Lost in Chupadera Wilderness

Actually, when I saw this sign I knew I was no longer lost, but had found my way back to the trail. And, considering the type of terrain I was hiking in, it’s probably not accurate to describe my experience of getting off the trail as being “lost.”

I had set off to hike the 9-1/2 mile Chupadera Wilderness National Recreation Trail, which I have hiked before.  The first couple of miles traverses Chihuahuan desert scrub dominated by creosote bush and prickly pear cactii growing in loose, gravelly soil.  Recent rains had caused the surface here to erode with multiple, small ruts weaving over and around the trail.  Since this is a wilderness trail there are no trail markers.  As I walked the first mile I was having difficulty figuring out if I was on a trail or on an eroded section of gravel.

When I finally spotted some rock cairns I thought all was well.  Further along, the trail crossed under a power line and started heading down an old gravel road.  What I failed to notice was that the trail and road overlapped for only a short distance.  I kept walking on the road, eventually figuring out that there were no more rock cairns and that the road was curving back towards the parking area instead of heading west towards Chupadera Peak.

A friendly rock cairn.
wrong marker
I thought I was OK when I saw the sign in the distance but it was only a boundary sign when I approached it and I knew I was no longer on the trail.

Once I realized I had lost the trail I had two choices–either backtrack to the last cairn I had seen or continue forward and see if I could reconnect to the trail. As I said, it’s hard to be truly lost in this terrain because the mountain is directly visible ahead to the west and if you get on a ridge the Rio Grande is visible behind to the east. Plus Interstate 25 bisects the trail about 2-1/2 miles from the parking lot.

When the trail gets to the Interstate there is a hiker tunnel that goes under the road. I pulled up Google Maps on my phone and by looking at the satellite imagery I was fairly certain I could see where the tunnel was. I decided to take the continuing forward option, leaving the gravel road and bushwhacking across the desert towards what I guessed would be the tunnel.

When I reached the fence line that separates the refuge from the highway, I wasn’t at the tunnel so I had to make a guess if I should follow the fence line north or south. Fortunately, I had correctly picked the tunnel on the satellite imagery. It showed the location was south of where I was and I didn’t have to walk much further before I found the tunnel. At that point I knew I was back on the trail–Whew!


Enough Rocks Already

Even before our recent trip to Germany, I think I would have understood that “Verboten” meant I was forbidden from collecting any rocks in this area. So then how was it that I came home Saturday hauling a bucket of rocks up the stairs to our apartment? Well, one of the advantages of membership in the Albuquerque Gem and Mineral Club is the opportunity to go on field trips such as this one that was a visit to a mining claim owned by a member of the club. With his permission and guidance our collecting was allowed.

A number of the group members elected to go on the guided tour of one of the underground workings.

I was more interested in exploring the geology of the area from above ground where there is plenty of fresh air, sunshine and blue sky. This was a part of New Mexico we had passed by on travels across the vast desert just north of White Sands Proving Grounds but we never had occasion to stop there. I couldn’t picture what the area would look like where we would be collecting minerals. It was several miles off the highway, jolting across rutted dirt roads, and as we approached I noticed a range of mountains ahead of us.

As I later learned, the Blanchard Mine is on the western flank of the Sierra Oscura Mountains, an area we never would have thought to explore for a hike because of its remoteness and proximity to White Sands Missile Range property. The base of the mining claim area is accessible without a high clearance vehicle, but the last 2 miles of road up the ridge required four-wheel drive and steel nerves on the narrow ledges. I parked my car at the base and rode up to the top in a more suitable vehicle with some other club members.

About halfway up. My car is down there at the bottom with several others.
An abandoned ore bin left from commercial mining days.
One of the collecting spots at the top.
A fluorite sample I collected.
Flourite crystals also form in cubic shapes.
Barite forms bladed crystals.
Imbedded black cubes are galena (lead).
The bluish green minerals are formed by weathering of copper but we didn’t know which of several it might be.

A little bit of everything from the collection.

