Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Visions Of Springs Past


First of all the weather shamans were mercifully wrong on their forecast for last Saturday. We got a dusting of snow, but nothing really stuck to the road and driveway surfaces. This was one time I was happy that they got it wrong!

Sunday it started to warm up and it has been absolutely beautiful since then…so beautiful that yesterday I got a severe case of road trip fever. Since it’s still too early to try a trip to the mountains I decided on a aroya0day trip to the Eastern Plains of Colorado. For some time I have been wanting to investigate a small ghost town that I read about that’s about 150 miles southeast of the Denver area.  It’s a long drive but it was just what the soul craved. Miles of deserted road and visions of springs past.

Aroya began it’s life as a small railroad camp for workers laying track for the Kansas and Pacific line. The name itself is a bastardization of the Spanish word arroyo for “gulch” and the town was built next to a gulch.

The heyday of Aroya was around 1912 when it boasted a dozen or more businesses including a hotel, a blacksmith shop, a school and several mercantile stores.

aroya9The town went steadily downhill from there on. The Great Depression took it’s toll and by the 1970’s there were just two old men living there. The last resident, “Red” Morland, the son of one of the town’s pioneers died some years ago and Aroya became a true ghost town.

The town sits about a half mile off a main state highway (the fact that the highway bypassed the town also helped in it’s demise) on a lonely dirt road. I arrived just about noontime and the weather was perfect….high 70’s, sunny with a stiff breeze. A lot of the town land is now private, so I did not have total access to all of the buildings but it was enough to make the trip well worth the while. The private part belongs to the J.O.D. ranch. The ranch is historic in itself, having it’s start in 1866 and continuing to this day as a real cattle ranch.aroya8

I spent well over an hour wandering around thinking about springs past. Imagining the residents of Aroya going about their business. Thinking about their struggles and their hopes for the future. Children were born here, grew up, married, had children of their own and died. This place is more than a bunch of broken down old buildings. It was a vibrant community that is now gone. As cars speed by a half mile away they have no idea that this place exists….but I do.

Driving back home I went through numerous other small prairie towns that were saved from Aroya’s fate because the highway didn’t bypass them; Hugo, Limon, Simla, Ramah and Callahan. At each and every one I took the time to turn off the main street and explore the “guts” of these old towns. Each had their own memories of springs past.aroya6

It was late afternoon when I returned home. The road trip fever has been tamped down for a short while….but there are other ghost towns on the Eastern Plains that I think I need to “discover”.

Thanks for visiting.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Same Ole Same Ole


So we got 12-15” of snow early in the week and then we had two days of nice weather (high 50’s). Time for another storm! This one is not supposed to be as bad but the weather shamans are saying I may be looking at 5-10” on the ground by tomorrow morning. I hope they’re wrong this time because I haven’t gotten the parts for my snow blower yet and anything that ends up in the driveway will have to be dealt with manually.

While I don’t really mind the winters here or the snow, this time of year it’s hard because of the teasing that Mother Nature does. It would be one thing if it were just crappy weather all month long but the Spring weather that is wedged between the frequent storms gets my hopes up that it will be an early end to the snow and it will be RV season again.

Hopefully, this storm will be the last of any consequence because The Circle is planning on a Circle The Wagons camping trip in three weeks. This will be a local camp out at Chatfield State Park which is only a couple of miles from here…..about 8 miles to be exact.sol1

The picture at the top of the post is a shot from the roof of my trailer “Bivouac”. It not only shows some of the snow left from the last storm but It shows the new wiring job on my solar panel. The original wiring was located under the panel and went through the roof and towards the back of the trailer. This new wiring goes to the front of the trailer and down the plumbing vent stack in the middle front of the roof.

The picture to the right shows the new Tristar TS45 Solar Controller installed in the basement storage area. The battery compartment is behind the wall to the left of the controller and the red “knob” on the left of the picture is a Perko battery cutoff switch that allows me to shut off or disconnect the batteries when the trailer is stored. That prevents the batteries from being completely discharged by things like the fire and CO2 alarms that cannot be turned off inside the trailer.sol4 

Finally the picture to the left shows the remote meter that is installed inside the trailer. This digital display tells me all sorts of information about the charge state of the batteries, how much charge the solar panel is providing to the batteries and how much electricity is being used by all the electric things inside the trailer. It will also track this information over time. Cool stuff!

