Friday, April 29, 2016

Currently: April

Currently living/working in: We are finishing up our environmental educator job in New Mexico May 5! This job was pretty awesome … and we may even come back for another season!
Photos by: Leanne Kimbrough

Current mood: The days are long and these kids are darn tiring … but we have lots of fun and the end is in sight.

Currently excited about: Naturally, J is excited about his Denali climb next month! The month of May will be dedicated to book writing for me, which is equally as exciting, but not as nerve-wracking. Oh, by the way, I rented a bungalow at a writer's residency for the whole month of May! Just my laptop, no cell phone service and 2 other writers ... pretty certain I will be focused on book writing.

Currently not excited about: Fights with health insurance. I know we are not alone in this. 

Currently worried about: Potential for medical bills (see above).

Currently thankful for: Living expenses included in this job. When we move around for all these different types of jobs, some are more lucrative than others, but overall, we don’t make much money. People often ask us how we get by, and part of it is because of jobs like this that include all our living and food expenses. When you cut those things (Internet, Groceries, Gas, etc.) out of the equation and you live in the middle of nowhere and you go backpacking for fun, you can really bank some $$. 

Currently proud of: Educating grades K-3 about nature. I’ve always loved teaching, but I never wanted to be a teacher. So it has been fun to be in this temporary role in a non-traditional setting (i.e., from a canoe). We’ve been getting compliments left and right about “being naturals” at this, which is definitely nice to hear. Like I said above, we liked it so much, we may come back. 

Currently regretting: Shoddy dentist work. I got a tooth filled in December and the filling ALREADY came out. We sort of were skeptical of our dentist when we were the ONLY ONES IN THE OFFICE AT EVERY VISIT. 

Currently amazed by: Seasonal allergies. From our 2014 summer in Oregon to our summer in New Zealand to our 2015 summer on the East Coast, J’s allergies were so bad, I’m surprised he didn’t fracture a rib from his sneezes. But this year in New Mexico? They seem to be non-existent for him. I, on the other hand, seem to have an allergy to something here … Having NEVER had an allergy to anything, I guess there is a first time for everything. 

Current confession: We have a few friends hitting the CDT and other trails this summer … I am insanely jealous. 

Current guilty pleasure:  Protein drinks with tons of fruits and veggies every morning! This is a kick our boss has gotten us on. 

Currently reading: “Together on Top of the World” by Phil and Susan Ershler. I borrowed J’s Kindle again. I'm pretty sure I'm in love with this device versus having a real book for the pure fact of its convenience in our nomadic life. "Together on Top of the World" is mainly about Phil’s journey as a mountain guide … with Crohn’s disease. It was extremely informative, but also a little scary. Remind me not to read any mountaineering books while J is climbing Denali next month. 

Currently watching on Netflix: Limited bandwidth=no Netflix. We ran out of Internet once while here and don’t want it to happen again. Our DVD collection is in storage across the country (plus, we already watched through it when we had limited Internet in Maine and Massachusetts), so we have resorted to borrowed DVDs, which include classics like, “The Blue Lagoon” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

New Mexico Adventures: Valles Caldera National Preserve

Bandalier National Monument is not the only National Park Service property near us. In October 2015, the NPS purchased the bordering Valles Caldera, establishing it as a national preserve.

This piece of real estate has a crazy history.

Imagine the scene. Mountains. Valleys. HUGE crater. This very distinct bowl among the other land forms is a result of those massive volcanos that happened in the area 1 million years ago. After the volcano erupted, it sort of imploded, leaving a 13-mile wide circular depression. It is pretty wild to imagine a volcano once standing in its place.
From the 1870s through the year 2000, the Valles Caldera land was privately owned. It was only this past year that the National Park Service took management over from a federal trust, thus allowing the public to easily visit and explore. Of course the NPS has zero funding, so access to the 89,000 acres will take some time. You can't backpack there (yet). The big draw will be mountain biking and backcountry access via vehicles, although the roads are still not open for driving this season.

Given all this, we just day hiked as much as we could, doing about 8 miles around some of the backcountry roads. Besides the wow factor of this huge crater, the park also has a number of structures on the property leftover from the private ownership and from movie sets. There have been about 16 movies and TV shows filmed in Valles Caldera as early as the 1970s. More recently, these titles include "The Missing" (with Tommy Lee Jones and Val Kilmer) and "Buffalo Girls" (Angelica Huston).
 TV set from "Buffalo Girls"

Movie set from "The Missing"
Mystery statues in the backcountry??

It is always fun to see the NPS take over new areas of the country and we are interested to see how this preserve develops over time!

Saturday, April 23, 2016

New Mexico Adventures: San Pedro Peaks Wilderness

One of the first things we did after we accepting this job in New Mexico was map out our weekend adventures. We had grand plans of several backpacking trips.

