Double Loop, Days 7-10: Trinidad & Capulin

June 15-18, 2022 | Photo Album

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For our return home, I planned to share with Wendy two places I had visited in 2012 before we began dating: Trinidad and Capulin Volcano. I had recalled them as favorite stops on the long journey from Green Country to the mountains of southwest Colorado.

I planned for our trip back home to take four days with overnights at Pagosa Springs, Trinidad, and Woodward so that we wouldn’t be on the road for more than five or six hours in a day. We had enjoyed multiple stays at the Pagosa Springs Inn & Suites in prior years, but I discovered it had been sold and was being redeveloped into micro-apartments. So we landed at the RiverWalk Inn by the San Juan River and enjoyed big slices of pizza at Rosie’s, which was DSP Pizza when we dined there back in 2013.

The next morning we drove the familiar Wolf Creek Pass across the Continental Divide to cross the cattlelands to the New La Veta Pass across the Sangre de Cristo mountains to little Walsenburg.

We had stayed in Walsenburg in 2019, and I looked forward to another lunch at La Plaza, which I will always remember for having a copy of the wild Urantia cult book on its shelves back in 2013. But La Plaza closed after winter storm damage in 2021 and has yet to re-open. We then found out that Tina’s Family Cafe was also closed, so we drove back across town to have lunch at the H&H Cafe, which was the Busy Bee back in 2019. The food was good and prepared us for the short hop south to Trinidad.

Trinidad

In 2012, I drove through Trinidad, admiring how it had maintained its downtown. Trinidad is situated on the banks of the Purgatoire River and the Fishers Peak mesa looms to the east.

Panorama from Simpson's Rest
Fishers Peak mesa rises in the east above Trinidad; I took this shot from Simpson’s Rest back in 2012

The town still has many original buildings and brick paved roads. I hadn’t really considered what Wendy and I would see in Trinidad until I perused TripAdvisor at the RiverWalk Inn in Pagosa Springs and noticed there was a spacious A.R. Mitchell Museum of Western Art in an old storefront downtown.

We parked in a free lot off Convent Street and walked along Main Street to the museum. A.R. Mitchell was born near Trinidad and found success painting over 160 images for many western and weekly magazines during the 1920s through the 1940s.

Cover art by A.R. Mitchell

After his death in 1977, his sister, Ethel Mitchell Erickson, nicknamed “Tot”, was trying to determine where to donate his paintings, western art, and historical memorabilia collection. The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in my hometown of Oklahoma City was interested, but Tot decided to keep the items in Trinidad. So in 1981 the A.R. Mitchell Museum was established in the former Jamieson Department Store building that has graced Main Street since 1906. The museum has some of the original fixtures of the store, used to showcase items, with a unique horseshoe shaped mezzanine and the typical pressed tin ceilings and wood floors.

The A.R. Mitchell Museum occupies the former Jamieson Department Store, built in 1906

I enjoyed the accessible work by A.R. Mitchell, which emphasized story. In a 1973 interview at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in OKC, he remarked, “My cover paintings had but a few inches of space and seconds to talk the potential reader into spending his nickels…a good cover, whether on a pulp or a slick, had to talk.”

AR Mitchell cover art 1

The museum had some wonderful temporary exhibits. Wendy enjoyed works by Jonathan McAfee and Louis Still Smoking.

Wendy liked Collen Tully‘s Waves Crashing so much that she bought a print and later hung it in her art room at Meador Manor.

Waves Crashing by Colleen Tully

She also enjoyed other works by Tully, Jen Starling, and Annie Decamp.

We both admired the vivid colors and sharp designs of Anthony Garcia, Sr.

As well as works by Alexander Richard Wilson and Cyrus Walker.

I particularly enjoyed works by Cody Kuehl.

I laughed so hard at his American Lullaby that I purchased a print of it at the museum and later had it framed and mounted over a bed at Meador Manor.

American Lullaby by Cody Kuehl
American Lullaby by Cody Kuehl

Happily exiting the museum, we dropped our prints off in the minivan and then walked along Main Street. I liked spotting Fishers Peak between the downtown buildings.

Fishers Peak from downtown Trinidad
Fishers Peak above Trinidad

The heat was on, so we tried to get an ice cream and a cool drink at Tutti Scoops on Commercial Street, but they were locked up, so we ended up at I Love Sugar across the street to get our fix. We enjoyed our walk about the little arts district in Trinidad, laughing at a street sign thanking us for not smoking METH and a banner urging folks to re-elect Peach Vigil for county clerk, although she has had some troubles.

We retired to our Family Suite at the La Quinta on the old Santa Fe Trail. I wasn’t expecting much, so I was pleasantly surprised at our spacious, clean, and comfortable suite.

