The Un-Painted Desert


Now why would I go visit the Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest National Park in a snow storm?  Good question. These places are know for their colors — the layers of multicolored sand and soil in the Painted Desert and the bright colors of the petrified trees. I thought “wouldn’t it be interesting to see these places in the winter with just a little dusting of snow?” I wanted some snow pictures and would be at the Grand Canyon in a few days so I figured this would give me some practice. I was already in the neighborhood. You know that if you saw my last blog post. So I went.

As I approached the park entry gate the snow was coming down like crazy. I mentioned to the Ranger at the gate that I was hoping for just a little dusting of snow. He said that that’s what this is….not a full blown desert blizzard. Okidokie.

I stayed in Winslow the night before and we had a nice little polite snow…maybe an inch. At the Petrified Forest the polite snow decided to stay for a while and was coming down in a brisk 25 mph wind. I plunged into the cold and made the thirty feet to the door of the visitor’s center. It was warm in there. They have all sorts of information about the Petrified Forest and what animals used to live there and what animals still do. I was intrigued by the full skeletal recreations of the dinosaurs that roamed the area. As dinosaurs go, these were pretty small.  The little guy could fly like a bird.


This one was a little further down the evolutionary trail and was transitioning into a mammal…or so the sign says.


Well…I couldn’t stay in the warm visitors’ center all day so I bundled up and ventured out into the snow.  It was brutally cold with snow flying like pellets. I hope you appreciate what I go through to get this important information out there.  It’s a rotten job…yada, yada, yada.

This was looking like a full fledged snowstorm…not a light dusting.

These are color photographs.

The deeper I went into the park the lighter the snow fall. At times it stopped altogether.


Sometimes when you go to parks or natural areas there are features with various names. Well, I admit that I often don’t see the resemblance.  But this actually resembled a cathedral in my mind….you know…with flying buttresses?


So I continued on my way…I was driving, not walking…but I was always stopping in the road and getting more pictures. For some reason there wasn’t anyone else there.



I was happy to arrive at the Painted Desert Inn and get warmed up. There were a few brave souls there including a weaver with a British accent  and a jewelry maker from the local Navajo community and an artist downstairs in the exhibit room. The Ranger was full of information but she didn’t have any coffee or hot chocolate….which would have been welcome.

I needed to be on the road to Flagstaff, a couple hours of driving away, so I headed back into the cold and snow. I found some coffee in Holbrook and it was getting sunny by the time I got to Flagstaff.

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In Praise of Old Hotels — Part 10: Winslow, Arizona

La Posada Hotel in Winslow Arizona

La Posada Hotel — I’m on the road again. I decided to give myself a Christmas present with a mid-December trip to Flagstaff, Arizona and a side trip to Grand Canyon. I might as well check out a few old hotels along the way. In the past I always sped through northern Arizona stopping only at gas stations or for fast food. This time I decided to take my time.

Winslow is a small town, getting smaller, and is semi-famous for the song lyrics: “Standing on the corner in Winslow Arizona…etc.  etc.” and for being close to some tourist attractions like the Painted Desert, Meteor Crater and the Petrified Forest. The Santa Fe Railroad brought thousands of tourists to Winslow each year and they all paraded through the La Posada Hotel because the hotel was also the train station. It still is but you can get to it from old Highway 66 or Business I-40 as we romantically call it now.


La Posada is the creation of architect Mary Colter who had an impressive career designing structures in the southwest including Grand Canyon National Park. She designed Bright Angel Lodge where, if the weather cooperates, I will be staying in a few days (stay tuned). Colter also had an impressive imagination and was greatly inspired by southwestern, native, and Spanish architecture. Colter joined up with the Santa Fe Railroad and Fred Harvey and created a rambling hacienda complete with a fantastic story-line of four generations of local Spanish-Basque Grandees who ruled an imaginary cattle empire in the desert. Apparently Fred Harvey ate it all up and so did the Santa Fe Railway who paid for it all. You undoubtedly will recall the Fred Harvey hotel chain and the famous Harvey Girls that staffed the hotels. La Posada was the last great Harvey Hotel to be built, opening in 1930. It is in a Spanish hacienda style but is quite eclectic, especially after the last renovation, since the original furnishings were auctioned off. Most of what you see is inspired by the 1930s era but it is a mix of Spanish, Indian and even Chinese….almost as if some family lived here (the owners do).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe hotel was a (modest) hit and why not? People had to walk through once they got off the train and there wasn’t much else as competition. They were serving up over 1,000 meals a day in the restaurant. There was a fleet of Packard touring cars that took tourists on eye-popping drives to see the Painted Desert and the local Navajos.  The hotel stayed in operation as long as rail travel for tourists stayed strong. Route 66 brought people but by then there were some roadside tourist courts and these car people didn’t need the Packards. Finally the hotel closed down in 1957 and was later horribly renovated into offices for the railroad with drop ceilings and office partitions. The furnishings were auctioned off. In 1993 the railroad decided it wanted to dispose of the place (think demolition) and it was placed on the “most endangered” list by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It seemed to be doomed.


