The Moon Balloon


There is a former NASA astronaut who is partnering with a private company to bring the concept of hot air ballooning to a whole new level. And the gringa is fascinated. If any of my dear readers are familiar with the annual hot air balloon festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico, think of that but on steroids.

Former astronaut Ron Garan and spaceflight company, World View, want to provide the ultimate thrill ride out to the edges of space with passengers gliding peacefully into the heavens aboard a giant space balloon. Garan, of course, is the ace pilot of the airship.

When Garan left NASA almost three years ago, it was for just such a purpose as this. He wanted to share space travel with regular folks on a full-time basis. And what a way to make his dream come true! He will be the first pilot ever to achieve such a mission. But why is he doing this? Is it for glory? Well, actually, Garan has more philosophical reasons behind his career move.

Garan believes that such an experience changes a person’s perspective. He believes he can help contribute to changing the world for the better by providing an experience that changes individuals for the better. The gringa quotes Garan’s own words:

“I left NASA… for really one reason. That was to share the perspective that we have of our planet from space and to do that full-time… I truly believe that perspective has profound implications for how we tackle the problems we face, how we deal with each other, politics, for every aspect of human life.”

Now his sentiment may sound rather lofty, but there is actually medical evidence that supports his reasoning. It’s called the “overview effect” and is defined as being a “cognitive shift in awareness” that occurs when an individual observes Earth from orbit. This causes a person’s perspective to change from seeing people categorized by national boundaries to seeing that mankind is one united race, the human race, and Earth is home to us all.

Passengers of the “moon balloon” (the gringa understands it doesn’t really go to the Moon, but, the name is catchy so please humor me, dear readers) won’t have the weightlessness experience of those who have a suborbital ride. It will be a gentler experience, a quiet ride above the Earth’s atmosphere. From take off to touch down, the ride will last about five to six hours, two of those hours being a cruise at maximum altitude for the viewing pleasure of the crew and passengers.

A test flight without paying passengers has already been successfully staged. Although the opening date has not yet been set for tourists to begin booking a seat, that may be good news. It will probably take folks a bit of time to set aside the $75, 000 a ticket will cost.

In addition to space tourism, World View also wants to engage in the science and technology of Earth observation, weather models and using data to help prevent devastating wildfires. This can be done by incorporating a satellite system into the balloon vehicle model being used for passenger payloads.

$75,000 is a bit steep for the gringa to think she’ll be floating in the atmosphere anytime soon. However, I always try to look on the bright side so I’m holding out for a coupon.

 

Source & Image Credit: www.worldviewexperience.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hiking Cochiti Pueblo’s Tent Rocks


If you ever find yourself near Albuquerque, New Mexico with a free day on your hands, you should spend that time at the Pueblo de Cochiti, specifically at the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks. It is an unforgettable landscape that is absolutely breathtaking. The fifty-five mile drive north is well worth it to explore this beautiful plateau that is expertly painted by nature.

The Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is located on the Pueblo de Cochiti. The people of the Pueblo speak their native language, Keres and live their cultural heritage with no private employers or private economic enterprise. Their claim to fame is stunning handcrafted jewelry, beautiful pottery, and artistic native drums. The primary source of revenue for the Cochiti people are lease agreements with private investors of residential units on Lake Cochiti. The Cochiti people live in the heart of their original homeland and consider responsible management of the land, air and water of the reservation of primary importance because it enables them to maintain their cultural traditions.

The Bureau of Land Management considers the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument to be an outdoor laboratory of nature. Agents study the geologic processes that continually take place to shape this unusual landscape. A visit is incomplete without hiking the trails. They are quite rugged so wear proper hiking boots, unlike the gringa who wore cute little sandals. When the caveman and the gringa made their trip, it was a day after some heavy rains. Often, along the trail, there would be puddles of water or the trail would be muddy. Usually I could go around. In the image above, the caveman and I had reached a spot where the trail was so narrow and muddy, my only option was to crabwalk the rock walls to go over. So, if you do plan to be cute rather than practical, be sure to take a hiking buddy who can give you a hand over the muddy spots.

Also take lots of water, pack a picnic and make sure you have plenty of gas in the car. There was one little cafe about fifteen minutes away but, being a mom and pop operation, if the day was slow, they would just close up shop early. There’s no guarantee you can resupply if you have a need. So, arrive at Tent Rocks fully prepared. Also note that no pets are allowed in the park and there are no exceptions. Don’t make the mistake of showing up with Fido in the car on a hot day and realize you can’t stay. Rather than suffer that disappointment, leave Fido at the hotel.

These unusual rock formations are the result of volcanic activity from the Jemez volcanic field that happened millions of years ago. Pumice, ash and other debris piled up about 1,000 feet thick. The cone rock formations occurred when fiery rock fragments were violently flung down the slopes of the volcanoes, like an avalanche of fire. This is called a pyroclastic flow.

A fascinating feature of these formations are caps on top of many of the cones. Huge boulders precariously balance atop the formations. It made the gringa imagine the child of a giant race playing little games with rocks to see how many he could get to stay and not fall. These cap rocks are actually protective to the earthen cone, protecting it from erosion. The tents that have lost their caps are disintegrating. Some of the tent rocks reach as high as ninety feet.

The caveman and I chose the “long” trail to hike and, after an hour and a half of hiking, finally made it to the uppermost peak. The view was fabulous and well worth the effort. Once again he found it fascinating that throughout all the mud on the trails, clambering over rocky obstacles and jumping down from rugged ledges, when we finally returned to the car my cute little flip flops were still shiny like new and the gringa didn’t even have a streak of dust on her black leggings. He believes I must possess some form of magical powers. The gringa thinks the power was only within the earth we were exploring. Maybe that power likes me as much as I appreciate it and responds with some kind of enveloping magical aura to keep me clean! Yes, my imagination ran away with me while hiking that conically hypnotic fairyland landscape.

The Ranch Of The Swallows


The featured picture above is a “shepherd’s bed”. Historically, such a thing would have been situated over a cooking area. If the dear reader looks closely at the image, an oven carved out of the adobe can be seen in the corner. The bed served to control smoke and would be a warm place to sleep. Usually the arthritic old folks, someone sick, or the babies would sleep there because of its cuddly warmth. The caveman and the gringa got to see this interesting contraption when we visited El Rancho de los Golondrinas, or, The Ranch of the Swallows. The Ranch is a living history museum with original buildings and much of the furnishings dating back to the eighteenth century. It is located on two hundred acres within a rural farming valley just south of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

As the original family and families of their ranch hands flourished and prospered, the original barn was eventually converted into a chapel and a larger barn constructed. The family chapel still stands and visitors can see a beautiful, intricately carved altar and many handmade icons of the patron saint of farmers, Isidoro.

The Ranch was practically self-sufficient and had its own blacksmith shop. To view it, visitors enjoy a stroll down a shady lane that passes a marsh. The marsh is dotted with colorful flowers and filled with birds that populate the thick grove of trees around this precious natural water feature.

Most of the buildings are original and date back as far as the early 1700s. Some buildings have been reconstructed but are still historically accurate and blend in so well visitors can’t tell one from another. One of these buildings is a general store where visitors can enjoy an eighteenth century shopping experience. The gringa recommends the sarsaparilla which will be served up to you by a volunteer dressed in period clothing posing as a local villager.

Throughout the year the ranch hosts a number of events and shows that realistically depict life on the frontier in early New Mexico. There are festivals, music, dance, rodeos and many other aspects of life re-enacted to share with guests the culture and influences of Spanish, Mexican and Territorial periods of the Southwest.

The gringa and the caveman came away from this experience enriched. We decided that although we enjoy our modern, technologically advanced lifestyle, we can appreciate the simplicity and beauty of life at a place like that ranch. Sure, it was full of hardship and extremely labor intensive, but what an incredible sense of community to live and work in a conclave like that. The only thing the gringa would really throw a fit about missing would be my very large and powerful hot water heater.

Santuario de Chamayo


If you ever travel to the Santa Fe area of New Mexico, it would be well worth your time to visit the Santuario de Chamayo. It was almost an ethereal experience for me. There is no doubt that something special, spiritual and magical is present and will touch the open hearts, minds and souls of those who visit.