I had considered returning to Rino’s for dinner after enjoying a quiet lunch there in 2012, but dinner promised the possibility of singing waiters, and we weren’t up to that. Wendy picked out the Sunset Bar & Grille, situated in a Days Inn near our La Quinta on the old Santa Fe Trail. The setting and kitschy signage, which struck me as a timewarp to the 1970s, belied how chef Muthu Pandy offered up a fusion of American dishes with Thai and Indian food. We enjoyed fine food along with a panoramic view of the sunset above the Spanish Peaks.

Capulin Volcano

On our penultimate vacation day, we drove to Capulin Volcano. The extinct cinder cone last erupted about 60,000 years ago, creating 16 square miles of lava flows, and is composed of cinders or lapilli with a diameter of 2-64 millimeters along with larger blocks or bombs.

Capulin
Approaching Capulin
Yes!

Wendy was in the restroom at the visitor’s center while I browsed and discovered they had several coffee mugs that perfectly matched the chimenea-shape that Wendy said kept coffee hotter for longer than other mugs. She had been looking for the ones that were made in America, and the producer of the mugs had an interesting history. When I showed her my find, she eagerly selected several of them, which I purchased as her sixth wedding anniversary gift. We had converted a bunch of Nos along our trip into a resounding Yes!

We happily drove up to the rim of the crater. There we parked and hiked along the Crater Rim Trail.

Capulin Rim Trail

I was struck by how distant clouds made it look like the tips of the branches of a dead tree were smoking.

Capulin Clouds or Smoke

Far below was the visitor center and the extensive Raton-Clayton volcanic field.

Cauplin Visitor Center below

We climbed high enough, despite the heat, to see the crater.

Capulin Crater

The panorama from atop the volcano was striking.

Capulin Panorama

We turned around, meeting an elderly couple on the trail. They asked how much farther the trail went, with the wife saying she was recovering from a heart attack. We urged them to just go around the next curve where there was a bench, reassuring them that was plenty high for them to see everything, rest, and then come back down.

Homeward

We then traversed the full length of the Oklahoma Panhandle and drove to Woodward for the night. We had lunch in Clayton, New Mexico. We wound up at a Pizza Hut after other choices had provided the post-pandemic Nos we had grown accustomed to. The Pizza Hut actually had a large seating area with comfortable booths, unlike many of the franchises these days, which often have worn-out booths if they offer seating at all. So that, decent food, and excellent service from a young waitress were most welcome.

Wendy enjoyed driving in the deserted panhandle, so unlike the pressures of city driving. I had booked another La Quinta room, but this time we were less fortunate. The hotel clerk claimed they had tried calling us (there was no record of such attempts) to let us know that our suite was unavailable. The upper floors of the hotel were closed off “for renovations” so we made do with a regular room on the ground floor which was unclean and unwelcoming. We were glad to leave early the next morning to head home.

I noticed how the towns throughout the panhandle and northwest Oklahoma, all the way to Ponca City, were struggling. There were many abandoned service stations and shuttered downtowns. Nearly two-thirds of Oklahoma counties saw their populations decrease over the past decade as part of a migration from rural to urban and suburban communities. Nearly half of all Oklahoma residents now live in just four of its 77 counties: Canadian, Cleveland, Oklahoma, and Tulsa.

J. Tom Mueller, a research assistant professor with the University of Oklahoma’s Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability, has noted that agriculture now is increasingly mechanized, requiring less labor, and the manufacturing boom that rural communities once benefited from began disappearing in the 1980s as companies shifted production outside the United States. Politics also is driving people away as folks seek out people who are more like them and flee areas where liars, grifters, and seditionists prey upon the vulnerable.

Puffy chips at Enrique’s in Ponca City

But our spirits lifted as we pulled up to the Ponca City airport to dine at Enrique’s. Our friends Carrie and Trish introduced me to that restaurant years ago, and I am very glad it is still serving up puffy chips and other yummy food. It was then just a drive across the Osage Nation to reach Bartlesville, completing our Double Loop.

Photo Album | Double Loop, Days 5-7: Ouray

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Double Loop, Days 5-7: Ouray

June 13-15, 2022 | Photo Album

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Over a decade ago, I drove the San Juan Skyway clockwise out of Durango, spending much of my time, when I wasn’t driving, in Telluride. But on my southward journey back to Durango, I noticed the pretty little town of Ouray nestled among steep mountains on every side. I didn’t have time to explore, so I decided that someday I should return.