The club member who owned the mine claim gave us an informative talk before we began collecting. I learned a lot about the history of mining in this area and about the geology. One of the most interesting facts was the difference between a patented and unpatented mining claim. If a mining claim is patented then the owner has deed to the land, as well as owning the mineral rights. Unpatented mining claims are usually located on land owned by the federal government. The owner of a patented claim can enforce “no trespassing” on the land, as opposed to this mine which was unpatented and located on BLM land. As the sign said, the public could be prevented from collecting on the site, but anyone could come out and explore the area. That’s good to know for the future when we might want to do some hiking instead of rock collecting. We have limited space in our apartment so I need to focus on enjoying hikes in wonderful, rocky New Mexico, instead of bringing home these irresistible specimens that I’m then struggling to find room for.

Special Shapes

Saturday’s ride in a hot air balloon was special, but Thursday of Balloon Fiesta Week is Special Shapes Rodeo and that is also a not-to-be-missed event. The weather doesn’t always cooperate so we closely watched the forecast for the day and planned accordingly. Mass ascension is set for 7:00am. We were riding our bikes and it’s a 30-minute ride to Balloon Fiesta Park so that meant getting on the bike path while it was still dark. Even with bike lights, riding in the dark makes me nervous. I was relieved when the last couple of miles daylight started to creep over the mountains to the east and we could see without our lights.

I Love Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta!

Balloons were already going up when we got on the field, but most of the Special Shapes were still being inflated. It’s like being a kid in a candy store running up and down the aisles, not sure where we should stand to get the best views of our favorite balloons. The clouds didn’t clear until most of the balloons had launched. Photos aren’t quite as colorful without the light of the sun and the bright blue background of the sky. But weather conditions were great for keeping the aloft balloons from moving up and away too quickly. And the “box effect” brought many of them back over the field again in the opposite direction of where they had headed out. All in all, another memorable day at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

Up, Up and Away

Until last year’s Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, I would not have said that riding in a hot air balloon was an item on my bucket list. Since moving to Albuquerque, Lee and I have enjoyed watching the balloons, both during the fiesta and throughout the year as they frequently fly close to our apartment. But last year as I stood on the field and thrilled once again at the sight of all the balloons going up, I had a sudden revelation of how special it would be if I were a passenger in one of those balloons. I made up my mind that this would be the year I would experience Balloon Fiesta in the air, instead of on the ground.

Deciding that you are going to be part of a morning launch is no guarantee that you will actually get to go up. Ballooning is totally dependent on the cooperation of the weather and we have experienced a number of disappointing mornings at Balloon Fiesta Park when the balloons were not able to launch. I scheduled my ride for the first day of the Fiesta, knowing that chances were better of getting rescheduled later in the week if opening day was a no-go.

But the weather this morning could not have been more perfect. I had to be at the check-in location at 5:00 am. The traffic into the park was already building up as Lee drove me to a spot within walking distance, but not too close so he could get back out. He was going to come back down to the park later to watch the launch, which gets underway at 7:00 am. We managed to find each other in the mass of people and walked down the field with our group.

It was just starting to get light as the balloonists worked on inflating their balloons. Our pilot was personable and knowledgeable, sharing with us facts about ballooning, as well as funny stories about things he has encountered over the years as a balloon pilot. He promised us a good time, and fulfilled his promise, keeping us in the air for a full hour.

The winds carried us north of the city, most of the time on a path that followed the Rio Grande River. At our highest point, the pilot said we were over 2000 feet above the ground. Partway through the ride he brought the balloon back down so that we skimmed over the treetops along the river. As our landing spot, he picked out a vacant lot in a Rio Rancho subdivision. Before the ride he had given us instructions on what to do if it was a rough landing but there was hardly a bump as the basket touched the ground. The chase crew was ready and waiting and we were packed up and on our way in no time at all.

What a glorious, wonderful experience for my first balloon ride. The photos can’t do it justice, but here they are:
Balloon ride photos.

