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  1. #1

    Default AZ to Upper Great Lakes - May/June 2015

    Back on the road, again! Heading out today on a month long road trip with our usual mix of activities along the way; roads less traveled, camping, wildlife viewing, National Park sites, letterboxing and anything else that catches our fancy.
    Our general itinerary is;
    Eastern AZ, N on US 666 (actually US 191, but we prefer the historic designation)
    Northern NM - Valles Caldera NM, Northern Rio Grande NHA, Farmington for letterboxing gathering
    Southern Colorado - Chimney Rocks NM, picking up US 50
    Kansas - Missouri - Illinois on US 50
    Illinois - family visit, Springfield, & Pullman National Monument (Chicago)
    Michigan - western edge through Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Sleeping Bear Dunes NL, Upper Peninsula. . .
    Wisconsin - Minnesota - Iowa - Nebraska - Colorado - New Mexico

    I don't plan to post daily reports, but will hit the highlights along the way - stay tuned.

  2. #2


    Since I will be hitting some of the states after you, I will look forward to what the highlights of that area are.

  3. #3

    Default Arizona to New Mexico

    Monday, May 25, 2015
    Start: Tucson, AZ
    Finish: KP Cienega campground (USFS)

    Great first day of the trip. Left Tucson on I-10 heading east, just past Willcox picked up US 666 (US 191) and headed north. This highway takes you through Clifton and Morenci, a major copper mining district. Between Clifton and Morenci there are seceral places the Big Horn Sheep can be seen easily along the roadway. We've even seen them on the lawn at the old railroad station in Clifton. As you leave Morenci there is an overlook into one of the pits. Photos cannot capture the size and scope.

    Morenci copper mine

    We continued up 666, also named the Coronado Trail. Named after the Spanish explorer who traveled the Southwest in search of gold in the 16th century. This is a spectacular stretch of road, climbing from 3000 ft to over 9000 ft. We drove it in our Chevy Express van, anything much larger is not recommended. The views are unending.

    We stopped at KP Cienega campground, about 30 miles south of Alpine. It is 2 miles off the highway, surrounded by meadows at 9000 ft. The highlight of the evening was watching a wolf in the meadow. This area is part of the Blue Primitive Area where wolves have been introduced successfully. What a treat to watch it in the meadow, saw it pounce into the grass several times. Did not see any results from the pounce. As we drove out Tuesday AM saw it again at the top edge of the meadow. Before we reached the highway saw a couple of elk in the meadow. Truly a special place.

    Tuesday, May 26
    Start: KP Cienega
    Finish: Clear Creek campground (USFS), east of Cuba, NM

    Drove into Alpine for breakfast at the Bear Wallow Cafe, always tasty. On our way through Springerville we stopped to look at the Madonna of the Trail statue, # 11.

    Madonna of the Trail - Springerville

    We continued north on US 191 with a stop in St. Johns at the historical museum to find out if any of the vintage (over 50 yrs old) post office were still in existence. The gentleman there, with some thought remembered where the first one was which was still standing, probably from the early 1900s. We picked up I-40 heading east into New Mexico.

    At Thoreau we took off on NM 391& NM 197 into the heart of the Navajo Nation bringing us to Cuba by dinner time. I just recently found out that Tony Hillerman's daughter, Anne, is continuing his murder mysteries set throughout the Navajo Nation. I just finished reading her first novel, Spider Woman. A restaurant in Cuba, El Bruno, was mentioned in this novel. We stopped and had a delicious New Mexican meal along with some local IPA beer.

    El Bruno Restaurant - Cuba, NM, US 550

    After dinner we drove up NM 126 into the Jemez Mountains to Clear Creek campground at 8400 ft. We were entertained with a very ambitious Red Squirrel carrying pine cones from across the road to its stash under a fir tree near our campsite. A thunderstorm rolled around us, giving us sound effects, but no rain.

    Camping fees have been great, free last night (no water) and $10/5 tonight. The $10 is full fee, the $5 is 1/2 price for those with the qualifying federal pass.

