In the Shadows of Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park and More. June 4-18


We based our operations in Rapid City, South Dakota at the Shadows of Rushmore RV Park, $10/night with Coast to Coast. It was a nice resort and convenient to everything. While there we visited Mount Rushmore, where we met Nick Clifford, the last surviving sculptor of the monument.I bought his book and he autographed it. It was a nice visit and I understand that he recently celebrated his 98th birthday. We also visited Custer State Park, which I enjoyed enough that we went for a second day. The Badlands was also beautiful and breathtaking. Deadwood and Lead were also interesting places with so much western history. All in all this was a wonderful stop but it was cut short as I had to come home due to a family emergency on the 15th. More about that later.

I do recommend visiting this area. South Dakota is a beautiful state and the people are very friendly and inviting. There is a lot to see here. This blog is mostly pictures with descriptions. Please enjoy.

I flew out of Rapid City Regional Airport in South Dakota at 5 AM on June 15, headed to Raleigh Durham Airport (RDU) in North Carolina. The Rapid City Airport had two runways and seven gates. I flew a Delta small jet, capacity 50 people, to Minneapolis. I arrived in RDU around 8:30 PM and was so glad to see my son waiting for me. My mother’s condition had worsened so I had to cut my trip short. Travel is on hold for me for a bit and while it is, I’m going to blog about my family’s journey with Alzheimer Disease. I will be brutally honest, sharing insights, and I hope it helps someone. Please stay tuned.

Communing with the Ancients! Mesa Verde, Colorado March 20-24

Mesa Verde RV Resort ($34.19/night with Good Sam’s) was our location for day trips out to see the pithouses and pueblos of Mesa Verde (Green Table), Hovenweep (Deserted Valley), and Canyon of the Ancients. The Four Corners National Monument on the Navajo Nation Reservation is where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah meet. We stopped there on the way to Mesa Verde. Four Corners has permanent stalls where local Native American Artisans sell their work. Worth a stop!

I’m in four states!

When we arrived in Mesa Verde there had been a late snow and it snowed in the higher elevations during our visit. At 7,500 feet above sea level there was about two feet of snow. Thank goodness the roads were kept clear and we weren’t slowed down too much for our capers.

We headed south to Hovenweep National Monument for our first adventure. The roads to get there were scenic and passed through ranches and open range (no fencing). We were delayed a tad when a herd of cattle claimed the road. We patiently waited for them to move on before we could drive through. There were dozens of calves and cows just hanging out in the road, in no hurry to move.

There was no snow at Hovenweep but it was windy and cold. The trails to get to the dwellings were well laid out and not too strenuous. Hovenweep has fine examples of ancestral Puebloan masonry. The visitors center has trail maps and water available and runs a great historical film that is worth the few minutes to view. Hovenweep is now one of my favorite places. Go with the right mindset and you can have a spiritual experience. Modern descendants of these groups believe that their ancestors still live there and it’s a sacred place. Treat it accordingly.

Hunter-gatherers (Paleo-Indians) inhabited the Cajon Mesa on the Great Sage Plain from 8,000-6,000 BC until 200 AD. They were followed by the Basketmaker (50 AD to 750 AD)and Pueblo Era Natives (750 AD to 1350 AD). Experts believe that Hovenweep was deserted due to increased populations and a 23 year regional drought. Currently badgers, large cats and bears have taken over some of the caves at Hovenweep.

The following homes to the ancients are found in Little Ruin Canyon and consists of the following: Stronghold House, Twin Towers, Rim Rock House, Eroded Boulder House, Tower Point and Hovenweep Castle. The Park Service employs Hopi masons to make repairs. These masons are torn about making repairs because there belief is that everything returns to the earth.

Up next: Canyon of the Ancients National Monument. We only got to Lowry Pueblo due to the weather and it was quite the trip down muddy and snowy dirt roads. The monument is managed by the Bureau of Land Management and is 176,600 acres of mostly wilderness. It has 6,355 recorded sites of ancestral Puebloan culture in the Chaco Canyon area. Lowry Pueblo is one of three ruins open to the public. Please visit the visitors center prior to visiting the pueblos. They have great exhibits and dioramas. One of my favorite exhibits allows you to listen to phrases in the different Native American languages. Exquisite.

The Lowry Pueblo is a National Historic Landmark, consisting of 8 kivas, one of which is the largest kiva I have ever seen. The pueblo has 40 rooms and some were three stories high. Based upon the size of the largest kiva, the Lowry Pueblo may have been a regional center for religious ceremonies and gatherings.

I hope you are enjoying the adventure. Stay tuned for Part II Mesa Verde!

Silver City New Mexico/Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument- March 4-7

Silver City New Mexico was the base for our new adventure. We stayed at Rose Valley RV Ranch (Goodsams and Passport America $21.53/night). The sites are spacious and the park has full hookups and it’s well laid out so that each site has some privacy. We saw many jackrabbits each day, which was fun.

Silver City is about 44 miles from the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument and is home to Western New Mexico University, which has the most extensive collection of Mimbres Pottery. The pottery was scientifically excavated from the Nan Ranch. Outstanding, priceless collection.

The town of Silver City was once an Apache campsite, later the Spanish traveled through looking for copper. Silver City was founded in 1870 after Captain James Bullard and his brothers discovered silver on a hill west of his farm. The town is known for being home to Western New Mexico University, home to the Mimbres Mogollon tribes from 200 – 1150 AD, and The Big Ditch. The Big Ditch was caused by the great flood of June 21, 1895, which destroyed the business district.

The first caper was visiting Fleming Hall on the WNMU campus and home to the Museum of Mimbres Pottery. Free admission is such a bargain considering the museum’s collection is priceless and extensive. Note: pottery with holes in the bottom were used to cover the faces of the deceased for burial.

