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2018-10-09 – WBCCI 2018 Southwest Adventure Caravan – Day 52 – Caravan is over; we head for home…

We watched the balloons fly one last time… We walked on the field amidst the chaos…

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It’s always fun to see the special shaped balloons – later in the week they will have a special competition just for them…

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This is Bill Lee, the pilot who organized our balloon rides last week in Gallup.  His balloon is the official balloon for the State of New Mexico… We tried to talk to him, but I think he was preoccupied…

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So we walked on…

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After a few minutes we looked back and Bill Lee was aloft…

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Once all the balloons had ascended we walked back to the Villa, hitched up, and left our happy campground full of Airstreams…

Our destination today is Gallup, NM, back to USA RV Park, which we left less than one week ago… We are spending one night, to dump the tanks, take showers, and get re-oriented again for our trip home…

We stopped briefly to stretch our legs, and then traveled on…

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We crossed the Continental Divide (7275′ elevation) at about 11:00 am.  It was 44 degrees outside… And then the rain began.  It was not heavy, and it did not hinder our trip…

There is not a lot going on out here in western New Mexico…

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But soon we were settled in to our site at USA RV Park, just west of Gallup, NM.

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This evening we had planned to walk the 1/2 mile and eat at Virgies, a Gallup institution.  Literally seconds before we left the Airstream it started to rain in a giant downpour.  It didn’t last long, but we didn’t want to get caught in another such downpour… Also, the highway was too wet, in our opinion, to walk…

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We called Uber and 9 minutes later we were at Virgies:

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By the time dinner was over we were able to walk back to the Villa…

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And an enjoyable time was had by all…

Oh!  Here’s Evelyn:

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2018-10-08 – WBCCI 2018 Southwest Adventure Caravan – Day 51 – Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

It rained all night and it was cold… But this morning the winds were gentle and the balloons flew.  But it was an unusual flight…

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The balloons lifted off and drifted away from the Airstreams, towards the northwest.  Then the balloons dropped down, close to the ground, where a southern wind blew them south, then southeast; then the balloons ascended and caught the north winds again and the balloons came back over the launch field again.  This isn’t exactly the “Albuquerque Box” that they talk about, but it was close…

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And then they were gone…

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After the balloons were done, we headed to Costco to pick up a few supplies for our trip home…

This afternoon was our “final banquet” for the caravan.  These are normally held in the evening, but since there are 900,000 people visiting Albuquerque this week going out to a restaurant for dinner is not an option… So 2:00 pm it is.

The banquet was at El Pinto, a great New Mexican restaurant.  We were in a nice, spacious room, and we had a nice buffet lunch of all things Mexican, with a New Mexican twist… There were the usual speeches, toasts, blame for the innocent and accolades for the uninvolved…

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A slide show was presented that recapped our trip, and a few hokey songs were sung.  Well-deserved praises were said for our leaders, and we all vowed to keep in touch…

We returned to the Villa and had a simple (no food) Happy Hour.  But then it got too cold for these Californians, so we were turned in early…

And an enjoyable time was had by all…

2018-10-07 – WBCCI 2018 Southwest Adventure Caravan – Day 50 – Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

It was windy this morning, so the balloons could not fly.

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We walked around a bit and relaxed all morning, then at 1:00 we re-visited the Turquoise Museum…

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We had been here when we first started the caravan, and we learned what to look for when shopping for turquoise.  Since then we have been lied to by every jewelry store and trading post and gift shop in the Four Corners States… We had a nice chat with the owners…

On our way back to the Villa we stopped at a local New Mexico winery…

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We enjoyed a nice, casual tasting, chatting with a couple visiting from Virginia…  We bought a few bottles to augment our supply for our trip home…

This evening was Happy Hours again, but it was really too cold to sit outside, so we had three other couples join us inside the Villa…

And an enjoyable time was had by all…

2018-10-06 – WBCCI 2018 Southwest Adventure Caravan – Day 49 – Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

We were up at 0 dark thirty to see the commotion on the field…

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There are about a dozen or so balloons outfitted to fly at night; these are the “Dawn Patrol”.  They go up and report back on wind currents and other issues the balloonists might encounter…