    Wildlife Viewing
    Big Horn Sheep ( Morenci)
    Gray Wolf (KP Cienega)
    Elk (KP Cienega)
    Red Squirrel

    Red-tailed Hawk
    Mourning Dove
    Common Raven
    House Sparrow
    Northern Mockingbird
    Mountain Bluebird
    Western Bluebird
    Wild Turkey
    American Robin
    Dark-eyed Junco
    Western Scrub-jay
    Turkey Vulture

  4. #4

    Default NM 126 to Bandelier National Monument

    Wednesday, May 27, 2015

    Start: Clear Creek campground, Jemez Mountains
    Finish: Bandelier National Monument, NM

    Great morning in camp bird watching. At 8400 ft we expected it to be colder than it was, hung out until almost 10 AM. As I mentioned in the first post, we would be on roads less travelled. Most of the trip has been on those roads and today was no exception. We continued east on NM126. At the beginning of the road, in Cuba, signs were posted that part of the road was unimproved and not recommended for trucks, trailers or large RVs. After passing through road construction where they were improving the road we hit a stretch of dirt road that was heavily rutted, some of the area currently being graded, but most was drivable in the van, with high clearance. Rand-McNally shows this section as dirt.

    Welded Tuft

    Along the way the welded tuft rock formations were spectacular. We were headed to Valles Caldera National Preserve, a new unit of the National Park Service (NPS). The transfer to the NPS will take place on October 1, 2015. It has been managed by the US Forest Service and a private trust until this year. It is the site of a supervolcano, which erupted about one million years ago and provided the welded tuft we saw earlier in the day. After checking in at the Visitor Center we were given a driving pass to go further into the park. We drove around the edge of the caldera and parked to have lunch overlooking a large meadow. On the way back we saw three elk come down from the forest.

    We ended the day early along NM 4 at Bandelier National Monument. After getting a campsite we learned that you can drive your private vehicle down to the visitor center after 3 PM ( or before 9 AM). The rest of the day there is a free shuttle from White Rock or near the campground. The ruins are special in Bandelier, but I think the buildings constructed by the CCC in the mid 30s are also special.

    Bandelier Visitor Center buildings

    Restful evening in camp after a busy day of wildlife viewing!

    Passport Stamp
    Bandelier National Monument - Los Alamos, NM

    Northern Rio Grande National Heritage Area
    Bandelier National Monument -pictorial

    Wildlife Sightings
    Elk (Jemez Mtns & Valles Caldera NP)
    Mule Deer (Bandelier NM)
    Red Squirrel
    Golden-mantled ground squirrel
    Abert's Squirrel
    Gunnison's Prairie Dog (Valles Caldera NP)
    Cottontail Rabbit

    American Robin
    Broad-tailed Hummingbird
    Black-chinned Hummingbird
    Pine Siskin
    Rufous-crowned Sparrow
    Ruby-crowned Kinglet
    Yellow-rumped Warbler
    Northern Flicker, yellow-shafted
    Hammond's Flycatcher
    Common Raven
    Steller's Jay
    Barn Swallow
    Brewer's Blackbird
    White-winged Dove
    Turkey Vulture
    Western Bluebird
    Mountain Bluebird
    Red-tailed Hawk
    Last edited by Mark Sedenquist; 05-30-2015 at 01:39 PM. Reason: added the links

  5. #5

    Default US 64 - West from Taos to Navajo City

    Thursday May 28, 2015

    Start: Bandelier National Monument
    Finish: Rio Grande De Norte National Monument (BLM), W of Questa, NM

    Saw a few more birds in camp before continuing east on NM 4, eventually heading S on US 84 to the town of Tesque, this is just north of Santa Fe. A few years ago we missed finding a letterbox in a series planted in this area, we recently learned that it was still there so we made a quick trip to find this box and we were successful!