Northern mountains of the San Juan Skyway loop out of Durango, Colorado

Over a decade later, when Wendy and I decided a trip to Oregon and California would be too expensive, I thought of Ouray and began checking elevations, as I suffer from altitude sickness. My past experience was that staying overnight at over 8,000 feet above sea level was risky unless I had plenty of time to acclimate. I had been unable to stay overnight at 8,900 feet in Crested Butte; the worst headache I’ve ever had sent me fleeing down the mountain. But I was able to handle Gunnison at 7,700 feet. So I was relieved to note that while Silverton at 9,300 feet is off-limits to me for an overnight stay without acclimation, Ouray is only 7,800 feet.

Shopping

After passing through the Uncompaghre Gorge, we parked on Main Street and explored the shops. Wendy purchased some silver items at Columbine Gifts & Silver, and I spotted a coffee mug crafted by a local potter; Wendy had been on a quest to find some American-made mugs that was unfulfilled by the tourist shops at the historic plaza back in Santa Fe.

Shopping
Ouray main street with mountains all around

Wendy enjoyed exploring the Columbine Mineral Shop and visiting with the proprietor while purchasing a few items. They both watch the Crystal Collector, Bryan Major, and Wendy shared videos about tourmaline mining in California and in Maine, although her specimen came from Colorado. We had dinner at the Colorado Boy Southwest Pub.

Ouray Mineral Purchases
The tourmaline and rhodochrosite Wendy purchased were collected in Colorado, and she also purchased a bed of crystals

The Alchemist Penthouse

Our vacation involved almost daily travels between hotels, so we needed some extra time in Ouray to afford a wee bit of hiking, to recuperate from frequent hotel shifts, and to wash some clothes and thus avoid having to pack and schlep too much baggage. In planning the trip, I had looked for a nice rental, instead of a hotel, and found at VRBO the Alchemist Penthouse. Retired pharmacists Curtis & Nancy Haggar had constructed a museum on the ground floor, their home on the second, and a rental penthouse up top. It looked spectacular with an outdoor deck in back and a balcony high above Main Street. Better still, our host Nancy was delightful to work with.

Alchemist Penthouse Street View
Ouray Alchemist Penthouse

We were given use of the alleyway garage for the minivan, uphill from main street. That way we only had to carry things up one flight, not two, to the penthouse. Nancy gave us a quick tour, and we noted her careful attention to detail and helpful notes about various items. It was a hot day, but a swamp cooler kept the penthouse quite comfortable so long as you remembered to crack open windows in the front and the rear of the suite for crossflow ventilation. The low humidity in the Colorado mountains allows a swamp cooler to work well, whereas back in the Green Country of Oklahoma they are often useless.

Alchemist Penthouse Roof Deck
Rooftop entry door and deck of the penthouse

The bed was comfortable, and in the morning you could lie back and enjoy a mountain view through the clerestory windows. We had purchased breakfast items at the grocery off Main Street, and Wendy treated me to a hot breakfast each morning prepared in the nice penthouse kitchen.

Celestory Mountain View
Oh what a beautiful morning

I had fun sitting on the balcony above Main Street, with a gargoyle perched above me and Whitehouse Mountain and Sister Peak in the background, day and night.

Box Cañon

You pass a box canyon/cañon as you drive into Ouray from the south. Canyon Creek narrows and spills thousands of gallons a minute over a 285-foot waterfall that plummets into a narrow quartzite canyon with walls that tower over the falls by almost 100 feet.

The unusually warm weather led Wendy to say we should pay the fee and hike at the falls right when the area opened in the morning. An old lighted BOX CANON sign visible on the mountainside at night from the penthouse promised a great adventure the next morning.

Bright and early the next morning, we parked, paid the fee, and walked to the falls. A protective metal walkway we later viewed from above led back into the narrow box canyon to the falls.

Box Canyon Falls Walkway from Above
The falls walkway viewed from above

The roar of the falls was intimidating.

Falls Walkway
The roar of the falls fills this space

You could see spray flying off the cascading water even with the falls themselves still hidden by the rock walls.

Walkway

I spotted rusted remains below the walkway.

Rusted remains below
Rusty remains below the walkway

The walkway trembled as we made it to the end where we could finally see the cataract.

Canyon Falls
Box Canyon Falls

Being so early, we were fortunate to have the entire walkway to ourselves. We made our way back to the trail to climb about 100 stairs up the mountainside as part of a trail leading to the High Bridge.

Along the way, we had a good view of the Box Canon sign, and each of us posed with it in the background.

Signage told us the history of the sign and its restoration.

Box Canon Sign History

Then it was on up to the High Bridge, which was built in 1900 to carry a water pipeline between two reservoirs.

High Bridge Above
High Bridge

From the bridge we could see Canyon Creek streaming toward town, the box canyon beneath us, and the town spread out before us in the morning light.

Canyon Creek from High Bridge
Canyon Creek descending toward Ouray
Canyon Creek Below
Canyon Creek roars below
Ouray from High Bridge
Ouray viewed from on high

The bridge is part of the perimeter trail that winds around Ouray, and it leads to a short tunnel through the mountainside.