At about 6:00 am they fired their burners and lifted off:

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At 7:00 am the “Mass Ascension” begins… But first we have a flyover of some vintage airplanes…

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One by one the balloons ascend until the sky is filled…

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You can even walk on the field and get up close and personal with the balloons as they are about to launch…

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Some balloons don’t make it very far…

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And then, just like that, they are gone… By 9:00 or so the ballooning for the day is over…

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We walked amongst the hundreds of vendors selling atrocious looking foods (Pork Chop on-a-Stick?) and cheap but expensive “souvenirs”…

This evening we had another gathering right in front of The Villa, but this time there were only about 100 people and it was just “Happy Hours”

And an enjoyable time was had by all…

2018-10-05 – WBCCI 2018 Southwest Adventure Caravan – Day 48 – Convoy to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

We were up early, disconnecting, and getting ready to roll.  At 8:00 the lead driver of our convoy of 15 Airstreams rolled out of his site and we all rolled in behind him.  At 8:15 we headed out towards the freeway…

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After about an hour we exited the freeway and drove the frontage road to Camping World, the staging area for Airstreams entering the Balloon Fiesta Grounds.

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Right on schedule, the pilot car pulled in front of our convoy and we convoyed in for the last 10 miles or so.  When we arrived at Balloon Fiesta grounds we were directed in, and we parked in order of our arrival – no picking of spots allowed.  However, by some happy coincidence, we were parked directly facing the “plaza”, the open space reserved for our evening activities…

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Including our caravan of 30 Airstreams, there are 150 Airstreams parked in this “VIP” parking area…

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With no hook-ups there is little to do to set up, so we walked to see the Balloon Museum…

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The museum was mobbed with thousands of school children, but it did offer great overviews of the Airstreams…

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We could also see out over the main field where the 600 or so hot air balloons will be setting up…

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After that, we headed to downtown Albuquerque for a wonderful lunch at El Troquet, a tiny French bistro just dripping with charm…

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After lunch we walked a bit on Central Ave., the route of Historic Route 66.  Lots of new shops, bars, and restaurants are here and it is quite a lively spot…

We returned to the Villa, where Happy Hours and Dinner were soon in full swing…

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Just dinner with our closest 300 friends… Above is our caravan leader, Jay.  His job is just about done…

After dinner more socializing continued.  At 8:00 there were fireworks out on the balloon field…

And an enjoyable time was had by all…

2018-10-04 – WBCCI 2018 Southwest Adventure Caravan – Day 47 – Cubero, New Mexico and Sky City Pueblo at Acoma

This morning we headed out to see the Pueblo at Acoma, called Sky City…

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Acoma Pueblo is an Indian pueblo approximately 60 miles west of Albuquerque.  Four villages make up Acoma Pueblo: Sky City (Old Acoma), Acomita, Anzac, and McCartys.   Today we are visiting Sky City – Old Acoma, a National Historic Landmark.

The Acoma people have continuously occupied this general area for over 2,000 years, making this one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the United States (along with Hopi, Zuni, and Taos pueblos). 

The Acoma people say that the Sky City Pueblo was established in the 11th century, with stone buildings as early as 1144 on the Mesa indicating as such, due to their unique lack of Adobe in their construction, proving their antiquity.  These old buildings are native stone with mud mortar, covered with a straw-and-mud plaster.

The Pueblo is situated on a 365-foot mesa, surrounded by a (relatively) fertile valley.  The isolation and location of the Pueblo has sheltered the community for more than 1,200 years.  They sought to avoid conflict with the neighboring Navajo and Apache peoples.

In 1540, Coronado’s expedition became the first non-native visitors to Acoma.  While their first encounters were not particularly friendly, they did share food; Coronado’s men left on friendly terms.