    We ventured back north on US 84 through Espanola, then north on NM 68, up along the Rio Grande River to the BLM visitor center at Pilar. We took the road through Pilar and the BLM recreation area to the Taos Junction bridge. We hiked up the Rio Pueblo de Taos river a short distance, listening to the roar of the river through this narrow canyon.

    Rio Pueblo de Taos River, Pilar

    In Taos we stopped at a favorite restaurant, El Taoseno. They have greatly improved the appearance, inside and out, and left the food alone! It is authentic, excellent and usually has more locals eating than tourists. Today we enjoyed their special; Blue Corn Chicken Enchiladas - Christmas style, red and green chile sauce. Sopapillas come with the meal, with some honey it makes the perfect dessert!

    Our next stop was a new national monument and the final BLM - New Mexico stamp. Last Fall we were able to get all of the others. The New Mexico BLM office, near Santa Fe, created these stamps because of the success of the National Park passport stamps. They are considered bonus by NPS stamp collectors. We have enjoyed visiting some new places in New Mexico. This site is north of Taos, off NM 522. The paved road brings you to the edge of the canyon with the Rio Grande River far below. This section of the river is designated a Wild and Scenic River. We stopped at the visitor center and got the stamp and then set up camp. We got a couple of hummingbirds at our feeder and saw several others birds.

    Rio Grande del Norte NM

    Window through basalt wall with river down below

    This area is very remote, no services available except for the visitor center, campgrounds and picnic areas. If you visit, bring your own food and supplies. There was water in the campgrounds and picnic areas.

    Friday, May 29
    Start: Rio Grande del Norte NM
    Finish: Navajo Lake State Park, Cottonwood Campground ( east of Aztec, NM)

    Beautiful road trip day across northern New Mexico. We drove back towards Taos and picked up US 64, taking it west, all the way to Navajo City to end the day at Navajo Lake State Park. Taos area is at 7500 ft., at one point on US 64 we were over 10,000 ft with patches of snow along the side of the road.

    Blue Flax in campground

    Rio Grande Gorge bridge, just west of Taos

    Once in camp we did some letterboxing in the area and enjoyed another evening of birding from our campsite. At one point we had five hummingbirds vying for the three holes in the feeder. First night of camping, on this trip, in a full campground; it must be Friday night!

    Passport Stamp
    Old Spanish Trail NHT - Rio Grande Gorge Visitor Center, NM

    Rio Grande del Norte National Monument - BLM New Mexico
    Wildlife Viewing
    Cottontail Rabbit
    Gunnison's Prairie Dog
    Rock Squirrel
    Tarantula Hawk (insect)

    Turkey Vulture
    Common Raven
    Broad-tailed Hummingbird
    Black-chinned Hummingbird
    White-winged Dove
    Yellow-rumped Warbler
    Canada Geese
    Western Bluebird
    Black-billed Magpie
    Western Scrub Jay
    Brewer's Blackbird
    Say's Phoebe
    Scott's Oriole
    Lark Sparrow
    American Coot
    Northern Mockingbird
    House Finch
    Mountain Bluebird
    American Kestrel
    House Finch
    Cassin's Kingbird
    Bullock's Oriole
    Great Blue Heron
    Black-headed Grosbeak

  6. #6

    Default Farmington, NM & Southern Colorado, US 160

    Saturday, May 30
    Start: Navajo Lake State Park
    Finish: Farmington, NM

    Today was a letterboxing day - all day. About 40 of us gathered in Farmington at the Riverside Nature Center, along the Animas River. For those who haven't read my trip reports before I'll give a brief description of letterboxing. Using clues from 2 different websites you find a small container which holds a hand-carved (usually) stamp and a log book. As a letterboxer you carry your own hand- carved, or store-bought stamp (signature stamp) and logbook. You place your stamp in the box's logbook and place the box's stamp impression in your logbooks. Doesn't sound too exciting? For some of us it becomes an obsession, and one that goes very well with road trips! Kids love the 'treasure hunt'. It is different from geocaching, clues are used and nothing is left or taken from the box.