A white-knight appeared named Allan Affeldt who wanted to save the old hotel. The Santa Fe Railroad was not very cooperative but he finally purchased the relic in 1997. It was a mess. Besides the awful office conversion and auction and general deterioration, the walls were plastered with asbestos; apparently something that was in vogue in 1930.


The hotel is now open and is a showcase for Colter’s architecture and art of every description from renown artists. There are several rooms and public areas that serve as galleries. It looks like most or all of the art is for sale. Some of the walls are decorated with Navajo rugs, also for sale.

It is a spacious place and it’s enjoyable just wandering around. They have an indoor walking tour that points out some of the original details.  There are also several gardens that greet the visitor but since I was visiting in December I didn’t investigate. There was a little bar — the Martini Room — that I did investigate. .There is an unusual amount of public space — lounges, galleries and sitting rooms — where a guest can find a cozy spot to read a book. The registration desk/counter is at the back of a large gift shop. Many of the public rooms have been repurposed because the hotel originally opened toward the tracks but now is geared more toward the street.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe guest rooms are very nicely decorated and researched. I stayed in the Victor Mature room, across the hall from the Bob Hope room and down the hall from the Gene Autry room. It’s not all guys…I think Mary Pickford and Dorothy Lamour rooms are close by as is Shirley Temple. These were pretty standard rooms but there is a Howard Hughes Hideaway suite and a nice Diane Keaton room and a Harry Truman room. Hughes stayed here quite often as the head of TWA, which had eight daily flights into Winslow. He could get here pretty easily.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy room, and I guess others as well, had a stocked library with about fifty books. Based only on the size of the bed I have to assume Victor Mature was a really big guy. The bathroom was refurbished in a 1930s black and white tile. They have Wi-Fi and almost everything else you need. The person checking in before me requested a refrigerator and they said they would bring one to her room. I don’t have one.  This is a railroad hotel which means the trains go by all the time. I brought ear plugs just in case and you should too if you are a light sleeper. The place is big and sturdy but you still know a train is going by. Like a lot of older hotels, you might be hard pressed to find enough electrical outlets for all of your electronic devices.  We bring a lot of stuff with us now.

I did eat in the Turquoise Room Restaurant and I can recommend it. Bring your credit card but the food is worth it. I had pan-seared Redfish with capers and Meyer lemon sauce, steamed vegetables and fingerling potatoes with an ample supply of bread. I passed on the salad and soup but had a small desert of dark chocolate gelato with raspberries and cream in a crepe bowl. The crepe bowl would have sufficed for desert by itself. Repent!! Repent!! You glutton!

Well — I won’t have much for breakfast.

When I waddled down the hall and up the spiral staircase to Victor’s room there was a guy playing some nice classical guitar in the sitting area.

They have complementary coffee and hot chocolate in the morning with some fruit. If you are still hungry…somehow…they also serve breakfast in the restaurant. I won’t be hungry.

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Painted Desert Inn (Petrified Forest National Park) — You can’t stay here but you can look. Years ago, back when there were Packard touring cars driving visitors through the Painted Desert, there was also a mom and pop privately operated “inn” perched up on one of the prime vantage spots in the Painted Desert.

The original place, known as the Stone Tree House, was made of petrified wood stones and operated from 1924 until around 1935 when the park bought the property. There are apparently parts of the original building inside the pueblo revival structure that you see today.

As the place converted over to being a national park the old inn was  rebuilt by CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) workers and became the Painted Desert Inn. The place is still there as sort of a relic with a few displays of what it was like back in the day and a Ranger answering questions. The CCC workers did a wonderful job and created almost everything you see including the furniture and light fixtures. It is a sturdy little place and stands as testament of what they were able to do.

I’m not sure how many of today’s visitors appreciate what this was and how it came to be. It was never very big but there were not many people who would forego the convenience of the Harvey Hotels… or they were of the other, hardier  extreme — camping in canvas tents along the highway. The dust bowl and the depression hit people very hard and the CCC put a lot of young men to work and a portion of their pay went to their families back home. I had an uncle who worked in a CCC crew.

Today there is an Artist in Residence program at the park and you will possibly meet him or her at the Inn. You may also see local artisans displaying and selling their creations. When I visited in the snow there were two local people — a jewelry maker and a weaver.

I’ve been here a few times now — in the heat of summer and on this cold and snowy day and I enjoy the chance to get out and see what’s what. Usually there is a different exhibit downstairs in what used to be the taproom. The Rangers are chatty and full of information.

