Monthly Archives: September 2015

Chaco Adventures

On Labor Day we returned to Chaco Canyon National Historic Park for the first time in almost eleven years.  As soon as we checked in at the visitor center and campground we bicycled into the park.  Cycling was a good way to start our visit and open up our senses to the landscape.

the road to the park

Fajada sunflower chamisa cliff light sky

Mai in the wide open

The ride from Gallo Campground into the park heads right for Fajada Butte.  To glide into Chaco on a bicycle is spectacular.  You can sense the ambiance of ancient space and time brushing up with the present.  Things are joined together here.  The remarkable silence.  The wind, light, clouds, earth tones, and architecture past and present are one continuum here.

Chetro Ketl great Kiva

last sun

Juniper stand


Pueblo Alto

We stopped on our bikes a few times to explore ruins.  Mostly we just enjoyed being enfolded by the cradle of the canyon walls.  We saw an elk drinking in the ephemeral stream down the center of the canyon.  The climate is harsher, drier now than when Chaco Culture thrived here.

essence of alto

Chetro Ketl kiva alignments intermingling

Hungo Pavi

Pueblo Bonito grandeur

It is a stark and beautiful place.  Traveling to Chaco Canyon in a car like we did is not such a sustainable endeavor.  But taking out the bicycles, and then spending most of our mornings, days and evenings walking, was the right thing to do.  To travel the big distances during this transition time we need outside energy, sometimes oil.  Once in place it is good to travel light and camp light.  Starting out with a bike ride helped us get the rhythm of the place.  Those direct unmediated contacts and immersions in place are how humans are built to interact.

purple light on cliff

campfire amongst rocks and sky

sweet shot

The first night we had monsoons come in during evening and the tips of clouds glowed pinkish red.  The clouds seemed all tethered together and hugged in the warmth and humidity.  The second night it was clear and the milky way rise was astonishing.  Living in Albuquerque we had forgotten what exactly the night sky sans light pollution was like.  Stunningly bright with star light.  I could stay up all night watching the sky swirl by.  Coyotes yipped, whined and howled.

Pueblo Bonito field


evening rest

Everywhere we walked details emerged.  The architecture of the ruins communicates order.  The old roads radiating out like rays of the sun.  The cryptobiotic soil textures so intricate and plant communities in symbiotic growth bunch together in tufts like islands in this great Southwestern desert ocean.  A yarn of spider web glistens in sunlight on the trail.  Sagebrush blooms, shooting tendrils of hopeful flowers in response to the waning monsoon.   The sensuous landscape is met by an unending blue sky, with alternating calm and wind.


Mai walking the campfire road

Chetro Ketl blending

Fajada shimmering light

ephemeral cloud blood

standing walls and doors

Here is a map showing light pollution and places with natural skies.  Light pollution is a significant factor in celestial visibility.  The night sky is something to behold.  This is a project we should include in our vision for sustainability, livability and restoration, having dark night skies.  It is an important reference and perspective, part of the good life.

September Skies

Saturday I cycled “around the mountain”, a ride locals refer to as ATM.  It’s the truest ride around.  I hadn’t planned on taking photos but my slow tempo and the softening September light was conducive to seeing.  The land smelled sweet from the monsoon rains and I found myself stopping to take in these landscapes on the road to Placitas, and beyond pavement’s end.  In Las Huertas Canyon the water stream hummed softly as it rolled along the road.

september skies

I can see why so many people live up off hwy 165 in this open high desert below the mountains, so open to the sky

The song on the you tube player above is from Tommy Emmanuel, called Traveling Clothes.  Mai and I saw Tommy in concert at the Kimo Theater in downtown Albuquerque before we moved here.  It was an incredible performance.  He’s such a captivating entertainer, but when you close your eyes, the music is crystal clear with a golden melody.  Like the New Mexican landscape.