German Unity Day

As we approach the end of our time visiting family in Germany, it seems fitting that today is the day we travel from Leipzig to Frankfurt on the first part of our trip back to New Mexico. October 3 is a national holiday in Germany–German Unity Day. It is an observance of the event in 1990 when East Germany and West Germany were once again united to become one nation. For me, this trip to Germany has been a wonderful opportunity to reunite with a part of my family that I have been separated from for most of my life.

I was born shortly after World War II. My mother was the only one in her family who left Germany after the war. Everyone else lived in the part of Germany that was designated as East Germany. American citizens were not allowed to visit East Germany and East German citizens were not allowed to visit the West.

As children growing up in Michigan, my siblings and I knew we had grandparents and aunts and uncles in Germany who loved us but we had never met them. We always looked forward to Christmas and our birthdays when we would receive packages from “grandma in Germany.” Everything she sent was exciting and special, nothing like the things we had in the US. As we got older we exchanged letters with our family in Germany. But overseas telephone calls were an unknown luxury in our family. And, of course there was no such thing as the Internet.

It wasn’t until my senior year in college that I met my German family for the first time. My parents and I obtained special visas for a two-week visit. What an eye-opening experience for a naive American college student in the 1970’s to see what life was like behind the Iron Curtain. But also what a thrill to spend time with my grandparents and aunt and uncle.

In the years since my first visit to Germany there have been several other opportunities for the German and American Schwesinger families to meet. Every time has been special and this time was no exception. I have learned a lot this visit about missing years in our shared family history. I hope in the near future to write down more of these stories. Meanwhile, here are a few pictures to illustrate part of the story of this visit.

Planning our strategy for souvenir shopping in downtown Leipzig.
Up close we could see how this mural told a story of life during the years of the Berlin Wall.
Old and new.
Fresh farm vegetables plentiful here compared to New Mexico.
We climbed to the top of this memorial which commemorates the Battle of Leipzig in the Napoleonic Wars.
Hall of Fame inside the Memorial. Girl sitting on the bench gives scale for size of statues.
One of the views of Leipzig from the top of the memorial.

From September to October

As if knowing it was time this morning to turn the calendar page from September to October, the weather turned from sunny, crisp autumn days to gray, chilly overcast skies. The timing couldn’t have been better for the activities that we had planned. Yesterday we enjoyed perfect weather for more walking and sightseeing in the hills and villages around Manebach. My aunt and her husband had driven from Leipzig the day before and were able to join the four of us on this day’s outing.

Breakfast with Leo, Gabrielle, Helga and Uli.

The plan was to ride the train from Manebach to Rennsteig where we could walk on the forest trails in that area. We walked to the Manebach train station, stopping on the way to look at the street where my grandfather had been born and spent his childhood. The original house has been torn down and replaced with a modern home. The current owners happened to be outside and when they learned why we had stopped there they invited us inside to look at a painting in the hallway that showed the original house.

The 2-story gray house on the hillside is where my Grandfather Schwesinger was born.
Modern house but same street and address: 51 Schleusinger Str., Manebach.

The train from Manebach had a different schedule from what we had thought. We realized when we got to the station that there was still an hour before departure. Instead of sitting and waiting we decided to get on the train that was ready to leave for Ilmenau. It would be the same train that would turn around in Ilmenau, stopping at Manebach on the way to Rennsteig. It was a short, but scenic ride to Ilmenau where we had time to get off the train and look around before departure to Manebach and Rennsteig.

Lee found a Bucherbox (Book Box) to investigate in Ilmenau.
Train station in Rennsteig.
Walking in woods near Rennsteig.
Lunch stop on our walk.
Yummy soups–mushroom and pumpkin.

Today it was time to drive to Leipzig where we will stay with Leo and Gabrielle. They needed to get back for work, but Helga and Uli were kind enough to spend time with us this morning looking at some of the historical places in Manebach. We then drove back to Leipzig with them. The cloudy, drizzly October morning wasn’t a problem, since we weren’t going to be doing outdoor activities.

School in Manebach that my grandfather attended.
My great-grandfather worked at this factory where they made carnival masks.
Mask Museum in Manebach.
Some items that were made at the mask factory.
Mask Museum.

The only church in Manebach. It was built in 1682 and is still being used today.