However, we didn't account for the unpredictable spring synonymous with living in the mountains (case in point, I packed shorts and sandals. I will probably never wear shorts and sandals here. What was I thinking? I have barely worn short sleeves.). 

So last Saturday when we woke up to snow at 8,000 feet and plans to camp at 10,500 feet, we decided to make some adjustments. Interesting fact about New Mexico. Ninety percent of the state receives less than 20 inches of moisture annually. We are in that 10 percent part of the state that receives more. But I digress (again). 

Without any of our winter camping gear, day hiking would have to suffice for the snowy weekend. We still headed to the Vacas Trail in the San Predro Peaks Wilderness. Then we encountered speed bump #2. Forest Road 70 to access the trailhead for the Vacas Trail was still closed for the season.

Thankfully, it was just an extra 5-mile roundtrip to Gregorio Lake, a manmade reservoir. The lake was well worth the extra miles. It is an extremely popular spot in the summer for anglers, so to have it all to ourselves was a treat. 

We were not really alone, though. 
Why yes, that is a mountain lion track.

Aside from the extra miles, the trail was great and it was nice to enjoy some winter scenes again. Now, go away winter. 

By the time we returned to our car, the daytime temperatures had warmed a bit and the dirt roads we traveled were not snow-covered. It is important to mention that this particular trailhead is about 15 miles from where we live. Remember that.

We started making our way back home. I was dreaming of a shower, a cup of tea and curling up in bed. 

Ever try driving in thick mud? Not only are you at risk for getting stuck, but it is similar to driving on slick oil or black ice. J gripped the steering wheel as the car fishtailed all over. Up ahead, we could see an Audi that slid off the side of the road, waving us down. J found a suitable spot for us to stop and help. Soon after, another car came from the other direction. The consensus was that the mud was horrific for the next 15 miles. The next 15 miles that would take us to our doorstep. Avoid if possible, the fellow travelers advised. 

For us, the alternative was a 100-mile detour. 

We took the 100-mile detour. 

Don't worry, I still made tea, but opted to hold off on a shower. 

The next morning, we woke to a foot of snow (so, so happy we vetoed camping) and no power. The shower would have to wait another 12 hours until our power came back on. 

So, yes, we had a pretty epic weekend, even if it wasn't exactly as planned. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

Backpacking New Mexico: Bandelier National Monument

J & I are on a quest to hit all the national parks, but often times, we overlook the monuments. So we were elated when we realized Bandelier National Monument was just about an hour from our doorstep and last weekend, we made the trip to explore.

Bandelier is most known for its prehistoric ruins and unexcavated archaeological sites. Remember that supervolcano that I mentioned referencing the Jemez Mountains surrounding where we live? Well, that same volcano had a lot to do with the formation of Bandalier. Its ash left behind several rock types, including tuff (a soft red rock), pumice (J's favorite foot rub accessory) and obsidian (volcanic glass - almost like black onyx). The Native Americans built their homes into the rock and lived off the land.
Today's leftover cliff dwellings and petroglyphs from the Ancestral Pueblo people tell the story of more than 100,000 years of human occupation in the canyons. These Native American homesteads are so cool, even Indian Jones would be mesmerized.
Because these preserved ruins are easily accessible in the front country of the park, few people head more than 3-4 miles past the visitor center, leaving the backcountry virtually untouched. We climbed the mesas to get a bird's eye view of the dwellings, then scampered in and out of Lummis and Alamo canyons across the desertscape on a 16-mile loop trail. This route passes Yapashi Pueblo, which is an unrestored site with only a small foundation remaining from the 350-room dwelling.

In 2011, the park was ravaged by both the Las Conchas Fire and subsequent flooding. The burn sites are slowly regrowing and the trails are still being cleared and repaired. In fact, we came upon some equipment left behind by park maintenance. We would normally "pack it out" in an effort to leave no trace, but these items were a bit heavy. We instead wrote down the coordinates and notified the park rangers.

Monday, April 11, 2016

New Mexico Adventures: San Antonio Hot Springs

One of the great things about this job is that we have a solid 2 days off each weekend. This means every Saturday and Sunday, we become weekend warriors and explore the surrounding area! I'm behind on my updates, so here is a report from our first weekend here, when we got ourselves in hot water ...
Apparently, New Mexico is the hot spot (no pun intended) for the perfect natural soaking tub. This is due to the residual geothermal heat from the cataclysmic volcanic eruptions in this region that occurred 13 million years ago.
Our first hot spring to check out was San Antonio, which is a short drive from Fenton Ranch, where we live and work.

San Antonio Hot Springs is a collection of 4 undeveloped mineral hot tubs (ranging from 105-129 degrees!) flowing out of a steep hillside with phenomenal views.

There is 4WD road access to San Antonio Hot Springs during the summer months, but the gate to the road is closed this time of year. So we had to walk the 5-mile (one way) jeep road, but it was extremely flat and even scenic at times.