Along the road the trees tap into the creek waters and grow quite tall towards the resplendent canyon light

candy vine


flower patch

Coming out into the countryside has always been an important part of weekend traditions.   Americans used to ride the streetcar to city’s edge and walk from there.  Then the car came along and we got hooked on driving.  But more and more people are exploring with ways such as bicycling that give more balanced measure of exercise and rest, range and intimacy.

tall girl

tri colors

grandiose trees cliff sky blending

Bicycling releases me and let’s me exercise my imagination and my own mobility powers.  It helps me protect the places I’m visiting.  I fit right into the country landscape.  This is the key to why I like doing it so much.  Cycling meets at the high point of the intersection of health and transportation, joining the best of both worlds.  And it provides a clear definition of my relationship to the world and fellow humans.  It sets the tone of cooperation, humility, and admiration.  I don’t feel apart or alienated, but alive and whole.  I feel like I’m riding on the seam of the good life, experiencing mobility freedom while learning local history and geography, and traveling in a way that opens up my accessibility to outdoor education.  I am always meeting new people and seeing old friends, especially on a slow ride on a slow road.  Bicycling is a good sustainable travel mode that fits right in and opens up new life in this Southwestern city.

sweet land

sweet dreams

Awakening to Beauty

Bicycling New Mexico has awakened a vivid sense of beauty in me.  What I first saw quickly flowing by from my truck window in 1996 I am now getting to know in intimate detail.   The little things all around us in everyday ordinary life are actually extraordinary.  New Mexico is the most beautiful vernacular landscape, inhabited by the most beautiful people, I’ve ever seen.  These photographs are from recent bicycle rides beginning from my home in Albuquerque.

I live here

 Stopping to photograph these oxidized rocks on the way up the Sandia Crest,  I appreciated them more

This tree lives near 10,000 feet above sea level high up on the Sandia Crest

This tree lives near 10,000 feet above sea level high up on the Sandia Crest

When I turn onto Gutierrez Canyon road it is apparent I'm in a special place

When I turn onto Gutierrez Canyon road it is apparent I’m in a special place

tree bloom eruption

trees over land

Reflecting Emerging Values in the Built Environment

“Non-partisan public works projects…begin the physical transformation required to attract future residents and jobs, but also catalyze a cultural shift in thinking about what kinds of policies and infrastructure we should be investing in.  This cultural shift will mean far more for global sustainability than any physical project ever could.”  Ryan Gravel, for CNN

“City is looking forward, not backward.”  –Steven Lit on Cleveland’s Euclid Avenue transformation organized around transit, walking and biking instigated by bus rapid transit service, which catalyzed billions in investment for highly livable development.

Albuquerque Rapid Transit, or ART

One thing that stands out when you visit Albuquerque is the variety you see along mainstreet, Central Avenue, which spans the entire city lengthwise on an east west axis.  It’s kind of a mixed bag with strong incongruities.  The Albuquerque Rapid Transit project could be a gamechanger in the way we approach this historic public space known for its vital connectivity.

Rapid Transit has been transformational in places such as Euclid Avenue in Cleveland.  It can provide a spine to tie together all the walkable, livable and thriving places on Central including downtown, the University of New Mexico, the community college, the Innovation District, Nobb Hill, health care facilities, Sandia Labs, Kirtland Air Force Base, as well as serving as a lifeline feeding emerging development.  When people have low cost and low stress transportation choices, behaviors change, and money and energy is freed up to invest in building up the economy and quality living.   Most of all it regenerates the quality of life along Central Avenue by enabling more mixed use development and human scale activities.  Quality of life is our economy, and we need to expand the quality so it flows up and down Central Ave.

Green development of the built environment along Central makes for a perfect analogue to the linear park the Rio Grande makes in its north south flow across the city.  Rapid transit helps us maintain our diverse neighborhoods and community centers but links the arts, science, culture and food that Albuquerque is so famous for together in a new way.  When we are traveling we’ll enjoy where we are at and give more attention to the people that matter to us.  We’ll have better access to outdoor amenities and adventure.  You could get on the transit to take a trip to Tingley Park and the river, or bring your bike along and go to either end of the line, and ride out into the wild open spaces of the West Mesa or foothills.  Excellent public spaces are there for us all to enjoy.  High tech businesses and small entrepreneurial endeavors can more easily intermingle.  Everyone will have better access to education and schools.  Government hubs and transportation centers such as Alvarado and the Airport can be more closely tied in.