Their next encounter was not so friendly.  Hostilities ensued when the Spanish Conquistidors attacked Acoma, resulting in many lives being lost on both sides.  The Spanish called for reinforcements, and they ended up taking many men and women as prisoners; they were deemed to be quilty of these hostilities and they were sentenced to 25 years of slavery.  In addition, the men each had their right foot cut off.  The Acoma lived under the Spanish rule until 1598.  This dark period of Acoma is known as the Acoma Massacre.

However, the survivors of the Acoma Massacre rebuilt their community between 1599–1620… Between 1629 and 1641 Father Juan Ramirez oversaw construction of the San Estevan Del Rey Mission Church.  The Acoma were ordered to build the church, moving 20,000 tons of adobe, straw, sandstone, and mud to the mesa for the church walls.  Ponderosa pine was brought in by community members from Mount Taylor, over 40 miles away.  The 6,000 square feet church has an altar flanked by 60 feet high wood pillars. These are hand carved in red and white designs representing Christian and Indigenous beliefs.  The Acoma know their ancestors’ hands built this structure, and they consider it a cultural treasure to this day.  In contrast to what we saw in Zuni, the Acoma have kept this church in good repair over the years.

In 1680 the Pueblo Revolt took place, with Acoma cooperating with the other Pueblos in planning, organizing, and fighting against the Spanish.  The revolt brought refugees from other pueblos to Acoma.  Those who eventually left Acoma moved elsewhere to form Laguna Pueblo near by.

During the nineteenth century, the Acoma people, while trying to uphold traditional life, also adopted aspects of the once-rejected Spanish culture and religion.  By the 1880s, railroads brought increased numbers of settlers and ended the pueblos’ isolation.

In the 1920s, the All Indian Pueblo Council gathered for the first time in more than 300 years. Responding to congressional interest in appropriating Pueblo lands, the U.S. Congress passed the Pueblo Lands Act in 1924.  Despite successes in retaining their land, the Acoma had difficulty during the 20th century trying to preserve their cultural traditions.  Protestant missionaries established schools in the area, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs forced Acoma and other Indian children into boarding schools.  By 1922, most children from the community were in boarding schools, where they were forced to use English and to practice Christianity.  Several generations became cut off from their own culture and language, with harsh effects on their families and societies.

Today, about 300 two- and three-story houses stand on the mesa, with exterior ladders used to access the upper levels where residents live.  Access to the mesa is by a road blasted into the rock face during the 1950s.  Approximately 75 or so families live permanently on the mesa, with the population increasing on the weekends as family members come to visit and tourists, some 55,000 annually, visit for the day.

Acoma Sky City Pueblo has no electricity, running water, or sewage disposal.  A reservation surrounds the mesa, totaling 600 square miles.  Tribal members live both on the reservation and outside it.  Contemporary Acoma culture remains relatively closed, however.  According to the 2000 United States census, about 5,000 people identify themselves as Acoma.

We drove about 20 miles across back country roads to get to Sky City.  All along the route we saw ruins of ancient buildings, all built of native stone and all in various stages of disrepair.  Some were next to brand new houses, and some were over run with weeds…  We have not seen this landscape before…

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We met in the Acoma Visitors Center.  It is the best piece of architecture we have seen on this trip.  The front of the building, and the interiors, are very contemporary, although traditional forms are used in modern ways.  Around the back is a ceremonial plaza, where the design is much more traditional.  It was a treat to see a building this nice here…

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OK, so it wasn’t perfect…

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We boarded a bus and were driven to the top of the mesa, where our tour began.  We saw St. Stephen’s Church, and the adjoining cemetery.  No pictures are allowed inside the church or in the cemetery.

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Note that the vigas are not only authentic and functional, but the ends are carved, and the beams are hand-hewn to be rectangular, not round…

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Scuppers, hand-carved from one piece of wood…

img_9505The buildings atop the mesa range from some original 12th century buildings, plus buildings from the 1500s and 1600s.  They have been added onto over the years, so we can see buildings with parts built from the 1940s, 1960s, and 1980s also… It was VERY interesting.