The Painted Desert in snow – view from the Painted Desert Inn


Enchanted…More or Less: Bandelier National Monument (Part One)

Ever since I was eleven years old I’ve wanted to visit Bandelier National Monument. A kid in the neighborhood went and came back with interesting pictures. My imagination ran wild. I was a junior Indiana Jones…before Harrison Ford was out of high school.

Bandelier was on my list but it took me fifty-five year to get there.  It was worth the wait. I made the trip this past week along with my daughter. We have been sidekicks in these adventures. We went to Machu Picchu together a few years ago and have explored a few other spots. This trip had a dual purpose — first, of course, was to fulfill my old desire to visit the place. Secondly, I wanted to check out the CCC era structures that were built in the mid-1930s. Bandelier is rich in these 80 year old depression-era structures and actually has the largest concentration of CCC buildings of any national park.

Adolph Bandelier, a self-taught anthropologist, began exploring and documenting the sites in Frijoles Canyon around 1880. The sites were not hard for him to locate…the Cochiti and other local Pueblo people considered the place their ancestral home and guided him to the canyon. He worked there about twelve years and then moved on to sites in Bolivia and Peru. He died in Seville, Spain, in 1914 while researching Spanish colonial records. Others followed in Bandelier’s footsteps and the site was of such importance that it was designated a National Monument in 1916…even though it was nearly inaccessible.

CCC Improvements (Bandelier CCC Historic District)

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was mobilized in 1933 to improve access to the monument and to assist in stabilization of the ruins. There was a small lodge built on the site in 1909 but access was on foot. Everything and everybody came into the canyon on foot until the CCC built the first road in 1933. A quarry was established and new stone structures were built for a new expanded lodge and park administration. The buildings were designed and built in the Pueblo Revival style and are clustered together to resemble a small village. There apparently was a team of architects and designers but the primary architect on the project was Lyle Bennett who also is responsible for the lodge building at the Painted Desert National Park (Petrified Forest). The National Park Service was busy building structures in dozens of parks and NPS architects worked together or individually on various projects. The overall style came to be known as “Parkitecture”.

Park administration and visitor services have expanded and taken over all of the original lodge buildings although some remain as park employee residences. There is a self-guided tour of the cluster of CCC buildings.  I found that the close proximity of the structures, the cut stonework, terraces and some of the detailed stone features all combined to remind me of my time spent among the Inca sites in Peru. These structures were occupied (and not ruins) but are held together in a cohesive plan similar to some of the smaller sites in the Andes. This may just be my impression but I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the park site designers had some exposure to the Peruvian Inca sites that were being uncovered in the early 1900s.

The buildings were constructed from blocks of volcanic tuff (consolidated ash) that came from the original quarry. The stone was soft enough that it could be cut into blocks by a crosscut saw at the quarry. The buildings were originally covered with a plaster or light concrete stucco/coating that has since melted away but there are plans to eventually replace the plaster covering. Personally, I like the cut stone look.

There is a strong Spanish and Pueblo emphasis on the interior details and features. Most of the ceilings have large vigas and latillas. The old lodge reception area has a particularly interesting ceiling structure. All of the original furniture and light fixtures were crafted by CCC workers during the construction of the buildings. There is a great deal of detail work and most of it seems intact and well preserved.









Recent Flooding

The Jemez Mountains and the area around Los Alamos have seen some serious forest fires in recent years. Bandelier and Frijoles Canyon are downstream from the large burn areas and have experienced major flooding from flash floods. The flood of August, 2011, came within a few feet of the historic CCC buildings. The important ruins are mostly on higher ground and were not seriously impacted by the floods. There have been several serious floods and the Park Service installed a series of temporary sandbag levees to protect the buildings. There is ample evidence of flooding in the park and several bridges have been washed out.



In Part Two I’ll finally get to the reason why most people go to Bandelier National Monument….be patient.

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 NOTE -The CCC buildings and the historic site at Bandelier National Monument was featured on one of the New Mexico Architectural Foundation’s annual field trips. For more information on the foundation or this or other annual trips go to the foundation’s web page at:




Flying Down to Rio

IMG_20150119_080731On sort of a whim my daughter and I spent a few hours at the historic KiMo Theater in downtown Albuquerque watching Fred and Ginger dance the Carioca in a classic old musical, Flying Down to Rio.

I’ll talk about the theater in a while but first let me try to make sense of the movie. Flying Down to Rio was  made in 1933 at the height of the depression. There was a bunch of escapist musicals produced during those years and Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were a big part of that era. This movie was the first one they were paired up to do although each had been in earlier films. You will notice from the poster that Ginger Rogers got higher billing than did Fred Astaire. I hope she enjoyed it because that never happened again.