I expect that to be able to boondock for extended periods I’ll need at least one more solar panel but before I spend the money for that I will spend some time testing out the one panel system. The good news is that there is plenty of room on the roof for several more panels and it’s simple to add panels to the base system I now have.

Thanks for visiting.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Typical March In Colorado


It was in the 70’s two days ago and even yesterday morning was pleasant. Yesterday afternoon however a storm blew in and for much of the evening it was blizzard conditions here. By the time it all ended at mid day today we had 10-15” of wet, heavy snow on the ground.

How do I know it was “heavy”? Well about 3/4 of the way through snow blowing the driveway the snow blower quit. Not the motor but the wheels and the auger. Seems as if there is a little  $0.50 plastic piece that keeps the control cables for the wheel drive and auger in the exact spot it needs to be to have the proper tension to work…..that broke.

That unfortunate breakage meant that I had to do the rest of the job manually. I haven’t done that in a while and the last time I did do it, the snow was our standard Colorado champagne powder which is exceedingly light and easy to move…if it’s not 3 feet deep.

My normal thorough and neat job….wasn’t today. I did the bare minimum to get by and I still think I’ll be a little sore tomorrow morning.

Now back to the snow blower. I pulled out the parts diagram and called Sears to see about ordering a replacement. The good news is that I can. The bad news is I can’t just get the $0.50 part but have to buy $30.00 worth of other parts to get that tiny little plastic part! While I’m pretty peeved about that there was no doubt in my mind that I would spend that much if I had to to get the snow blower back in operation. Before I called the parts center I checked all the miscellaneous junk I have in the basement trying to figure a way to jerry rig a fix and to my disappointment could not come up with a plan. So Sears has now got my $30.

The roads were so bad around here this morning that I decided to drive The Emmer to work. I’m glad I did because it was pretty slick at 5:30 am. Heavy wet snow is a different driving experience than champagne powder and The Emmer doesn’t have experience in the heavy wet stuff. The snow stopped and the sun came out right about noon and as of now (3pm) the main streets are clear and dry. Some of the side streets have a bit of snow left but that’s melting fast.

I mentioned that the weather yesterday morning was fair and pleasant and it was. I decided to go down to the RV storage lot and check the progress on the solar system upgrades I mentioned in my last post. They were just in process of finishing the last part of the job and everything looks great. I’ll report more on that at a later date.

The other reason for going to the RV lot was to replace some of the light bulbs in the trailer. I’ve got quite a few lights in this trailer and while that’s a good thing for being able to see, the light bulbs use a lot of power and put out a lot of heat. I’ve been investigating the possibility of replacing the incandescent and halogen bulbs with LED light sources. LED bulbs use very little power, produce almost no heat and last a very long time.mod1

The picture to the right is one of the LEDs that I used. It goes in a recessed light fixture and produces almost the same amount of light as the halogen bulb that is currently in the fixture. It’s a simple swap out of bulbs so it’s an easy project.

I replaced four bulbs yesterday and if I’m happy with them I will replace all the rest of the bulbs both inside and outside the trailer with LEDs.

Thanks for visiting.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Waiting For Spring

Not much to report this week. We are now in the swing weather period here on the front range of the Rockies. We had a little snow on Sunday and today the high will be around 70. Friday night another cold system moves in and there is a chance of a lot of snow with lows in the teens on Saturday. While I enjoy the days of good weather it’s tough to be teased with a touch of spring, knowing that things are still pretty iffy weather wise for an RV trip….that is unless I want to head to Arizona again.

Because the weather was so nice today, I went down to the RV lot and installed two vent covers on Bivouac. I bought these covers over a month ago but just haven’t gotten around to installing them. These covers allow you to open the roof vents when it’s raining and not get water inside the rig. I have installed covers like these on every RV I have owned and they are well worth the money and effort to install.