    Mallard & goslings at the nature center

    We ended the day at Three Rivers Brewery with a small group from the day's gathering. Three River's Brewery takes up an entire city block; tap and game room, banquet room, pizzeria, restaurant and the brew tanks!

    Sunday, May 31
    Start: Farmington, NM
    Finish: Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve (almost)

    After finding a few more letterboxes this morning we left Farmington and headed north into Colorado. We stopped at Aztec National Monument. The ruins there are very accessible and significant. Following US 550 north we entered Colorado and immediately had spectacular vistas of the snow covered San Juan Mountains. The storms from 2 weeks ago left fresh snow. The drive east along US 160 was gorgeous. We stopped at Chimney Rocks National Monument (USFS). We enjoyed a picnic lunch at the visitor center cabin. Tour times up to the top did not mesh with our schedule today, but it is a great tour up to the ruins.

    Chimney Rock National Monument

    After leaving Pagosa Springs we stopped along US 160 at Treasure Falls.

    Treasure Falls

    From there we crossed Wolf Creek Pass at 10,856 ft. It was gorgeous, lots of rushing water and deep snowfields, well off the highway. Between Del Norte and Monte Vista is an excellent roadside monument to the Old Spanish Trail. Along our trip we have gotten several of the Old Spanish National Historic Trail passport stamps.

    Trail sign



    Our destination for the day was Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, with plans to camp within the park. To our surprise the campground was Full, at 4:30 PM on a Sunday evening, the last day of May. This campground is well known for filling early and on most days during tourist season. Today was the first day of this trip that we saw lots of school age kids. So, instead of camping in the park we camped next to the park, at Oasis Campground for $26.75 for a tent site. A state park is nearby, but in Colorado their camping & park fees are the same or more than private campgrounds. There is also a USFS site up into the mountain area, we did not want to do the extra driving. The view was spectacular! A light rain settled in just as I finished cooking dinner, we sat in the van and enjoyed the view. It cleared up by sunset.

    Evening view of Great Sand Dunes NP & P

    Passport Stamps
    Aztec Ruins National Monument - Aztec, NM
    Old Spanish NHT - Aztec Ruins National Monument, NM

    Chimney Rock National Monument - Colorado SJNF

    Wildlife Sightings
    Gunnison's Prairie Dog
    Ground Squirrel

    Northern Mockingbird
    House Sparrow
    House Finch
    Brown-headed Cowbird
    Bullock's Oriole
    Cassin's Kingbird
    Broad-tailed Hummingbird
    Black-chinned Hummingbird
    Canada Goose & goslings
    Mallard & goslings
    Great-tailed Grackle
    Common Raven
    Western Bluebird
    Steller's Jay
    American Robin

  7. #7

    Default US 50 - E. Colorado to W. Kansas

    Monday, June 1
    Start: Great Sand Dunes NP & P (almost)
    Finish: Stafford, KS - US 50 Rest Area

    Morning light at Great Sand Dunes NP & P

    Quiet night at the Oasis Campground. We noticed a lot of families camping here. It does have showers and a laundry room, plus a restaurant in the front. The campsites are scattered and not well-defined, but it had a 'forest service' feel to it. The most unusual part was the railcar bathrooms! The inside was clean and freshly painted, very functional.

    Railcar restrooms - Oasis Campground

    We went into the park. I walked the Nature Trail that started from the visitor center. We had spent most a day here last October so we started making our way east, still following US 160 to Walsenburg, then CO 10 to La Junta. We had lunch at the Bamboo Panda in town, reasonable and hit the spot.

    Along the route we stopped at the Fort Garland Museum for passport stamps. This museum is very well maintained, the staff were working on the adobe walls. After lunch we stopped at the USFS in La Junta for passport and bonus stamps and then drove out to Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site. We always enjoy the walk out to the fort and then walking around inside. The day was heating up, and the humidity was high because the Arkansas River was flooded, coming fairly close to the fort.

    Bent's Old Fort NHS

    Arkansas flooding at Bent's Old Fort - look for the interpretive sign (look past the trees in front)

    Before leaving Colorado we stopped at Boggsville, south of Las Animas. This was the last home of Kit Carson, his initial grave site is there. Even though both the website and sign on site said it should have been open, it was not. We walked around the couple of buildings and continued on our way.

    Kit Carson - original grave

    Kansas - it was later in the afternoon than we had realized, but after changing time zones and checking on daylight we decide to drive further than we normally would do. We did stop in Dodge City to check on a letterbox my husband had planted in 2007, still there and in good shape. US 50 in Eastern Colorado and Western Kansas is easy driving, even when it is only 2 lane. Lots of trucks, but it moves well. We ended up near Stafford at Rest Area. Kansas allows overnight sleeping in their Rest Areas. This one was wonderful; big trees, very nice restroom and very little traffic in and out overnight.

    Passport Stamps
    Old Spanish National Historic Trail - Mosca, CO
    Great Sand Dunes NP & PRES - Mosca, CO
    Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area - San Luis Valley
    Old Spanish NHT - Fort Garland Museum, CO
    Santa Fe NHT - Comanche National Grasslands, CO
    Santa Fe NHT - La Junta, CO
    Bent's Old Fort NHS - La Junta, CO

    Bonus stamps
    Moose - at Comanche National Grassland's USFS Office
    Dinosaur - Comanche National Grassland - Colorado

    Wildlife Sightings
    Black-tailed Prairie Dog
    White-tailed Deer

    Rufous-crowned Sparrow
    Broad-tailed Hummingbird
    Common Raven
    American Crow
    Black-billed Magpie
    Vesper Sparrow
    Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
    Red-winged Blackbird
    Western Meadowlark
    American Robin
    Mourning Dove
    Western Kingbird

  8. #8

    Default Trip on Hold

    Thursday, June 4, 2015

    We'll be away from the road for a while and will resume the trip at a later time.

    Before I take leave I want to share a new activity that I have been enjoying along the way; Quest Scouts, an adult scouting program. Check out their website,

    Quest Scouts is a new program, scouts for adults! In my younger years I was a Girl Scout and earned a few badges along the way. So, join me on a new adventure!

    In order to earn a Quest Scout badge you complete objectives within set categories; Media, Literature, Travel, Visit, Research, Art, Photography, DIY, Find, Games and MicroQuests. Each objective is worth a variety of points which usually add up to 2500, 1000 points is usually enough earn the badge. A new Quest is offered monthly with several months to complete before it is archived.

    This is a commercial site which allows you to participate for free or pay a membership fee, at three different levels. I am currently participating for free, but considering paying a monthly fee. The badges are attractive, as well as the other items offered.

    All That Came Before, the first badge I chose to complete, focuses on history. I completed five of the objectives; Visit, Travel, Research, Art and DIY for a total of 1,150 points. As you complete an activity you post your information on the website or via social media using #questscouts. I am using Instagram to post pictures taken and of completed projects, posting as 'srjrranger'.

    For Travel I posted pictures of three historical markers; Geronimo Surrender Monument ( E of Douglas, AZ), El Tiradito (Tucson) and Juan Bautista de Anza expedition (Tucson, bridge over Santa Cruz River). For Art I did a sketch of the oldest building in Tucson, La Casa Cordova, which is part of the Tucson Museum of Art property. My DIY project was a picture frame made from National Park magnets framing a picture of me participating in Earth Day 1970.

    I am enjoying the variety of activities. This is a great program for adults to explore the world around you! I'll start working on Epic Proportions, as well as other badges currently available. The developer has agreed to allow letterboxes in lieu of geocaches, that works for me!

    While in Hutchinson, KS I found some murals downtown. I photographed them and will be working on a sketch as part of the Art objective for the Epic Proportions badge. While in Farmington, NM last weekend I found a Muffler Man, which fulfills a Visit objective, also for the Epic Proportions badge.

    A variety of their activities work in well with road trips, it is fun to have some things to look for along the way.
    Last edited by Mark Sedenquist; 06-03-2015 at 09:56 PM.