We’ve got a lot of issues along Central right now, and how we deal with those determines our future.  Transit is a strong idea to put forward and see how it can compete with the other contenders to bring proactive solutions.  Cities are complex systems, at the intersection of health, environment, transportation, social and economic development.  It’s easy to envision rapid transit on Central providing a platform and network for positive change in Albuquerque.

Research shows rapid transit is not a speculative endeavor, but a proven generator of efficiency, creativity, and connectivity, and an attractor for private investment and talented people.  It’s a transportation fundamental that galvanizes business investment & lifts quality of life.  The chief determinant of success is leadership and people’s willingness to go for a new ride together.

References and notes:

Albuquerque’s polling results for “Where do you think the city should focus most of its future transportation investments” yielded high favorability for biking infrastructure, smart traffic management systems, and pedestrian-focused environments.  The bus rapid transit system includes a new traffic management system which can be programmed for higher performance. (page 14)
“The vehicles run on a diesel-electric hybrid motor system that produce 90% less emissions than regular buses.”

Turning Urban Sprawl into Sustainable Cities by Ryan Gravel, CNN
“This kind of change [the conversion of urban infrastructure] is critical to the region’s economic success — to any region struggling to reinvent itself so that it can thrive in the global marketplace.  Because while these new perspectives contrast sharply with previous generations who built our sprawling roadway network, they mirror national shifts in preferences about the built environment driven largely by a general disenchantment with car-dependent lifestyles and an increasing desire for cultural authenticity in the places we live and work.”

Euclid Corridor Project Helps Drive 4 Billion in Cleveland Development by Steven Lit
“Developers gravitate toward places where they see investment happening.  There’s no question it’s [the bus rapid transit investment] a catalyst.”  — Lillian Kuri, Cleveland Foundation quoted in Steven Lit’s article

Innovate ABQ + Innovation Corridor by Tim Trujillo
I can see the innovation corridor that Tim describes extending to a third community activity center, Hiland Community, and a fourth node to Sandia Labs, Four Hills and Tramway.  Extending mixed use development and livable communities harbored on Central’s rapid transit helps everyone, and increases access to the colleges and downtown employment centers for residents of the Southeast Heights including the International District.

Right along Central now we have hidden gems such as Environmental Dynamics, Inc., which are poised to contribute to the making of the new sustainable, human scale and ecologically oriented built environment.  EDI-arch has many design and building projects pulling in the culture and heritage of New Mexico around their theme of regenerative design.

One of the things we might consider when envisioning the future is adding an anchor building to balance the Central Avenue corridor, expanding the breadth of the cultural shed lengthwise across the city, much like the Whitney Museum’s placement on the Highline did for NY City.  Or we can add two new buildings, one on either side of the river.

A New Lease on Life for Albuquerque

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” — Albert Einstein

I was watching Misty Copeland, the principal dancer at the American Ballet Theater, interviewing on Charlie Rose  and I realized how much ballet and cycling have in common.   Both of them are elegant expressions of human movement, but in American culture they have not quite arrived as part of the common heritage.  Misty Copeland makes it easy to embrace dance, and has a gift for making ballet relevant in our times.  She shows us what we gain by embracing diversity in form, expression and movement.

The increase in bicycling and walking across America is part of the ongoing change in the world.  It’s part of opening up to the full expression of the human spirit.  Human powered transportation brings grace and dignity to both rural places and cities.   Biking and walking help reinstate our self knowledge and increase awareness of what’s around us, widening our scope of community.  They help us understand the power of human movement, and the fluidity and coordination with which we can direct ourselves.  Biking and walking awaken our senses and help us fit ourselves better to place and move in concordance with one another.  It gives us a new lease on life.  The streets are part of our community, a living environment, connecting us. How we move together is a way of expressing life.

The Pro Walk Pro Bike Pro Place conference in Vancouver in 2016 is a good place to tap into to the tide of change that is recreating the good life and enlivening our cities.

The Project for Public Spaces is a stellar resource for biking, walking and place: