Monthly Archives: September 2021

Old, New, and Middle Aged

At first Natural Bridges National Monument seems a lot like Arches National Park, but it’s very different. Natural Bridges is in the southeastern part of Utah that was the last unexplored territory in the USA. Ruth and I were led to Natural Bridges by the couple from San Antonio who made the mistake of driving a camper up nearby Moki Dugway. Ruth and I decided to focus on Natural Bridges instead of the adjacent but undeveloped Bears Ears. The couple from Texas had 3 large dogs to entertain and had already been to the natural bridges. They told us not to miss them and waved us into this national monument. They actually led us there.

Natural Bridges has a visitor center but it was not opened on the day we were in the area. This made no difference because the 9 mile paved road that winds through this national monument and all of its trails were fully available.

Natural Bridges is certainly remote. The closest accommodations to these natural wonders are in Blanding or Mexican Hat, and Blanding is 40 miles away. People who plan to hike to the 3 natural bridges, and we met a few of them, are reminded to fill water canteens at the visitor center because there is no water on the trails. Even those who stay in its campground must get water here.

We have Cass Hite and Teddy Roosevelt to thank for Natural Bridges. The former was the prospector who wandered into White Canyon in 1883 and found the 3 natural bridges, and the later was the President who created Utah’s very first National Park System area here way back in 1908. Native Americans, Navajos and Paiutes, had already lived in the area above the bridges in cliff dwellings now known as the visitable Horse Collar Ruins.

We had a clear view of the first bridge over a branch of the Colorado River after a long look for it. The Sipapu Bridge seen far above has a 286 feet span and must have excited both men named above. We never saw the middle Kachina Bridge that was said to be big and bulky because foliage and other obstructions now block its view unless you hike directly to it. The oldest bridge, Owachomo, was clearly visible and the most fragile of the 3. It may already have a fatal crack, but it could stand for centuries. No one knows. Seen just below, it was certainly a dramatic vision.

There is a big difference between the arches in Arches National Park and these 3 natural bridges. Both are formed by erosion but arches are mainly caused by and affected by frost and seeping moisture while bridges always stand over moving river water.

Even though we did not get to see Kachina, sighting the other two natural bridges in this old National Monument made the trip to see them worthwhile.


Finns in America

Ruth & I never made it to Mesquite, NV because of a massive truck accident. This occurred in the summer of 2021. We finally gave up trying to get to Mesquite, a town we like because we won our only casino jackpot there, and spent the night in Cedar City, UT, a town very different from Mesquite. This required a travel correction the next day so we ended up in Ely instead of southern Nevada. On the road to Basin & Range we ran into delaying road construction and made another correction. That’s why we ended up again in Pioche.

Somewhere along these detouring roads I saw a sign for Little Finland. Because I did not know anything about this destination I wrote down this name. I have always been a fan of Finland and have been there several times. One of my first major trips to Europe included this country, and I quickly took Ruth back to it to learn more about its unique culture and design mentality. Little Finland turned out to be a remote area of the Mojave Desert near Lake Mead. It’s 48 miles from the town of Mesquite and sounds worth visiting. The sources I checked compare it to Goblin Valley, a very unusual state park in central Utah. Ruth & I first heard about Goblin Valley at another great Utah State Park called Dead Horse Point. Because it is so remote and unvisited, Goblin Valley deserves more attention. While we were at Moki Dugway this summer, I wrote down the name of another Utah State Park that sounds interesting called Goosenecks. Near Blanding, it is known for rare geologic formations like those found in Goblin Valley. We clearly love Utah!

I looked to see how many other places have Finland in their name. Because 389,000 Finns came to the USA to live between 1870 and the 1920s, I figured there were lots of Little Finlands around. Wrong! There are only 5 places named Finland and 2 named Helsinki in the entire world, and all but one of them are in cold areas. The 3 towns named Finland in the USA are in Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina. The one in Pennsylvania is in Bucks County between Scranton and Philadelphia, but the 3 towns named Finland are all so small that the one in Minnesota is the largest with only 195 residents. Finns clearly love not living in towns.