Essentially this is a little story about a struggling dance band that gets a gig in Rio de Janeiro which happens also to be at the very same hotel owned the uncle of the band leader’s (Gene Raymond) romantic attraction (Dolores Del Rio). Seems like the hotel is struggling too thanks to some crime boss hanky-panky and corrupt local politicians. The plot deals with how the hotel is saved and the girl gets her true love…maybe the band leader. Meanwhile, Fred Astaire is the band leader’s pal and accordion player…yes, he plays an accordion… and fills in as the band director when the leader is off chasing his lady-love. Ginger Rogers is a singer for the band and seems to have a little more dialogue than usual.

The task of getting to Rio isn’t easy. The band leader  tricks the girlfriend into having him fly her down in his little single engine plane…which happens to be equipped with a piano. Surprise, surprise, the plane has engine trouble and they have to land on the beach of a deserted island and spend the night. Only the island isn’t really deserted and there as a peculiar scene with “wild men” including one guy who shows up as a golf caddy who directs them to the local airport.  So, anyway, they all get to Rio in time for the hotel’s grand opening except that the city won’t issue an entertainment license because the bad guys want the hotel to fail so they can take it over.

The band members kill time by absorbing the local musical entertainment and are taken by the Brazilian music and dancing. The Carioca is all the rage in Rio and the Americans are enthralled. FlyingDownToRioPIC-106Fred and Ginger can’t contain their enthusiasm and jump up and run down to the dance floor to join in on the fun. The dance number goes on forever, it seems, with new herds of dancers joining in each time you think it is almost over. This is a huge dance number. Apparently, this version of the Carioca is a dance where the two partners have to hold their foreheads together while doing fancy footwork. Of course, Ginger Rogers does it in high heels and backwards.  This is all a lot of fun but there is still a problem with the hotel and the Americans won’t have a job unless the hotel opens as planned.

In order to save the hotel, the band leader concocts a crazy plan to have an aerial extravaganza with chorus girls wired and strapped to the wings of a half dozen or more rickety airplanes.  You will notice on the poster the reference to “200 beauties”?  Most of them are strapped to the wings of these airplanes. I don’t think this was supposed to be a hilarious movie back in 1933 but I admit that I guffawed loudly several times as the girls performed on the wings of the airplanes as they flew over Rio de Janeiro.


One group sprouted parachutes and flew off the wing of the plane to land somewhere in Brazil…we never saw them again. Another girl fell off one plane and landed in the arms of a couple guys dancing on the wing of another plane…didn’t skip a beat. Another batch of dancers sprouted parachutes which ripped off their costumes and revealed their racy 1933 swimming outfits but they just kept right on dancing. At the same time, Fred and the barely disguised band members reveal their true identity and burst into music on the hotel veranda to the overwhelming enjoyment of the hotel guests. The hotel is saved because the mayor shows up and likes what he sees. It’s not every day that you get to watch dozens of girls dancing on the wings of airplanes flying over your city.

Flashback — I forgot to mention that the girlfriend is engaged to a local guy who works at the hotel so there is a three-way thing going on. The band leader finally decides he’s not right for the girl and books a flight on the Pan Am Clipper (passenger sea plane) to go back home to the good ol’ USA. Not so fast…the boyfriend decides that the captain/pilot of the sea plane can marry them so he grabs the girl and they both race to the dock and board to sea plane and it takes off over the sea as the girl realizes that the band leader is on the plane. The boyfriend (still wearing his parachute from the aerial dance number) says he wants the other two to get married and he opens the door of the plane and jumps out with his parachute – we think he landed on the beach but maybe not. We are left to assume the band leader and his girl live happily ever after.

This was a technological marvel in its day because the aerial dance extravaganza took place on the ground but it looks like it is going on in the air over Rio. A special process was created by Linwood G. Dunn to merge two images…the dancers and the planes with the aerial footage of Rio de Janeiro. Dunn also worked on King Kong and even the early Star Trek series.   Here is a link to the Youtube clip:

As I said, I suspect that the movie wasn’t intended to be as funny in 1933 as it now appears to be. It was entertaining and made me laugh.

f16_000The KiMo Theater was built in 1927 in downtown Albuquerque in Pueblo Deco architectural style. It was a marvel in its day and there are really no other similar theaters that come close to matching the style.  Over the years the theater fell into disrepair, like so many other large movie houses, and was damaged in a fire in the 1960s. It was slated for demolition in 1977 but city voters approved a bond issue to save it and the city put up extra money to complete the renovation. It is now operated by the city and is once again showing films and hosting stage performances and concerts. It is open most days for self guided tours.


The balcony railing turned out to be too low in height to meet city building codes when renovation took place. The legs and the necks of the cranes depicted on the railing had to be lengthened to meet the building code.


The seating and some of the other furnishings were updated but the theater retains its original splendor and seemed like the perfect spot to watch an old  black and white musical.