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument is in the Gila Wilderness on the Gila River with elevations from 5700 to 7000 above sea level. The wilderness is 553 acres and humans have traveled through and stayed in the caves for at least 10,000 years. Prehistoric hunters used the caves for shelter and the soot on the ceiling dates back to that time period. The Cliff Dwellings were built by the Mimbre Mogollon tribes around 1275 and they lived, farmed and hunted there for about 25 years. They disappeared in the early 1300s and many theories abound about their disappearance. The Hopi and other tribes claim them as ancestors through their oral history that says that the Mimbres were never staying there permanently as they were on a migration.

The Mimbres built tee-shaped openings to their dwellings. Hopi oral history says that it is to honor Maasaw, one of their deities, as the openings look like the shape of his head. This tradition still exists in modern Hopi and other tribes. The Gila Cliff Dwellings is one of my favorite places now. I sat in the dwellings a long time and it was a very spiritual time. I could imagine the people living and working there and can only wonder at what became of them.

Next up: Photos taken in Silver City. The arts community has an ongoing program with area youth to paint murals around the town. They are beautiful and each one tells a story about the area.

This area was my favorite yet. I was awed by the cliff dwellings, the people, the beauty, and the history. Off to the next caper. Stay tuned.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park New Mexico- February 24-26

We arrived in White City RV Park ($42/night) on February 24th. This is an interesting place with a population of 9 and median income of $61,000. White City, New Mexico is just a few miles from Carlsbad Caverns. Carlsbad was added to our already planned trip after speaking with Tom Woodle, a friend of Ray’s, and I must say it was great advice.

The Park was on the agenda for the full day on the 25th and it did take the full day. The Park is in the Guadalupe Mountains, which is a part of the Chihuahua Desert. Big Bend is also in the Chihuahua Desert.

The caverns were discovered in 1898 by a teenager named Jim White. He explored the caverns with a homemade wire ladder and gave names to the rooms of the caverns that are still used today. The US Congress signed into law the establishment of Carlsbad Caverns National Park on May 14, 1930, after President Calvin Coolidge had signed an executive order requesting the Park be preserved.

We entered the natural entry of the cavern, which has a good walking path that takes you down the equivalent of 80 floors below the service on a 1.5 mile trail. Some places are slippery from water dripping into the caves and the lighting is adequate. Out of respect for other visitors the Rangers ask those entering to only whisper as sound carries about 1/4 mile into the caverns. Luckily, we have been traveling in the off season and having areas mostly to our selves so we can take our time and absorb everything.

I used the flashlight on my cell and noticed many green dots and an occasional red dot on the formations. We were trying to determine if it was some sort of mineral. Near the end of the down cave hike we encountered a ranger and we asked her. She told us that the caverns does 10 year audits of damage by visitors to the park. All those green dots were damage recorded on this audit (which isn’t complete) and the red was from the previous audit 10 years ago. Before entering the caverns rangers tell you not to touch anything as body oils, etc. will damage the formations. Evidently some people visiting just can’t help themselves and they are damaging a real nation treasure. This saddens me.

Carlsbad is a spectacular example of the grandeur of nature. The beauty can not be described adequately and pictures do not do it justice. This place should be on everyone’s bucket list. It took us about an hour and a half to get to the Big Room, which is 4,000 ft long and 357,469 square feet of floor space. This is the largest room but there are about 22 rooms and an underground snack area. Some rooms are off limits due to safety issues. That said, we were in there about 4 hours, not counting the hike down. I’m sure we didn’t see everything.

As I’ve said previously, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

This is a great place to visit. More information: Off to our next caper. See you soon.

Ocmulgee National Monument / Hay House

February 4th day trip to Ocmulgee memorial to the peoples of antiquity. 17,000 year record of human life on the Macon Plateau. This place felt sacred and the artifacts and mounds of these people were breathtaking. This is a 702 acre site with Temple, ceremonial earth lodge, and funeral mounds. Most artifacts are from the years 900-1200.

These people were known as Creeks and are from the Mississippian period. We spent hours exploring these wonderful artifacts.

Me at the entrance to the Ceremonial Earth Lodge Mound.

View of Ceremonial Earth Lodge

Inside Ceremonial Lodge. The floor is 1000 years old.
Chieftains seat inside ceremonial lodge. Eagle effigy carved in floor in front. Once a year the sun shines through the door and highlighted where the chief sat. Truly this meant that he was THE Chief!
Ray going up to the Temple Mound.
Ray on steps to the Temple Mound.
View of Macon from the Temple Mound.
Enjoying the weather and the top of the Temple Mound.
The funeral mound with more than 100 graves. Much of this mound was lost when the railway went through in the 1830s.

After hours learning about human history, we moved on to tour the Hay House historic site in Macon. They Hay House is a beautiful 17,000 square foot marvel, built from 1855 to 1859 in the Italian Renaissance Revival Style, with all the modern conveniences. It was built by William Butler Johnston. He also became the keeper of the Confederate Treasury. There are rumors that Confederate gold is hidden in the walls and secret places of this home. To date, no one has found it. Johnston married at the age of 40 and took his bride on a 3 year honeymoon (called a grand tour) in Europe. The design for the house and the furnishings came from those travels.

Back of Hay House 1.
Back of Hay House 2.
Bryon Stained Glass in Stairwell.

Formal Dining Room.
Pantry Door from dining room.

Ball Room.
Double Living Room.
Sitting Room.

This ended our day. One of the takeaways from our two days in Macon: The people are the some of the most friendly and gracious that I have encountered in a very long time. Looking forward to what our tours tomorrow will bring.