There is reportedly a Finland in Sweden and a 5th one in Canada’s Ontario. The Canadian Finland is 886 miles west of Ottawa and north of Minnesota, a state with a large number of immigrant Finns. There are said to be 64,000 of them. However, Michigan has even more with 68,000 ex-Finns. Many Finns came to live in Minnesota to work in the iron mines, but a lot of Finns also settled on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. There is a Finlandia University in Hancock, MI, and Finns established some entire towns like tiny Herman, which is in Michigan. Many Finns went to Canada to live. I have experienced Finns in Thunder Bay, Ontario and Winnipeg, Manitoba.

There are said to be 2 Helsinkis, and both of them are in Finland. One is near Turku and the other is this nation’s capital. The larger Helsinki has grown to be a major city with a population of 1,316,757. It was far smaller when I first visited.


A Botanic Place to Entertain the Young

Bees are back. It seemed that every time I went to photograph a flower at the Denver Botanic Gardens, a bee had beaten me to it and was sucking deeply in its interior. Until recently, it seemed as if bees were disappearing and a pollination crisis, like global warming, was imminent, but now I’m not so sure about that and delighted that this is happening.

Ruth and I had never been to the Denver Botanic Gardens before. Denver didn’t seem like the kind of city where a botanic garden was a must see attraction, but I was wrong. The Denver Botanic Gardens is among the finest of its type I have seen. We were not enthused about going there, but we were looking for attractions that might stimulate interest in grandchildren. The middle grandchild, a preteen girl, seemed an unlikely candidate for stimulation here, but again I was wrong. She took more photos than me and was eager for more. She was so turned on that her mother, who was quite amazed at her behavior, is taking her back to the DBG to photograph fall flowers this week.

This 24 acre oasis of beauty in the middle of Denver proved to be an ideal treat for all of us before going for a perfect lunch at Cucina Colore and then on to Denver’s Enstrom’s for an almond toffee treat. Denver proved to be an inexhaustible and surprising destination yet again. This garden array even had art works featuring flowers by Salvadore Dali to show the younger generation and a Chihuly glass sculpture to admire, photograph, and even promote our home in the American Northwest.

In Denver’s Cheesman Park neighborhood, the Denver Botanic Gardens feature the diversity of plants that can thrive in a high altitude setting. The plants we saw were truly from all over the world but with a definite Western thrust. The children were entertained by a garden just for them and this garden’s many water features that were forever nearby. The Denver Botanic Gardens are a place to experience lots of dwarf conifers, ornamental grasses that reminded us of our upcoming visit to the Flint Hills, and many Alpine delights. We photographed daylillies, admired a garden devoted to Scripture, and discussed the smells that only a diverse garden can provide.


Aspen’s Past and Future

Aspen is a unique city of about 7,000. I am always reluctant to write about it because so few people seem interested. Aspen has the reputation for glitzy wealth that is growing despite social setbacks. This is tying some residents in knots because they need guests and workers. These resident are forever trying to make this a community for everybody and not getting too far. Exclusivity will impact Aspen’s future negatively. As restaurants and accommodations become less affordable, more people like us will stay away from a town that needs people like us. How, for example, can a music festival survive without middle class support that can fill a vast tent and other venues? How can an average family visit a place where the average meal in a restaurant costs a small fortune? Some in Aspen are sincerely trying to work on its image and attract a broader range of visitors, but this is becoming less possible each year.

This reputation for exclusivity is recent in time and space. When Ruth and I started to include Aspen in our travel plans it was still affordable. I had a cousin named Bonnie who lived in Aspen for many years before moving on. I have unfortunately lost touch with her. In our lifetimes, Aspen has gone from a one-time mining town of merchants and mining types to its now high-minded reputation for attracting only those with pots of money. This town is trying to stay in touch with its roots with 4 attractions: a museum, a mining site, and 2 ghost towns. Over time I have become familiar with all four.

Today I will focus on Aspen’s mining past. Before COVID, I walked to the Holden/Marolt Mining and Ranching Museum and liked it. I focused on the mining aspects of this community to the neglect of the ranching the first time so wanted to return. When we were able to return together after a long absence, I took Ruth there and was surprised that she really liked it. We also visited the Wheeler/Stallard Museum in town to learn about Aspen’s distant past and sample the new Music to Go, and we stopped at the ghost town of Independence on our way out of town.

