII for war-related work and finally in the 1950's for vacationers seeking fun in Los Angeles. The increased traffic gave rise to fast food restaurants (eg. the first McDonalds restaurant), motor inns and roadside attractions. It inspired a song, a TV show and for many, a romanticized view of a road trip. (Albuquerque to Moriarty, Oct 10)
Sixty years later the “The Mother Road” was replaced by interstate highways that crisscrossed America, choking off the the mom-and-pop businesses. Today, parts of the route have been designated as national scenic byways and folded into the US Bicycle Route System, with efforts made to retain some of the nostalgia.
At sunrise, all the participating balloons took to the skies in waves, an event called the mass ascension. This year there were over 600! Chaser teams drove beyond the grounds to pick up balloons unable to return to the fiesta park. Residents who volunteered to lend their yards as safe landing spots were given large white X markers to lay out for the balloonists to see. It was so windy on Thursday that anyone could volunteer to be a chaser, your job being to hop in the chaser truck, track down the balloon and pack it back up onto the pickup truck's bed.
Another surprise was that as part of Canon Camera’s official sponsorship, they loaned spectators cameras, allowing the photographer to keep their SD card at days end. Most people wanted the easy point and shoots, which gave us the opportunity to use their highest end camera. It was great not having to continually share one, but the post editing was tough – over 600 shots taken and somehow, they had to pared down to the best 100… a challenge.
WWII was raging and the US government was frantic to build an atomic bomb in a top-secret facility. Set in a remote and geographically challenging location, the town of Los Alamos was chosen as the base for The Manhattan Project. The two bombs created were code named after the war leaders of the day: Fat Man, for Winston Churchill (replica above) and the Thin Man, after Theodore Roosevelt. (Los Alamos, NM, Oct 6)
When the leading scientists of the day found their slide rules weren’t up to their design tasks, this cumbersome Marchant calculator was used. If you wanted to start your calculation with a 7-digit number, for example, the 1st digit would be punched in the 7th column (#7 grey number along the bottom row), the 6th digit under the 6th, etc. After an operation was selected (eg multiply), the next number would be painstakingly input. With these rudimentary tools, it’s amazing that the atomic bomb was designed and built within 27 months!!
The operation was so high pressure and secret that the scientists couldn’t tell family and friends where they were, they worked 12-14hr days, 6 days a week and couldn’t vote or divorce while in Los Alamos - anything to keep the project off the radar. Above: the main gate once used to ensure that all who entered had the necessary security clearance. Although the facility is no longer designing bombs, it attracts top scientists who work on projects ranging from medicine, alternative energy and 3D computing. Not surprisingly, the town has the highest per capita of PhD's in the USA.
A funky town crammed with artists all holding court in historic buildings. Although the town is 400 years old, its neighbour the Taos Pueblo was built by Ancestral Peubloans a 1,000 years ago. Descendants reside there still, making it one of the longest continuously inhabited communities in the USA. (Taos, NM, Oct 5)
A semi-subterranean community dotted the landscape. Those looking to live off the grid built these Earthships; completely self-sustainable, eco-homes made from adobe and upcycled materials like tires, bottles and tin cans. The sun facing windows create a hothouse where produce is grown. (Taos, NM, Oct 4)
The Mesa Verde National Park contains over 600 Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings and numerous archeological sites from between 900-1300CE. After living in the area for over 750 years, the Ancestral Puebloans moved to Arizona and New Mexico where their descendants continue to live today. (Mesa Verde NP, CO, Oct 1-3)
What was once a pine tree covered park is now blanketed with tall grasses punctuated by the skeletons of burnt trees. As the trees burn, oils are released that damage the soil. The continually warmer and drier climate has meant more lightening-caused forest fires and even if the efforts to mitigate future wildfires are successful, it will take 200-300 years for the soil to recover and new trees to grow.
Dead Horse State Park - the story goes that cowboys built a corral at this point, which is at the end of a narrow strip of land. Then they’d herd wild horses up here knowing the horses would enter the corral rather than jump over the cliff into the Colorado River 2,000’ below. For some unknown reason, one year a few of the mustangs were left stranded in the corral where they died of thirst. (Dead Horse State Park, UT, Sept 26)
Canyonlands National Park - partitioned into three sections, we only visited the two that were RV accessible: The Island in the Sky mesa & The Needles, UT. (Sept 22-25)
There’s just no way to make dirt look pretty, but it is interesting. What appears as simply dirt clumps is the work of cyanobacteria and it covers the desert. When the bacteria moves it leaves behind a web of fibers that bond soil particles together, creating a defense against erosion while also trapping water and nutrients for the plants. Hikers are beseeched not to walk on it. We’ve been slammed by a few dust storms - the winds blow the trail’s fine loose soil, but leave the untrodden cyanobacteria soil intact.
The Island in the Sky mesa - hikes with sweeping vistas from the rim of the mesa gave some idea of the vastness of southeast Utah’s high dessert. The following set of photos were taken in this section of Canyonlands. Above: Mesa Arch - the more ambitious get up before dawn to take a sunrise shot behind this arch.
Arches National Park... the following is just a few of the over 2,000 arches and countless rock formations. Each day we drove here, armed with a plan to photograph formations at their most photogenic time of day, the beauty of the park always struck us with awe. (Arches National Park, UT, Sept 14-20)
Park Ave - for its skyscraper appearance. The almost perfect horizontal cuts across the length of the rock wall were formed as water that was trickling down through the top layer of porous sandstone hit a layer of sandy “cement” with a less porous layer of rock below. This forced the water to flow sideways. Over time, the sand was washed away leaving a horizontal space.
In the early 1840s, Latter Day Saints (LDS, aka Mormons) drew the concern of the federal government for practicing polygamy and allowing LDS beliefs to be the rule of law rather than the government’s judicial system. When the concern changed to persecution, the LDS moved west until they arrived in Salt Lake City. Temple Square, a 10-acre walled enclosure, was built to house a variety of church buildings and to provide some degree of protection. Today, the complex has expanded beyond the walls to support their burgeoning headquarters. (Salt Lake City, UT, Sept 12)
At the heart of Temple Square sits the Tabernacle, home of the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square (once called the Mormon Tabernacle Choir). To demonstrate how acoustically perfect the tabernacle is, we could hear a pin drop into a bowl from where we sat 160’ from the stage. Daily recitals showcase the pipe organ, one of the largest in the world. The performance closed with a booming rendition of Phantom of the Opera - made your skin tingle.
Mormons believe they must pray on their ancestor’s behalf. To that end, volunteers scour the globe for books and visit the smallest of villages to microfilm registry records for inclusion in the Family History Library. LDS and non-LDS visitors are welcome to use this largest genealogical resource in the world, either in person or via the FamilySearch.org website.