  9. #9

    Default US 50 - Kansas & Missouri

    Saturday, June 6

    Start: Hutchinson, KS
    Finish: Sedalia, MO

    Back to US 50, heading east. Even on a Saturday traffic moves well, a couple of cars passed us the 2-lane stretches, but there are plenty of passing lanes interspersed to make driving easy.

    First stop of the day was to Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, just north of US 50 near Strong City. It had been a number of years since I have visited this site. Since my last visit they have built a modern visitor center. The displays inside are excellent, and show the plant and animal diversity within this ecosystem. This park site has numerous trails to hike, plus several historic ranch buildings to tour.

    Visitor Center & Barn

    After Emporia, KS US 50 becomes I-35 heading into Kansas City, KS & MO. Just before US 50 turns east on I-435 we stopped in Olathe, KS to check out Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop and Farm Historic Site, an original stagecoach stop along the Santa Fe Trail. It is a private organization, admission price is $7.00 for adults. Besides including a short stagecoach ride, there are numerous farm animals. This also is a tourist information center, they have a passport stamp for the Santa Fe NHT.

    Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop & Farm Museum

    After we entered Missouri we made a quick stop at the Trailside Center. We drove by thinking it was a fire station, the trail center was a smaller, separate building at the end of the fire station. We expected more of an interpretive site, it was primarily a Kansas/Missouri tourist information center, with some local history displayed. It also has the NHT stamps for Santa Fe, Oregon & California. The three trails all followed the same route in this area.

    US 50 in Missouri was very easy driving, divided 4-lane with very few stops. The geography changed, lots of trees and small hills. A bit too humid for us Desert Rats, especially with mid 80s temperature. Another motel night, too muggy for camping.

    Sunday, June 7
    Start: Sedalia, MO
    Finish: Springfield, IL

    Not exactly a quiet night at the motel, a car show was in town and filled the motels. Outside our room the low-rider trucks were parked and the the owners sat outside until midnight talking, right below our room. Never loud, or obnoxious, just persistent chit-chat.

    Our white van, with windows in the back, can be seen off to the left.

    We continued on US 50 into the St. Louis area, stopping for a few letterboxes along the way. This was our last day following US 50, we have thoroughly enjoyed the relaxed pace. For us, so much better than following the interstates, day after day. We appreciate that we are able to take more time in our travels and enjoy the 'blue highways'. The day was warming up and getting sticky - humidity!

    We enjoyed the film about Ulysses S. Grant at his home outside St. Louis. I always enjoy learning more details about someone you 'thought' you knew so much about. The Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site is encircled by the commercial, and expensive Grant's Farm, managed by members of the Busch family. Only 10 acres of the original 900 acres of the farm are now preserved by the NPS. The barn/ museum was extremely well recreated into a modern museum about his life, yet maintains the barn structure and facilities.

    Grant Museum - Barn

    Grant home

    We found a few more letterboxes before melting from the heat & humidity, we are such Desert Rats. We crossed into Illinois and ended the day south of Springfield. Strong storms were predicted for the evening, very glad to be inside with air conditioning.

    Passport Stamps
    Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve - Strong City, KS
    Santa Fe NHT - Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop & Farm HS, KS
    Santa Fe NHT - Trailside Center, MO
    California National Historic Trail - Trailside Center, MO
    Oregon National Historic Trail - Trailside Center, MO
    Ulysses S.mGrant NHS - St. louis, MO

    Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve - pictorial
    Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop Farm Historic Site- Olathe, KS

    Wildlife Sigtings
    Eastern Fox Squirrel

    American Bald Eagle
    Great Blue Heron
    Hawk, ?
    Red-winged Blackbird
    House Sparrow
    Northern Mockingbird
    Northern Cardinal
    Canada Goose & goslings
    Common Grackle
    Brewer's Blackbird
    Brown-headed Cowbird
    Mourning Dove
    Rock Pigeon

  10. #10


    Oh thank you for this post. I was looking at visiting several of the same spots, and you just confirmed that I do need to go.

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