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Mud and straw “plaster” covers the ancient stone… It needs to be re-done about every 5-7 years…

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Some structures are in the process of restoration and/or reconstruction.  According to one of our caravaners who has been here several time in the past 10 years, the Pueblo is looking better and better every year.  The money from the casino is being spent to improve the Pueblo…

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They do cover the vigas now with sheet metal…

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You read above how there is no running water or sewer.  Water is brought up to the mesa in tank trucks.  Most houses have propane for heat, cooking, and/or lights.  Wood is also used for cooking and heating.  As for sanitary facilities:  The mesa is surrounded with two-story, solar powered, waterless and composting outhouses…

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We walked through the oldest part of the Pueblo.  These houses were originally built in the 1100s and the 1200s, although they have been remodeled and expanded many times over the years.  The original houses were three stories – on the ground floor there were no doors and windows.  The ground floor was accessed via internal stairs or ladders, and the area was used for storage.  The second level was accessed by a ladder from the ground to the second floor.  The living quarters were located on the second floor, with the roof of the ground floor storage areas used as a terrace.  The third floor contained the cooking facilities.  Since heat is generated here, and hot air rises, having the cooking areas on the top floor kept the other areas of the house cooler.  This arrangement allowed security, in that ladders could be drawn up to the “terrace” to prevent intruders from accessing the house…

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As any good architect knows, in desert climates in the northern hemisphere houses should be oriented to the south for maximum control of, protection from, and use of solar heat gain from the sun.  Here we see a world famous architect demonstrate a south-facing front porch…

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The mesa offers many fine views of the surrounding valleys and other rock formations…

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There is a mesa a few miles away from Sky City, which was the original site of the Acoma Pueblo.  They had only been living there a few years when a violent lightning storm destroyed the only access to the mesa.  Fortunately for most of the Acoma, they were away tending their fields and hunting game.  Unfortunately for the two women atop the mesa, they were trapped. Rather than starve to death, they jumped to their deaths… The Acoma have never been back to the mesa since, and they rebuilt their Pueblo at the location where we now stand…

One of the traditional ovens being fire-up…

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At the end of the tour, the lazy people headed for the bus.  We hearty types walked down steps carved into the rock in the 12th century, sometimes needing to use the hand-holds cut into the walls of stone.  It was a great trek!  Until the 1950s this was the only way to get to and from the Pueblo…

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We returned to the visitors center, had a New Mexican lunch of tacos and enchiladas, Christmas style… We drove back to The Villa…

In the evening we held our LAST drivers meeting.  Tomorrow we convoy the 60 miles or so to Albuquerque to park at the Balloon Fiesta… The fiesta starts Friday and runs for nine days.  We will be staying four nights, leaving Tuesday.

Since we must be ready to go tomorrow at 8:00 am, we did much of our hitching up after the drivers meeting.  Lynda cooked a pizza for dinner…

And an enjoyable time was had by all…

2018-08-22 – WBCCI 2018 Southwest Adventure Caravan – Day 4 – Moving to Santa Fe

This morning we found that there had been a little rain overnight…

Today is a travel day, so we started by doing a little laundry, cleaning up, and hitching up The Villa.  We pulled out of the RV park about 9:30.  Today’s travel is to the Pueblo of Pojoaque, just north of Santa Fe.  It is only about 85 miles from Albuquerque… An easy drive…

We stopped alongside the freeway after about an hour to stretch our legs and to keep our Apple watches happy…

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Since we could not check into the next RV park until after noon, we took a detour to chase down the two Frank Lloyd Wright houses in New Mexico…

A few miles north of Pecos is the Alfred Friedman House, “Fir Tree” (1945).  The good news is that we found it easily; the bad news is that it is not visible from the street and it is a private residence, not open to the public…

We respected their privacy and did not pull The Villa up their driveway…

We turned around at the next wide spot in the road, getting mud all over The Villa.  We headed into Sante Fe and looked for the “Pottery House”, 1984.  Obviously, this was built long after FLLW’s death; he did the design in the early 1950s; the lot and the plans were purchased by a builder, who modified and enlarged the house.  It may or may not be a “real” Frank Lloyd Wright house – but we’ll never know.  We could not find it.