High Bridge
The bridge leads to a tunnel
High Bridge Tunnel
Wendy in the tunnel on the perimeter trail

We thoroughly enjoyed the park, but it was getting warmer and more crowded, so we descended to use the restrooms and returned to the penthouse.

Cascade Falls

That afternoon I braved the heat to walk uptown a few blocks to Cascade Falls Park. Cascade Falls is visible throughout town on a northeast mountainside. I say I walked uptown advisedly since it was a climb in high altitude from the penthouse to the falls at the east end of 8th Avenue. Despite my weekday morning aerobics back home, at about 700′ elevation, I was huffing and puffing by the time I reached the park.

So I rested a bit before embarking on the quarter-mile uphill trail that led to the waterfall, which is the lowermost of a series of seven waterfalls along Cascade Creek.

There were many people enjoying the view of the waterfall, and some who had clambered up to walk behind it.

Cascade Creek Falls
Cascade Creek Falls as you approach it from below
Ouray Cascade Creek Falls

I went up side trails on either side of the waterfall, which were part of the overall Perimeter Trail.

Perimeter Trail at Cascade Creek Falls
Perimeter trail

I took a shot from the left side:

Cascade Creek Falls Side View
Left side of Cascade Creek Falls from the perimeter trail

And another shot from below right:

Cascade Creek Falls from Below
Right side of Cascade Creek Falls on the perimeter trail

And then I made my way back to the penthouse, enjoying walking the streets of this town surrounded by high mountains. Some day I hope to return and hike the perimeter trail in cooler weather.

Ouray was a great highlight of our trip, but it was time to reverse course for home. I had originally planned to loop northward through Gunnison and Salida, but a festival in Salida complicated the planning and led us to retreat back through Pagosa Springs. Either route was fine so long as we could visit Trinidad and Capulin Volcano on our way home. They will appear in the next post.

Photo Album | Double Loop, Days 4-5: Durango to Ouray

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Double Loop, Days 4-5: Durango to Ouray

June 12-13, 2022 | Photo Album

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Bernalillo was already infamous to Wendy and me before we actually stopped there. On a previous trip to Albuquerque and Santa Fe, Trixie the GPS app repeatedly mangled the pronunciation of that small town just north of Albuquerque. This time we actually stopped in Bernalillo for lunch on our way from Santa Fe to Durango, Colorado.

Consuela De La Morrela is a Mexican cleaning maid on Family Guy who is known for saying No…no (and for being obsessed with Lemon Pledge). Wendy was reminded of her repeatedly on our trip by the pandemic residue, including labor shortages and supply chain issues.

A prime example was when we walked into a Yelp-recommended Mexican restaurant in Bernalillo. Wendy asked for chicken tacos.

No.

Okay, beef, then. Can I get a tamale?

No.

And the beef tacos we received were something to be forgotten. But we were just getting started on the Nos from closed businesses or requests that could not be met:

  • Can we eat in the Wendy’s in Durango? No.
  • Okay, we wound up at Applebee’s, and Wendy would like a Dr. Pepper. No.
  • Let’s return to our old favorite hotel in Pagosa Springs. No.
  • Okay, we’ll stay here at the Riverwalk instead. Do you have an elevator? No.
  • Can we eat at La Plaza in Walsenburg? No.
  • Okay, how about Tina’s Family Cafe? No.
  • It’s so hot here in Trinidad; let’s get some ice cream at that shop. No.
  • We’ve finally reached the hotel. Is our room ready? No.
  • I would love a coffee mug made in Colorado. Are any of your mugs not made in China? No.
  • Let’s grab a bite at Clayton’s Hotel Eklund. No.
  • We have a reservation here for a suite. No.
  • Does this hotel have a decent breakfast? No. No. No. No. No.

But we were persistent and did not allow the parade of Nos ruin our trip; a sense of humor helps!

To Durango

Back in 2011, I drove alone from Durango to Albuquerque via highway 371 south out of Farmington. I remembered how deserted and desolate that road had been. So I wondered if the stretch of highway 550 a bit east of that through northwestern New Mexico would be equally forbidding. But it turned out to be a four-lane road with plenty of restroom stops and nice scenery. We would be staying on 550 as far north as Ouray, but we would first make a stop in Durango.

After many miles in the dry high country, it was a bit of a relief to descend to the San Juan river valley at Bloomfield before we entered Colorado. For miles I had noticed the telltale signs of a pipeline buried to the east of the highway, and we noticed compressor stations and a large Harvest Midstream plant.

Well, it turns out that the San Juan Basin east and south of Bloomfield has over 40,000 natural gas wells, which are the red dots on the map below.