A traditionally styled southwestern adobe chapel was completed by the community effort of Bernardo Abeyta and the residents of El Potrero in 1816. It was constructed in honor of Nuestro Senor de Esquipulas. Up until 1929 the Santuario remained in the Abeyta family. The reason the Abeyta family and the El Potrero community wanted to do such a thing was because of what they considered to be miraculous events.

After performing penances, a friar witnessed a light burst forth from the ground near the Santa Cruz River. Digging in the sand, he discovered a crucifix that would be christened Nuestro Senor de Esquipulas (Our Lord of Esquipulas). On three separate occasions the crucifix was paraded to the nearby village only to disappear and be found again within the same hole. The people accepted that the crucifix desired to remain in Chamayo and erected a chapel there in its honor. It did not take long for miraculous healing events to take place.

In 1929 private citizens purchased the chapel from the Abeyta family and gave it to the Catholic Archdiocese of Santa Fe, New Mexico. The crucifix remains in the new Santuario that replaced the old chapel in the same sandy hole where it was originally discovered. The locals consider the supernatural power to not be within the crucifix but, rather, in the “tierra bendita” or, “blessed earth”. Visitors are allowed to enter the “dirt room” and remove a bit of the sand surrounding the crucifix. It is commonly eaten, dissolved in water to drink, or made into a paste that can be applied to an afflicted body part.

The gringa must admit to claiming a bit of the blessed earth for herself. My intention was to return home and, after a time of contemplation, I was going to apply some of it to my head and drink some in a cup of herbal tea. My hope was to be cured of my epilepsy. However, I have felt too reverently toward this bit of sand I have encased in a crystal container from Israel. I can’t decide exactly why I feel I shouldn’t do it, but I trust whatever my intuition is telling me. Maybe one day, but not today.

Local legends of the Native Americans claim this site was once a Native American shrine and holy place. It is thought that the sand pit containing the crucifix is what remains from a pool that once existed and was fed by hot springs known for their curative powers within the water and mud.

Adjacent to the “dirt room” in the chapel is another room that contained at the time of my visit about sixty or seventy pairs of crutches hanging about on one wall. Reportedly they belonged to people who entered the dirt room upon them and no longer needed them when they exited after using the blessed earth. Another wall in this room is covered with photos of people who were healed here. They number in the thousands. It is astounding.

For those with loved ones unable to travel and put their faith to the test and be healed, the amazing thing is that thousands of testimonies have reported healings over long distances through the power of prayer at this location. The grounds have a beautiful garden decorated with Madonnas and crucifixes from all over the world. My favorites were a Vietnamese Madonna and child and a wooden crucifix of carved rosettes. Surrounding this magnificent garden array are multiple altars and chapels as well as make shift shrines created by visitors over time. They are adorned with candles, rosaries and hand made crosses and all feature photos of loved ones who are prayed for to receive healing no matter how far away they may be.

One beautiful stone altar was full of rosaries and candles placed there by visitors who were praying for healing of themselves or loved ones. An outdoor chapel had thousands upon thousands of photos. It was astonishing. The Santuario is very accommodating to visitors. The most common areas are filled with photographs making it necessary to improvise new shrines within the grounds. Permission is also given upon request to place a cross on the fence surrounding the parking area so loved ones can continue to receive prayers for healing. Many of these crosses were handmade out of sticks and twigs tied together with grasses picked up from the sanctuary grounds, thus considered as blessed as the soil surrounding the famous crucifix. Throughout the Garden were more elaborate and larger crosses visitors had erected for loved ones. These beautiful testimonies bordered the parking lot at the very edge of the Sanctuario.

Today the Santuario is served by the Sons of the Holy Family who also serve in Silver Spring, Maryland, in Spain, Italy, Mexico and various South American countries. The Holy Family Parish faithfully tends to the needs of the tens of thousands of visitors who arrive every year searching for a healing miracle.