While at the lot I made arrangements with the service department to do some work on my solar system. The trailer came with one 100w solar panel and a solar controller to convert the energy from the panel to 12v electricity and then charge the two marine batteries that power the lights, run the fan to the heater and move the slides in and out when I’m not hooked up to shore power. Unfortunately, the manufacturer of the trailer is not an expert in solar power and the system really was sub-par because of the type of solar controller that was used and the distance of the controller to the batteries.

Over the last few months I have read a lot about solar power for RVs and decided to redesign and upgrade my system. I bought a new solar controller and a couple of accessories that will make it even more efficient and figured out a way that I could position the controller just a foot or so away from the batteries. The current controller is about 25 feet away from the batteries and in solar power, distance is an enemy. I will also install much heavier wire than the factory installed wire. All of this should mean that my one solar panel will be much more efficient and should keep my two batteries fully charged most of the time. My ultimate plan is to add one or two more panels later on.

On the adventure front….not much is happening right now but I’m arranging for some adventures when the weather turns. The latest is a couple of projects for the Colorado Division of Wildlife. The first will be pretty mundane but it will offer me a chance to see a state wildlife area I have never been to before. I have volunteered to help clean up the Bosque del Oso Wildlife Area in late April. This 30,000 acre wildlife area is about 40 miles west of Trinidad, CO. I’m sure we won’t get to all 30,000 acres and will probably concentrate on the parking areas. My plan is to go down a day or so early and explore the area.

The second project will happen in the middle of May. I have signed up to help patrol the Mountain Plover nesting area at John Martin Reservoir in southeast Colorado. May is nesting time for the Mountain Plover and they build their nests on the ground in the sand around lakes and ponds. While they are not endangered by government definition, their numbers have declined seriously. John Martin Reservoir is a popular State Park and visitors to the park can disrupt the nesting activity so my job will be to interact with visitors to the park and explain why they can’t go into the nesting areas. I have committed to a week for this project and the Division of Wildlife will provide me with a camping spot with power and water hookups. Sounds like fun and I’m looking forward to it.

Thanks for visiting.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Researching The Old Spanish Trail


My last post describes the Passport in Time project that I will be involved in during the first week in May. We are to search for evidence of the Old Spanish Trail that passes through the Tres Piedras area of New Mexico, about forty miles west of Taos.

The use of this “trail” goes back thousands of years and probably was first a game trail. The Native Americans following the game used it. The Spaniards were no dummies and when they wanted to go north they used native guides that knew the existing trails. They were followed up by the American traders and pioneers.

In some cases the trail was abandoned when other, more modern roads were made available. In some cases there is no sign of the trail because of the “progress of civilization”. Farm were tilled over it. Reservoirs flooded it. Modern roads were built over it. It will be a real challenge to find tangible evidence of the portion of the trail we are looking for.

That said, about three years ago I wrote a post about Ruth Marie Colville, an author and historian whose passion was locating and recording old trails like the Old Spanish Trail. In that post I mentioned that I had acquired a copy of her book “La Vereda” which documents to travels of Don Diego de Vargas in 1694 through northeastern New Mexico and southeast Colorado. Vargas’ expedition, searching for food for the beleaguered Santa Fe colony, covered much of the East and West Forks of the North Branch of the Old Spanish Trail.

Last night I dug the book out and after reviewing some of it realized that it describes much of the area that we will be searching in May. The East Fork of the North Branch goes through the Taos area and most of that portion of the route is now on private land. A lot of the West Fork of the North Branch, which runs north and south about forty miles west of Taos is on Forest Service land and that is where I’ll be in May!

This project is a little unusual in the fact that we will be using metal detectors to help us find relics of the trail. There’s a love/hate relationship between metal detectorists and archaeologists. Archaeologists sometimes regard metal detectorists as low class, ruffian, pillagers….and that would be a mild description…of cultural resources. To their defense, there are some detectorists that fit the description but most are as interested as the archaeologists in discovering and preserving historical artifacts.

