Old Trees, New Trees

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IMG_8876These pictures were taken from the same spot on the Gateway Arch grounds, looking north toward the Arch. The top photo was taken in October 2014, just before workers started removing all of the rosehill ash trees that lined the walkways. The ash trees were threatened by the emerald ash borer, and for that and other reasons, CityArchRiver, the group that is spearheading the renovation of the grounds, decided to remove them all at once.

They are being replaced by London plane trees, which are said to be much heartier and more disease resistant. The bottom photo was taken last week; the walkways and new paths around the Arch have been reopening in increments, and this area just became available a couple of weeks ago.

It will be a while, though, before the new trees will provide much shade.

(You can read more about the trees here, and about the overall CityArchRiver project here.)

Back To The Arch

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Construction of the new museum that will be mostly underneath the Arch grounds.

They’re making some progress on the Arch grounds. More than a year ago, contractors for CityArchRiver project started cutting down all of the ash trees, and when they did that, they closed off all of the sidewalks that criss-crossed the park. Just in the last couple of weeks, they reopened some of the sidewalks, and today—sunny, and although it was a chilly 35 degrees, it was the warmest it’s going to be over the next week—may have been my last chance to get over there before the end of the year.

It turns out only the north end is open, and not fully open at that. But it’s definitely better than it was over the summer, and it’s nice to be able to stretch your legs and not be confined to the construction zone right in front of the Arch legs.

According to the project’s website, most everything will be done soon except for the construction of the new museum and visitor center, which is scheduled to be done in the summer of 2017 (a little optimistic, maybe?). It will sure be nice when the whole thing is finished and all of the temporary chain-link fence and construction vehicles are gone. At least, by the time it starts to warm up again in the spring, we’ll have a lot more of the park we can walk in.

A Few More Santa Fe Pictures

img_8684The church above is the San Miguel Mission, the oldest church structure in the United States. The original adobe walls and altar were built around 1610, and although it was partially destroyed several times during its existence, those walls still stand. There are more beautiful churches in Santa Fe, but none shine under that beautiful blue New Mexican sky like this one.

This is our last morning in Santa Fe; in a couple of hours we’ll be on a plane heading back to the real world. I have a few more pictures (last bunch, I promise), that didn’t really fit in with the other groups I posted. These range from raw nature to deep-fried kitsch, but that’s how things are here. There are lots of tourists and plenty of gimcrack to feed them, but it doesn’t take long to get away from all of that into some awe-inspiring natural beauty.

So, so long Santa Fe, until next time.

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Kasha-Katuwe

img_8598With just three days left in his term, the first President Clinton declared seven new “National Monuments” by executive order, setting aside large areas of environmentally sensitive land and ensuring that they would  receive federal protection from commercial development. (The move wasn’t popular with some western politicians, who didn’t want to see their states’ land being put under federal control. “What the president seems to be doing is creating an environmental legacy for himself,” said Rep. Dennis Rehberg R-Mont.—as if that’s a bad thing.)

One of the monuments was Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument in northern New Mexico, about 25 miles west of Santa Fe. Kasha-Katuwe—which means “White Cliffs” in the native Pueblo language—is an area of bizarre conical rock formations, created from massive volcanic eruptions in the Jemez Mountains some 6-7 million years ago. The eruptions left layered pumice, ash and tuff deposits up to 1,000 feet deep, which gradually eroded over time to form the tent rocks and canyons.

The U.S Bureau of Land Management maintains the site, which has recreational trails that wind through the formations and through a narrow “slot canyon”—with emphasis on the narrow. We visited yesterday on a beautiful New Mexico morning (and to be honest, I’ve spent a dozen mornings in New Mexico over three trips here, and every single one of them has been beautiful). The photos below are some of what we saw.

El Santuario de Chimayo

img_8366Near the small town of Chimayo in Northern New Mexico is a chapel called el Santuario de Chimayo. Built in about 1816, the chapel is a National Historic Landmark, and is well-known for the supposedly curative powers of the dirt that visitors can dig from a hole in the chapel floor.

The chapel is a destination for many pilgrimages, particularly during Holy Week, when the faithful walk long distances to Chimayo—some from as far away as Albuquerque—to offer prayers. (Such a walk would be difficult, but beautiful. The scenery along the roads to Chimayo is spectacular, particularly the last 10 miles or so, which are part of the High Road To Taos.)

The Santuario is much more than the chapel, though. In the gardens around the chapel are countless pieces of religious art, including many representations of the Virgin Mary from different cultures. Even for the non-Catholics like me, it’s impressive.

About that dirt: visitors can dig the “holy dirt” and take it with them, and rub it on their bodies in hopes that it will cure their ailments. According to Wikipedia, the church replaces the dirt with dirt from the surrounding hillsides, “for a total of about 25 or 30 tons a year.”

Photos are not allowed inside the chapel, but check out the interactive panorama on this page to get an idea of what it’s like inside. As for what’s outside, though, see below.

The Sandia Peak Tram

img_8044On the edge of Albuquerque, N.M., are the Sandia Mountains, the tallest of which, Sandia Peak, towers over the city and dominates the landscape. There is an aerial tram that runs from the base of mountain (elevation 6,559 feet) to the 10,378-foot crest, and I’d wanted to ride it ever since I learned of its existence. Yesterday, I got the chance.

The tram consists of two cars that can hold up to 50 people each, which travel a horizontal distance of 2.7 miles while climbing nearly 4,000 feet. The views from the peak are spectacular—supposedly you can see an 11,000-square-mile area—but the tram ride is equally amazing. It goes up the steep, rocky side of the mountain, over multiple canyons and rock formations that seem inexplicable. At one point, the tram car is more than 1,000 feet off the ground. The 15-minute ride, to me, seemed to last about half that time, but fortunately the ride is a round-trip, so you get a second chance at the scenery.

At the top, there are all kinds of activities, including a restaurant, multiple trails for hiking, and of course, during the winter months, skiing, with lifts on the east side of the mountain. Be warned, though, if you live your life at 600 feet above sea level like I do, it’s quite a change when you get up to 10,000 feet. Still, I’d hike up there every weekend if I could.

 

Compton Hill Water Tower

Near the intersection of Grand Avenue and Highway 44 in St. Louis stands the Compton Hill Water Tower, built in the 1890s to improve water delivery to city residents. The “guts” of the tower is actually a 140-foot-tall, six-foot-diameter standpipe. The city found that somewhat unsightly, so the brick and limestone tower was built around it. It no longer functions as a water tower, but the 179-foot structure is on the National Register of Historic Places, and visitors who climb the 198 steps that spiral around the standpipe can get some great views of the city.

The tower is open the first Saturday of every month, and evenings during full moons. I’ve always wanted to visit, and today I finally made the climb. See the photos below for proof.

 

For more information on the tower,  visit this web page run by the city of St. Louis, or the Facebook page of the Compton Hill Water Tower Preservation Society.