The mining museum was a rich learning experience for both of us. I revisited lots of left mining equipment while Ruth toured what I had already seen, and then I focused on Aspen’s ranching past before joining her. I looked at ore samples and learned that the world’s largest and most productive silver mine once spread under this mountain mining town. Unmined silver nuggets are fairly rare but not in Aspen. In 1893 an 1,800 pound nugget was found here. The mine eventually closed because of a global collapse of the silver price not because of a lack of found silver here. I studied the lives of miners who worked by candlelight until carbide lamps were invented. Mining silver was dangerous work, and I learned about drills, sledges, period clothes, ancient washing machines, and ice farming.

The ranching part of this museum was small, but I enjoyed historical photos of the Marolts, a couple who started a ranch, grew winter wheat, and made millions by buying land cheaply and then selling it for high prices. I was very fascinated by photos of sheep in Aspen’s streets from the 1930s into the 1960s when this town began to change and grow wealthy.

We had seen the ghost town of Ashcroft during early visits, but now we became more familiar with the ghost town of Independence. If we are fortunate to return, I would like to take a tour of a vivid place 16 miles east of Aspen near Independence Pass that was once a prosperous mining town called many names but over time became commonly known as Independence. Tours are given daily between 10 am and 6 pm in the summer. The town was finally abandoned when late and frequent winter storms caused the few remaining miners to dismantle their homes, make 75 pairs of skis, and head for Aspen.



Today, Capulin is said to be an extinct volcano, but no one knows for sure if it’s done erupting. Its last major blow was about 60,000 years ago. As an active basalt volcano, Capulin ejected rocks and bombs over a wide area. Usually cinder cones like Capulin erupt for a period of time but then die. Several eruptions created Capulin, which now stands alone and innocent looking in northeastern New Mexico.

Capulin has been a National Monument since 1916. It’s in the Raton-Clayton Volcanic Field that is about the size of the current state of Massachusetts. It was active as a volcano until about 3 million years ago. It became a National Monument because it represents a perfectly shaped cinder cone and survives alone as such. Volcanoes like Capulin once heaved rocks upward, and ash and cinders fell back to Earth to blanket a wide area. The larger chunks of lava fragments are now called volcanic bombs. Up to the size of a car, these lava bombs piled up around the volcano’s vent to build the cone. Capulin’s cone was perfectly shaped over time.

There are said to be 1,500 possibly active volcanoes in the entire world. The states of Alaska and Hawaii have especially active ones, and the United States has about 160 of the 1,500. From the house that Ruth & I live in, we can sometimes see what is left from the eruption of Mount St Helens in 1980. This mountain is destined to move again. In fact a lot of people in the US Northwest live within sight of potentially active volcanoes like Mont Rainier. Every major mountain in the Cascade Range is a possible volcano. That includes Mount Hood, which we see most days and is incredibly beautiful. Some think it’s stupid to live this close to danger but many do.

Capulin has a rim trail that completely circles its so-called extinct cone. You can drive up to its top. Moderately strenuous, the trail around this cone varies in elevation and offers great views of the surrounding land. It’s easy on this trail to appreciate Capulin’s perfect cone, wildflowers, and spectacular distant views. You can also easily hike down into its crater.

We explored Capulin’s visitor center before driving up to its top where one sign says your elevation is exactly 7,877 feet. The visitor center predictably offers examples of lava that some consider sacred because it comes from the center of the Earth. Many of Capulin’s visitors are school-aged children who seem indifferent to gigantic examples of lava but do appreciate the film called “Evolution of a Mountain”. This was declared a National Monument largely because Capulin is considered the perfect specimen of an extinct volcano in North America. Its steep slopes are unusual for an area that is considered transitional between plains and mountains.

Potential exists for future Capulin eruptions, but for now it’s considered extinct and a place to appreciate wild birds, star-gazing, and perfect conical symmetry. Such large volcanic fields are not rare in New Mexico, but for now things are quiet and eruptions are unheard of.