Bar D Chuckwagon

Wendy and I stayed in Durango back in 2015, enjoying the Dirty Deeds at the Depot melodrama at the Strater Theater (sadly discontinued) and of course a ride on the wonderful Durango-Silverton steam train. But I had been on my own in 2011 for the Bar D Chuckwagon show just north of Durango. So I bought us both tickets for the show to share the experience with Wendy.

Cy Scarborough moved to Durango in 1969 after entertaining at the Flying W Chuckwagon show in Colorado Springs for 25 years. He, along with Jim Blanton and Roy “Buck” Teeter, founded the Bar D Chuckwagon Suppers north of Durango that has entertained tourists for over 50 years. I had seen Cy perform one of his humorous songs in 2011, but he passed away in 2020 at age 93.

But Gary Cook still flat-picks his guitar for the show and Matt Palmer still plays what is described as “his little fiddle” by humorist and upright bass player Joel Racheff. Seeing those three were still in the show reassured me that we would have a great time. For this season they were joined by Danny Rogers and David Bradley.

Danny Rogers, Matt Palmer, David Bradley, Gary Cook, and Joel Racheff

We enjoyed our chicken and beef with baked potatoes, baked beans, biscuits, applesauce, and spice cake. The performers are also servers, and I noticed a tall fellow offering up lemonade at the tables had an incredibly deep “radio voice” – sure enough, that was Danny Rogers. He moved to the Bar D from the similar Bar J show in Jackson Hole which recently closed after 44 years. His incredible bass performance starts off Ghost Riders Reindeer in the Sky in this clip from an old Bar J Wranglers show:

The show also featured champion yodeler David Bradley. Before the show, we had browsed the shops, and Wendy bought a geode to be hammered open later. After the show, we returned to the Homewood Suites, which was definitely nicer than the Best Western we had stayed at back in 2015, where we had crammed into a small upstairs room, dragging our luggage up an exterior stairway.

The Million Dollar Highway

Back in 2011, I had driven the scenic but intimidating famous stretch of highway 550 south of Ouray, heading southward in my 2001 Toyota Camry sedan. This time I would drive it both ways in Wendy’s 2019 Honda Odyssey minivan.

Our conveyance

But before we headed north on 550, we walked around the tiny Botanic Gardens in Durango and along a stretch of its trail alongside the Animas River. We ended up having lunch at a Subway, after a No for dining inside their Wendy’s. Then we headed north towards Silverton, which we had previously visited via the narrow-gauge railroad’s steam train.

We negotiated the Coal Bank and Molas passes to Silverton, with me pulling over near Lime Creek for the vistas.

Granger loves a vista
Approaching Lime Creek

Wendy also scanned the ground for sparkly rocks and pretty flowers.

We pulled over again at Molas Pass, enjoyed a pit stop in Silverton, and then headed on the Million Dollar Highway toward the Red Mountains.

Molas Pass

In the early 1880s, valuable columns of silver ore called “pipes” were discovered in the Red Mountain valley. By 1883 nearly 40 mines were sending silver ore to smelters. The mining area’s heyday lasted two decades with silver, lead, zinc, copper, and gold extracted that would be worth over $250 million today.

Red Mountains
Red Mountains

Red Mountain has three peaks, with the iron ore that covers their surfaces giving them their distinctive color.

Red Mountain

The towns of Silverton to the south and Ouray to the north were entry points into the district. A road from Ouray was completed in 1883 and would eventually become the Million Dollar Highway. The geography was particularly challenging for railroads, but a line from Silverton reached the mining camp of Ironton in 1887 and Albany by 1889. That allowed medium and low-grade ore to be sent to smelters in Durango and Pueblo. That 18-mile narrow-gauge railroad was called the “Rainbow Route” because it arched across the mountain divide like a rainbow in the sky. Its chief engineer said it was “the steepest, the crookedest, and the best paying road in Colorado”.

Final Red Mountain Shot

You can visit what remains of the Idarado Mine, which consolidated claims from several old mines in 1939. The Telluride Mining Company acquired several other old mines, and near the end of World War II, the two mining companies connected below ground. Both were gone by 1978, and little remains of the towns in the district, with only about 50 structures still standing and the outline of the old railroad grade barely visible.

Idarado Mine
Hayden Mountain North
Hayden Mountain North

We then navigated through the Uncompahgre Gorge, cut by the namesake river and Red Mountain Creek just south of Ouray. In Ute, uncompahgre means “rocks that make water red”. The highway there is particularly impressive, cut through the steep cliffs high above the river with no guard rails. The river flows into a deep box canyon at the north end of the gorge; we would visit that canyon the following day.

Below us, nestled deep between the surrounding mountains, was Ouray, the subject of the next post.