San Antonio Hot Springs is pretty popular, even when you have to hike in. But we pretty much beat the crowds getting to the pools around lunch time on a Saturday. Most people are driving up from the city and only getting to the trailhead by lunch. So we only had to share the space with 6-8 other people.

Anyway, it was pretty cool ... I mean hot. (come on, LOL with me)

We also explored a few other tourist haunts around the Jemez Mountains, including the neat Gilman Tunnels, which are old railroad tunnels carved through red rock canyon walls.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

RIP Vernon Miller

This is our dear friend, Vern. Vern died today of stupid cancer.  

We'd like to memorialize Vern not only because he had a huge impact on our lives, but because he is a perfect example of how things can change so drastically in our lives and you really need to hug your loved ones tight and seize the day. 

This time last year, Vern was working, getting close to marrying his love, Ann, and plotting retirement with big travel plans. 

In August 2015, Vern started having some medical troubles stemming from his lifelong condition called esophageal achalasia. Basically his esophagus stopped functioning, subjecting him to countless infections. The doctors worked tirelessly to build his immune system back up and replace his esophagus. Then, in February, Vern received the unfortunate diagnostic news that he had an aggressive form of esophageal cancer that spread into his bloodstream. He was given 6 months to 2 years to live. Within 2 months, he lost his battle.

We met Vern in 2007. Vern hired Justin for his position as director of parks and recreation in Hopkinton, NH. J's recreation budget was very small, so he relied on a recreation committee to implement all his programs. Through J's 4 years working in Hopkinton, Vern was one of the committee's most dedicated volunteers. 

He was our Santa Claus. He was our Easter Bunny. He was the mastermind behind the elaborate Haunted Houses. He was the MC at our July 4th event.  He was one who initiated ideas and was the first to step up and say I can do that!  He was everywhere!  

Oddly enough, Vern and Ann met through the recreation committee. J brought Ann on board and a few weeks later, caught Vern and Ann holding hands in the kitchen. 

Leaving New Hampshire was a very difficult decision for us. J loved his job. I had finally made the switch to freelance writing. We loved our life. We wanted some grand adventures (i.e., thru hiking the Appalachian Trail), so ultimately, those won out. Now that we have traveled and lived all over the U.S., we can say in earnest that Hopkinton was the one place we would settle down (if we can settle down again) and it was mainly because of the people we met there.  

Every time we move, J sends out an email telling all our friends what we are doing and where we will be.  Within minutes, Vern would always email me back and say that he and Ann were coming to visit.  They visited us at Bears Den in Virginia and at RimRock in Oregon. Whenever we made it back to NH for visit or even just passing by, Ann and Vern would welcome us with open arms, gathering some of the volunteers together. They even hosted J when he was invited to speak at a NH Parks and Rec conference.  

It is funny how you think of someone being invincible. When he was given that ugly timeframe, we thought for sure he would beat the odds. 

I think Vern would want everyone to know that you should live life to its fullest. Vern, since your time was cut short, we will continue to do that for you. And, in an ending message, we, the "Wandering La Vignes," would like to say on Vern's behalf ... get out there and don't wait.  Life is precious and seize the day!

Vern, you will always hold a special place in our heart and hope you will look down upon us as we explore for you ... 

Friday, April 1, 2016

Scenes from Fenton Ranch

Have you heard the rumor is that New Mexico is a desert?

Living in the heart of the Jemez Mountains, that rumor couldn't be further from the truth. Up at nearly 8,000 feet, the matrix of lush meadows and meandering streams guarded on all sides by aspen groves, conifer forests and jagged canyon walls tells me the desert must be in another part of the state.

And, no, spring has not found New Mexico either!
It's been one week since we settled into Fenton Ranch, the offsite getaway used by a private school in Albuquerque. The school uses the ranch for spring and fall programs, as well summer camp. The ranch becomes a very special place for the students, who come year after year throughout their school years.
Our boss, Jamie, has been showing us the ropes of all the programs and we've all been prepping the materials in anticipation for the masses.

We made bark boats for the kindergarteners to float down the creek. 

Our first group of kids (18 kids at a time) will arrive on Tuesday. The 3 of us will run 4 kindergarten day programs next week, sending the kids on a scavenger hunt that will help them get to know the ranch--from the fire circle to the meadow to the stream to the dorms to the journal circle.

The following week, we will host 4 different groups of first graders for an overnight adventure, complete with hiking, tree identification and composting. J & I developed a Leave No Trace lesson about what items don't belong in the wilderness and how long they take to decompose (glass bottles=1 million years!!). We also had to brush up on our tree species so we don't get schooled by a first grader (did you know that the bark of juniper trees used to be used to make diapers??).

Over the course of the last 2 weeks here, the third graders will come for 2 nights and their activities range from canoeing at the local Fenton Lake to hiking to bird identification.

We are certain our time here will go extremely fast, but we also feel we will thoroughly working with Jamie and being at Fenton Ranch!