So on we went, to the RV park in Pojoaque.  We set up (in the rain…) and walked around.  It is very sparse and bleak in the RV park, but the surrounding high desert is quite pretty…

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Tonight we enjoyed a dinner with the caravaners at Gabriel’s, a very nice New Mexican restaurant near by; we rode along with caravan neighbors from Houston…

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We returned to The Villa, and enjoyed a lovely sunset…

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An enjoyable time was had by all…

2018-08-21 – WBCCI 2018 Southwest Adventure Caravan – Day 3 – Albuquerque

Today’s adventure started at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Museum…

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This is a very nice museum that explains the history and culture of the Pueblo Indians.  There are 19 Pueblos in New Mexico today (historically, there have been more than 100 over the years…), with many more in Arizona, and other adjacent States.  While these cultures and these Indians tend to be grouped together, each Pueblo has a different language, different culture, and different religious traditions.  The museum explored the prehistoric years, the years under the subjugation of the Spanish and then the Mexicans, and finally life under the US, with treaties, broken treaties, lands being stolen, lands being returned, forced boarding school and forced assimilation, and the era of the casinos.  It was very informative.  We will visit many of the Pueblos on the caravan.  The museum even had an exhibit on how their adobe houses were built:

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Note the “logs” poking through the walls;  these are called vigas; we will discuss these more when we get to Santa Fe…

Following the Indian Pueblo Cultural Museum we traveled to the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History…

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Another interesting place…

The museum has three areas: the history, the science, and the uses of nuclear energy.

The history section had exhibits on the early scientists, the Manhattan Project, and other military exhibits, including the cold war.  They had full-size models of the three atomic bombs tested and used in World War II.  This area was of the most interest to us.

Personal side note here:  In the exhibits describing the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki they explained how Col. Paul Tibbetts selected 15 crews to train for these secret missions.  The crews were trained in the new B-29 bombers.  During each mission there were seven planes involved, including three weather reconnaissance planes, plus a back-up plane waiting on the runway on Iwo Jima.  Here is the personal connection:  Our family dentist back in the 1970s and 1980s was Dr. Raymond Biel.  Biel was the co-pilot of one of the weather planes over Hiroshima and the co-pilot of the backup plane on Iwo Jima during the Nagasaki mission.  He learned of the atomic bomb after returning to the base on Tinian… Dr. Biel wrote a novel and retired early from his dental practice…

After the nuclear museum we did a little grocery shopping, fueled the truck, and returned to the RV Park.  Thunderstorms were threatening, but they never materialized;  at 7:00 we had our first “Drivers Meeting”, where we discussed the activities of this location, driving instructions for tomorrow’s travel, and future activities in and around Santa Fe…

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Tomorrow we travel to another RV Park in Pojoaque, just north of Santa Fe… We will also attempt to drive by two Frank Lloyd Wright houses…

And an enjoyable time was had by all…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2018-08-20 – WBCCI 2018 Southwest Adventure Caravan – Day 2 – Albuquerque

Our first outing for the caravan is to the Turquoise Museum, in Albuquerque.  The museum has just recently moved out of Old Town to a much larger facility…

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We carpooled with our RV park neighbors, who are from North Carolina.  We drove about 20 minutes to downtown Albuquerque, to an area near the train station.  This is “skid row” according to the locals; it was clean, but shabby.  In the midst of this area is this “castle”, surrounded by a 12′ tall wall and iron gates.  We were let in and we met with the others in the front courtyard.

We gathered and sat in the chairs provided, and we heard all about turquoise, and the role the family that runs the museum has had on the industry.  The Zachary-Lowry family has been in the turquoise business for five generations.  They have amassed one of the largest collections of rare natural turquoise in the world.  In 1993 they opened their museum, in a strip mall near Old Town.  They have just moved into this facility, and it is not yet officially open.