Ouray Below Us
Ouray, Colorado

Photo Album | Double Loop, Days 1-4

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Double Loop, Days 1-4: Kansas & New Mexico

June 9-12, 2022 | Photo Album

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June is when Wendy and I usually escape Oklahoma for an adventure out west. As the initial Omicron variants of COVID waned, I considered flying to southern Oregon to enjoy the coast and the redwoods in northern California. But the cost of the flights was too high with skyrocketing fuel prices.

So I opted to return to southwestern Colorado with a few nights in Ouray as the centerpiece. I briefly drove through it in July 2011 when taking the San Juan Skyway route, and I had filed away the possibility of returning to explore it. Over a decade later, that ambition was finally realized as part of a giant figure-8 loop we drove across Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, New Mexico, and Colorado.

Our figure-8 loop; click to enlarge

Trailer Trash Tammy

Before the pandemic, Wendy and I enjoyed a live performance in Arkansas by Randy Rainbow, a YouTuber that Wendy discovered in the Trump years. Wendy has also enjoyed the ribald humor of Chelcie Lynn as Trailer Trash Tammy on YouTube, so she bought us tickets to a live show of hers in Kansas City. That event kicked off our vacation.

Rather than the usual routes through Kansas, I opted to steer the minivan up along Interstate 49 in Missouri this time for the journey to Country Club Plaza in Kansas City. We dined at the Cheesecake Factory and then checked in to the Courtyard by Marriot. A little window above the bed afforded a view of the nearby Plaza.

Country Club Plaza view from our hotel room

Then we headed to the Uptown Theater for the show, where we may have been the only masked members of the audience. We enjoyed the middle segment by Libbie Higgins the most, but you’ll have to ask me in person if you want me to recite any of her piquant observations.

The next day we had lunch at Stroud’s in Overland Park before heading to our next hotel room in Dodge City. That would break up the long drive from Kansas City, MO to Santa Fe, NM. Along the way, we stopped in Topeka.

Mulvane Art Museum

Joab R. Mulvane, 1837-1929, came to Kansas in 1876. He was the president of at least nine railroads and presided over the Chicago, Kansas and Western Railway Company when it built over 900 miles of rail lines for the Santa Fe. In 1922, Mulvane pledged a gift to build an eponymous Art Museum at Washburn University, and the building opened to the public in 1924. Its interior was replaced after a 1966 tornado destroyed or heavily damaged every building on the campus.

Wendy and I were amused by how an old cigarette vending machine had been repurposed as an Art-o-Mat.

Art-o-mat at the Mulvane Art Museum

Wendy enjoyed Frosty Morning by John Fabian Carlson and Sun, Sand, and Shadow by Frank V. Dudley.

My favorite work was hanging in a conference room: Canto No. 20 by Cheryl Wall.

Canto No. 20 by Cheryl Wall

We rolled onward to a Best Western in Dodge City. We had already seen enough of Dodge in a previous visit, and quickly departed the next morning for the long roll down across Kansas and the Oklahoma Panhandle, through northeast New Mexico to loop around the southern end of the Sangre de Cristo mountains to Santa Fe. I played Bob Wills’ & Tommy Duncan’s 1960 album Together Again as we rolled through the Panhandle. When Tommy sang Dusty Skies, Wendy remarked how perfect it was for the setting:

Dusty skies I can’t see nothing in sight
Good old Dan you’ll have to guide me right
If we lose our way the cattle will stray
And we’ll lose them all tonight
Cause all of the grass and water’s gone
We’ll have to keep the cattle moving on

Sand blowing I just can’t breathe in this air
I thought it would soon be clear and fair
But dust storms played hell with land and folks as well
Got to be moving somewhere
Hate to leave the old ranch so bare
I’ve got to be moving somewhere

Get along doggies we’re moving off of this range
I never thought as how I’d make the change
The blue skies have failed so we’re on our last trail
Underneath these dusty skies
These ain’t tears in my eyes
Just sand from these dusty skies

Cindy Walker wrote that song in the mid-1930s. She was just a teenager, inspired by newspaper accounts of the Dust Bowl. Cindy went on to have top 10 hits spread over five decades. Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys eventually recorded over 50 of her songs, including Bubbles in My Beer. More than 500 of Walker’s songs have been recorded and her songs made the Top 40 charts in country or pop more than 400 times.

DoorDashing in Santa Fe

I noticed that Boise City no longer featured the courthouse square display about the accidental dummy bombing there in World War II. There isn’t much else of interest in Boise City, so maybe it will be restored someday.

We were glad to finally roll into Santa Fe that evening on the Old Pecos Trail. We were unwilling to brave the crowd at Tomasita’s, both out of concern about the circulating Omicron variants and being road-weary. So we just had DoorDash deliver our delicious meals to our nearby Casita Bonita. It was delightful to enjoy them in the peaceful courtyard.