A Day at Nambe Pueblo


When the caveman and I took a trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico, we spent a day at the Nambe Pueblo. I enjoyed photographing a pretty church with old mission style architecture. The highlight of our day, however, was hiking to the top of Nambe Falls of Rio Nambe and seeing a panoramic view of the Pueblo stretched out before us. The hiking paths were quite rugged and the river rushing full and muddy after receiving record rainfall just days before we arrived.

This spectacular waterfall is situated amidst 20,000 acres of high desert. A recreation area centered around the falls is open to visitors for camping, hiking and fishing. Although at the time of our visit no fishing was allowed as they were undergoing a restoration project of the fish population after a catastrophic fire affected the Nambe Reservoir and resulted in a devastating complete fish kill.

The hike to the falls is a quarter of a mile, uphill, in rough, rocky terrain so it’s pretty slow going. The nearest restaurant or food store is twenty minutes away. If you decide to go for a hike, be sure to pack a picnic and plenty of water. Also, wear good shoes that you don’t mind getting wet and muddy. The caveman got pretty muddy and could not understand how the gringa arrived back to the car after traveling the same trails and the white trim around my cute little flats was spotless. I just say, “It’s all part of my mystery and charm.”

If you’re not too pooped out after the hike to the falls, you might want to check out the tribe’s buffalo herd. The Inter Tribal Buffalo Council has been tending their herd since 1994. When the buffalo were decimated by Europeans throughout New Mexico, the Pueblo peoples suffered greatly. To reintroduce them back into their culture has great meaning and significance and is symbolic of renewal and triumph. The traditional Buffalo Dance has taken on new meaning at Nambe. The herd is not reared simply to be seen and as a reminder of history. Occasionally the tribe slaughters in the traditional respectful manner in accordance to their traditions in order to feed the elders and tribal members. A trail loop two miles long can be traveled where hikers can view the buffalo at pasture against the stunning backdrop of the Pueblo lands framed by the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Being a patio gardener, the gringa also took pleasure in the Pueblo’s community garden and vineyard. The tribe grows four grape varieties, corn and a few various other crops and herbs. The abundance of the community’s harvest feeds the seniors living on the Pueblo as well as the entire community at the harvest festival held at the end of the growing season. The community garden also provides an educational opportunity to pass down the Tewa language with the youth learning the native names for the plants and foods they help to cultivate.

The tribes settled in the northern New Mexico region have populated the Pueblo of Nambe since the fourteenth century. Situated in the beautiful Sangre de Cristo Mountains a short drive from Santa Fe, it makes a great day trip with the opportunity to appreciate the picturesque beauty of the landscape, experience living history, and bring home handcrafted textiles and pottery.

Wine Tasting In Santa Fe


Any trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico should include a visit to the Estrellas del Norte Vineyard. It is a local operation that produces fantastic wines. The vineyard is small enough that the staff can really be attentive and engaging. We explored the grounds which were filled with sculptures and features that ranged from Zen-inspired to fairyland whimsy. A visit to the wine tasting room is the perfect way to end the day. The ladies who served us were very informed and answered all of our questions while at the same time being so genuinely funny I could have sat an drank wine all night with them. Instead, we purchased a few bottles to take home and the romantic day turned into an even more romantic evening for the gringa and her caveman. Sweet!

Pojoaque Pueblo


The caveman and I took a trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico in 2013. While we were there we visited the Pojoaque Pueblo. The Poeh Cultural Center was such an inspiring place to visit. They have many classes available designed to restore native traditions and the native language of the Pojoaque tribe.

The art studios feature different mediums. We saw designers creating beautiful jewelry. There also was, of course, pottery and sculpture. One of the galleries featured an exhibit of a tribal member who is a fashion designer, Patricia Michaels, featured on Project Runway. The permanent exhibit “Nah Poeh Meng”, Tewa for “The Continuous Path” depicts the history of the Pueblo in seasonal divisions. I found it fascinating.

Whether we were exploring the grounds that were filled with interesting sculptures and architecture, or educating ourselves through the many historical pieces on display in the museum, we were equally captivated. The Poeh cultural center is a vital part of Pojoaque’s thriving tribal community. If you ever get the chance, you should visit.