When used properly, the metal detector can be a wonderful and powerful tool to the archaeologist. One of the best examples I know of is the metal detecting survey of the Little Bighorn Battlefield. Another good article is here. Metal detectors are an efficient and cost effective way to survey a large area in a relatively short time. In my project last year we surveyed several miles of potential trail and uncovered hundreds of artifacts. When an artifact was located it was left on the ground where it was found and an archaeologist noted the position on a map, recorded all the information about the artifact and then decided whether or not to “collect” it or not. If it was not collected it was reburied in the exact spot at which it was discovered.

Three years ago when I wrote the post about Ruth Marie Colville, I said that someday I hoped to be able to personally walk the trail she described. Little did I know that I would eventually have the opportunity to not only walk the trail but hopefully add to the knowledge that Ruth spent 30 years in gathering!

Thanks for visiting

Friday, March 5, 2010

First Passport In Time Project for 2010

I received word yesterday that I was accepted for my first Passport In Time (PIT) project for this year. I'm excited about this one! Last September I did a similar project near Gunnison, CO and had a great time. We found lots of artifacts including a museum quality, 1850's era, uniform shoulder board (epaulet). Read about it here.

Here's the official write up for this project...

Metal Detector Surveys of the Old Spanish Trail in Northern New Mexico

May 3–7, 2010

Must commit to full session

Volunteers for this PIT project will work with F.S. staff to conduct systematic metal-detecting surveys of segments and traces of the Old Spanish Trail in northern New Mexico. At present, these elements of the Trail have only been partially identified. Research on this historically import trade route is an ongoing, multi-agency project in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and California. One goal of this research is to identify which routes will be managed as Congressionally designated historic trails. The project will also help to provide important information for interpreting the Old Spanish Trail and its role in the trade and settlement of the American West, and will allow visitors to experience a direct connection to this aspect of the nation's cultural history. Most of the Trail segments will be within approximately 40 miles of the village of Taos, a town with a rich history and culture. Join us for this unique experience in one of New Mexico's most beautiful settings!

Number of openings: 20

Special skills: Must understand and be able to perform leave-no-trace camping and field hygiene techniques; must be physically capable of hiking several miles per day in moderate to rough terrain in a variety of weather conditions; previous experience with GPS systems (possession of one is a bonus!), digital photography, and/or archaeological survey helpful, but not required; knowledge of metal artifacts from the first half of the 19th century (Mexican and Territorial Periods) in the West also helpful, but not required; metal detecting experience preferred, but not required - please indicate on your application if you own and can bring a metal detector

Minimum age: 18 years old

Facilities: Primitive camping at site locations; other camping facilities (developed and undeveloped) available within the project area; Taos is a full-service community with a range of motels, B&Bs, restaurants, and other amenities; volunteers responsible for lodging or personal camping equipment, food, and water; transportation to and from a designated meeting site will be provided on a limited basis by F.S.; personal vehicles capable of dirt road/off-road travel helpful

Nearest towns: Taos, ~40 miles

I have been researching the Old Spanish Trail for the last several months and it will be very cool to visit spots on the ground that I read about in first hand accounts from the Spaniards and American pioneers.

Thanks for visiting.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Never Cracked An Egg

My middle name "Giles" celebrates my grandfather. He was not an English "Giles" but a Vermont farmer turned carpenter/jack of all trades, wonderful man. Born in 1894 he saw the dawn of the modern age. One thing I remember clearly about him is that after riding in a motor vehicle and stopping without incident he would say "Never cracked an egg." That memory is so strong that I continue to use the phrase every time I turn the engine off in one of my vehicles. I did that Saturday after driving almost 500 miles from Acoma, NM to the Denver area.

The final drive was long but uneventful. I arrived home at about 5 pm and unloaded the most basic stuff (refrigerator) and saved the heavy unload for Sunday morning. The weather shamans had said that there was a possibility of some snow on Saturday and Sunday so that was the impetus to get home....before I got snowed in someplace again!

The rig has been unloaded and I'm now in the process of returning to the normal life after 21 days on the road.

It was a great trip and I'm sure that I'll post more stories about it soon....

Thanks for visiting.


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