Our favorite place to stay in Santa Fe

The next morning we drove to the Santa Fe Plaza for some shopping and then looped around the Valles Caldera on our drive to Durango, Colorado for a chuck wagon music show that night. I’ll cover that in the next post.

Photo Album | Double Loop, Days 4-5

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Not Much of a Lawn Boy

May 21, 2022

I have never particularly enjoyed yardwork. I mow the yard weekly in season, hand-rake and mulch the leaves once or twice per year, almost never edge or string trim, and viciously assault the greenery on occasion as what I call pruning but others denounce as butchery. However, my recent purchase of my first electric lawnmower has me pondering my sordid past in lawncare.

When I was in elementary school we lived in Bethany, a suburb of Oklahoma City, in the Cross Timbers. That is a strip of land from southeastern Kansas across central Oklahoma to the middle of Texas. It has coarse and sandy soil so that the woodlands are mostly post and blackjack oak. If you have been to Osage Hills State Park west of Bartlesville, or you’ve been bored and looked at much of the scenery along the Turner Turnpike between Tulsa and Oklahoma City, then you’ve observed that biome.

My parents’ home in Bethany sat on the middle of three lots they owned which had over seventy blackjack oaks at the time…my father counted them.

They produced an immense amount of leaves, and my late friend Gene Freeman and I loved raking them into piles and pathways to race around in my pedal car and his Big Wheel. Here’s a photo of Gene and me in first grade in the Cross Timbers. We were best friends through sixth grade, even though his family moved southwest after first grade, and he went to a different school. Almost every Saturday Gene’s mother would drive him over to my house, or my mother would drive me over to theirs to play.

Here’s Mom in the front yard during our first autumn at the house in Bethany. All of those leaves and many, many more would soon be falling, prompting Dad to buy a leaf shredder to try to keep up with them.

I was amused that the first photo of our former home in Google Maps shows several dozen bags of leaves in front. The house is now a dark green instead of red, it now has a carport, and the people that bought the house from my folks built a new home on one of the side lots. But several of the blackjack oaks are still there, and their leaves must be dealt with.

When we lived there, grass still poked up amidst the leaves and sand, and Dad used an old riding lawnmower to handle the three lots. He would disengage the blades and let Gene and me drive the mower around. Gene absolutely loved it, while I was only mildly entertained. I wasn’t surprised that Gene eventually traded in his Big Wheel for a motorcycle, while my pedal car led me to sedans.

The dust and allergies from all of those oak leaves were a major reason we moved a little over a mile east as I entered junior high. Gene and the oak leaves receded into the past, and in high school I mowed my parents’ hilly yard in Windsor Hills with a red self-propelled reel mower. It looked something like the one shown here and was the last reel mower, and the last self-propelled one, that I ever used.

Dad had me collect the clippings in the hopper, dumping it repeatedly into bags to set at the curb. A decade after graduating from high school, I was renting a house in Bartlesville and needed a mower of my own for the first time. Naturally my Greatest Generation father found something cheap at a garage sale: a Lawn-Boy with a D-400 two-stroke engine.

My eyes narrow to slits whenever I see that distinctive green rectangular cowling with its two-finger vertical recoil starter and primer button. While Dad loved Lawn-Boys, I wasn’t a fan. The D-400 engine was manufactured by the Outboard Marine Corporation, which also produced distinctive Evinrude and Johnson boat motors. Two-stroke engines have no lubrication system, so you have to mix oil with the gasoline, and they produce a lot of noise and pollution. But they are cheap!

I’ve never been one to adjust a carburetor or replace a spark plug, so when the Lawn-Boy quit one day, I happily gave it back to my father for him to mess with and bought a four-stroke push lawnmower. It was quieter and less smoky, using regular gas without added oil. I had to drain the lubricating oil from it each winter and replace it each spring, but overall it was a big improvement.

At the rent house, I’d given up on bagging, simply side-discharging the crabgrass clippings. But in 1994 when I bought a home in Arrowhead Acres that had a pretty shaded fescue lawn out front, and lots of leaves blowing in that clogged the flowerbeds each autumn, I decided to mulch everything.

In 2010 the metal housing for the rotary blade rusted out and a wheel came off. So I checked Consumer Reports and ordered a Husqvarna with a Kohler engine. Or maybe it was a Kohler with a Husqvarna engine…I certainly don’t care which. When that mower quit suddenly in 2016, I didn’t try to fix it, as I hadn’t been all that happy with it. Instead I ordered a Cub Cabet SC100 push mower from Home Depot, which I used through the spring of 2022.