As interesting as turquoise is, I was more interested in this “castle”.  Lynda and I had been in Albuquerque 4 1/2 years ago for a friend’s wedding.  The day after, as we walked around exploring downtown Albuquerque, waiting to board the return train to California, we came across this place.  There were no signs, and no indication what it was.  It just sits here, adjacent to an overpass across the railroad tracks, next to a row of power lines and adjacent to a run-down antique jewelry store and a dive bar.  Eventually we were able to Google it and found that it is, indeed, a house. Construction started in 2006 and was completed in 2008.  Today we learned that the owner/builder, who was also the owner of the adjacent  run-down antique jewelry store, lived here for about four years before she passed away.  The house stood empty until six months ago, when the Museum of Turquoise started moving in.  One of the interesting facts we learned today was that Mrs. Zachary, who built the house, had been briefly married to a member of the Zachary family many years ago – Zachary, the family that has amassed this fabulous collection of turquoise, and who now operates the museum here… apparently the museum leases the “castle” from the estate and descendants of old Mrs. Zachary.

So after we heard all about turquoise, we were able to tour the house.  And what a house it is… A huge mess of a building, typical of houses designed by old people with some sort of idea of what a 500 year old castle ought to look like.  I was intrigued, and I always love to see odd houses, no matter how ugly they might be… One of the more interesting things of this house is the site:

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The back yard features views of the highway overpass, her own billboard, and razor wire atop the back yard fence.

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The sign for the adjacent bar hovers over the back yard fence.

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And the power lines alongside the driveway that leads to the garage.

But the Museum of Turquoise really is a fascinating place, as is the family that runs it.  As we toured the museum there were five or six members of the family – three generations – were on hand to explain and answer any questions we had.

We learned that New Mexico actually has very few turquoise mines; in the US, the most, and best, turquoise mines are in Nevada.  Turquoise mines are also in Iran, China, and other countries with arid regions.  Since the Indians in New Mexico were great artists and crafters of turquoise, they had to trade for it.  This starts to explain the importance of trading posts in the history of New Mexico.

Turquoise is a semi-precious opaque mineral composed of hydrated copper and aluminum phosphate.  About 85% of turquoise is white, with a soft consistency and other characteristics much like chalk.  Only about 15% has enough color and hardness to be called “natural” turquoise.  The word “natural” is key here.  The US Federal government defines “natural” turquoise to be the one true indicator of semi-precious, gemstone  turquoise.  If you buy turquoise and you are given a “certificate of authenticity”, if it doesn’t say “natural”, you bought junk.  It may be beautiful junk, but it is not the semi-precious, gemstone-quality turquoise you might have thought it was.

Turquoise made from the softer, chalk-like substance, has been treated:  it has been dyed, reconstituted, stabilized, enhanced, oiled and/or waxed.  While it may make  beautiful jewelry, it does not have the enduring quality, or value, of natural turquoise.  Interestingly, the most rare and expensive natural turquoise is mined in the US.  However, some of the highest quality natural turquoise comes from China; because of the vast quantities of Chinese turquoise it is available at a much lower price.

There is also imitation turquoise, otherwise known as plastic.  Again, these pieces may be very beautiful, but they don’t have anywhere near the value of natural turquoise.

So how can you tell if the turquoise necklace you just bought is worth what you paid for it?  How can you protect yourself from misrepresentation?  Get it in writing!  Turquoise dealers are required by law to provide an accurate certificate or receipt, truthfully stating what you have bought.  If he tells you the jewelry you are buying is sterling silver and natural turquoise, and was hand made by  a Native American artisan, ask that this information be spelled out on your receipt.  Any reputable dealer will be glad to give you a detailed written confirmation.

After our morning at the Museum of Turquoise we needed a little lunch.  We drove to El Pinto, a New Mexican restaurant in north Albuquerque that is dripping with charm:

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The food was fabulous!

We returned to the RV park and had a leisurely afternoon.  At 5:00 we joined four other caravan couples for the first “Fandango”.  This caravan calls the traditional “Get Acquainted Meeting” (GAM) a Fandango, just for fun…

So we had happy hours, meeting and getting acquainted with these other four couples.  We will do this seven times, so that after about two weeks we will have had a chance to meet and spend time with all 60 caravaners.

And after the Fandango we returned to the Villa. And an enjoyable time was had by all…

 

 

 

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