But I truly don’t take care of my lawnmowers. A neighbor once borrowed one of my mowers and was sufficiently taken aback that he took off the blade to have it sharpened! I used to be sure to run them dry of gasoline for winter, but then I just started purchasing ethanol-free gas and leaving it in the tank year-round, and I have only changed the oil in the Cub Cadet every other year.

The Cub Cadet lived up to its moniker when it came to mulching raked piles of leaves, with me having to nurse that wimp through the process. And in recent months it got noticeably louder, even through the earplugs I’ve used for years when mowing, plus it developed a vibration. I could turn it over and check on the condition of the blade, but I really don’t like the @#$% thing.

So I thought about getting yet another gas push mower even though the two on hand probably only need a bit of engine and blade work. But then I’d still be using a loud mower that needed more care than I wish to provide. Noise irritates me and my hearing is going, and avoiding noise is why I’ve always raked rather than use a leafblower.

Hmmm…for years I’ve planned to eventually replace my 2014 Toyota Camry gas sedan with a fully electric car…if an electric car is now practical for use in town, would a cordless electric mower be out of the question?

Consumer Reports and other parts of the internet assured me that improved batteries and designs have indeed allowed cordless electric lawnmowers to take on more than small urban patches of grass. But in the past I have had mixed results with electric lawncare equipment.

When I bought my house in Bartlesville, Dad gave me his vintage Craftsman electric edger. I used it once, creating sparks and noise, occasionally veering off from the curb to make narrow cuts in the lawn. I hated the experience, so rather than improve with practice I went out and bought a corded electric string trimmer.

That worked okay for me, with its swivel head that I could rotate from curb edging to fence clearing mode when the grass growing against the chain link fence in part of the backyard got too bad. But I quickly tired of running out 100′ of cord to stretch from an exterior outlet to the back corner of the chain link fence in my wedge-shaped yard; cul-de-sacs are nice, but they create weirdly shaped plots. So I bought a gas-powered string trimmer. But that meant I was back to mixing oil and gas, with a lot of noise, and while it was powerful, I was so clumsy that I burned my skin once on its hot exhaust.

So I went back to electric, purchasing a cordless 18-volt Black & Decker Grasshog. I loved how light and easy it was to use, but it had two big drawbacks. One was planning ahead to charge its batteries; I trim so rarely that the trickle charging from leaving the batteries plugged in all the time would be a mistake. The other was that it was too wimpy for some jobs. In 2013 I bought a 36-volt Black & Decker LST136 trimmer, which is plenty powerful. I like to use the 36-volt unit for edging and the 18-volt unit for fence trimming, but whenever I finally get the urge to use them, I have to remember to plug in their chargers and batteries hours or days in advance.

So I knew that an electric lawnmower would need even higher voltage (power = current times voltage). I am a paid electronic subscriber to Consumer Reports, and it rated the 56-volt Ego LM2135 as top of the heap for battery push mowers. I watched several video reviews about it, seeking out regular folks who had used one for months. It all looked okay, although I don’t need a self-propelled mower for my lawn, which only slopes off a bit at the back, and I mulch everything, so I wanted a Select Cut model with a second mulching blade. Thus I ordered the Ego LM2130.

It came ready to go right out of the box, except that I had to plug the 5.0 amp-hour battery into the accompanying rapid charger to top it off before cutting the grass. Since the Cub Cadet was still occupying the mower slot in the outdoor shed, I just tipped the electric mower on one set of wheels with its handle folded up and set it near a wall in the garage beside my sedan. If we didn’t have the nice outdoor shed that John & Betty Henderson purchased and assembled for Wendy and me as a wedding gift, I’d make regular use of that feature.

Yesterday I had my first mow with it. I had let the grass grow high while waiting for my new mower, so I knew that the battery probably wouldn’t have enough capacity to mow my entire lawn. It did a nice job, being significantly quieter and a bit easier to maneuver than my gas mowers. It never balked or overloaded, and I was able to mow about 2/3 of the entire lawn before the battery drained completely. Better still, I will never have to put gas or oil in it, although you are supposed to apply some light oil to a few springs and bearings once per season. The odds of that happening are not good.

I’m sufficiently pleased that I plan to get rid of both of my gas mowers, but I will need another battery since I don’t want to break up my weekly mowing into two sessions with a battery recharge in-between. EGO has 2.5, 5, 7.5, and 10 amp-hour batteries that will work with my mower, but you can’t find the 10 amp-hour one on Amazon. So this weekend I plan to purchase one in meatspace at an Ace Hardware in Broken Arrow, which was the only place that showed one in stock. That should give me plenty of capacity even for extended leaf mulching sessions.

I’m not much of a lawn boy, but I actually enjoyed mowing the lawn yesterday. Here’s hoping I’m not blinded with science!

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