Sunday, January 29, 2017

A Princess Cruise to the Mexico Riviera

Click on the photo to enlarge

I have been away for a week, cruising on the Ruby Princess that departed from Los Angeles to three ports in Western Mexico ---Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, and Cabo San Lucas.  My husband and I had a marvelous time and I hope to bring you more photos and information about our trip in future posts.

We returned from our vacation on Saturday and I now have much "catching up" to do, but I know we will forever treasure the wonderful sights, sounds, and hospitality we received in Mexico, plus the royal treatment of fun, food, and entertainment aboard the Ruby Princess.

It has been 12 years since we took a cruise. Our first was on the Queen Mary 2 to New England and Canada, for our 30th wedding anniversary during the autumn season. Two different oceans, two very different locations, and both equally wonderful experiences!

I think we have some catching up to do cruise-wise--a couple on this cruise was celebrating their 149th cruise!  Can you imagine that?  Do you like to take cruises? Where should our next one be?

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Friday, January 20, 2017

Frosty Beauty

 A few weeks ago we had an "Arctic Blast" of unusually cold weather overnight.  Temperatures dropped down to the single digits and a rare fog hung over our valley, obscuring the foothills.

( All photos in this post will enlarge if clicked on)

The early morning dew froze in beautiful crystalline beauty on the prairie grasses and shrubs....

....and made the cottonwood trees appear lacy and sparkly as if they belonged in a fairy tale.

Although my fingers were soon frozen by the unusual cold, I had to venture out to take some photographs of this beautiful hoarfrost.

Its icy coating made everything in our community look magical!

It was an exquisite winter wonderland delight, and made me joyful to be able to experience it for the hours it lasted.

Our weather is now back to normal with warm sunny skies, for the most part, and patches of melting snow giving well needed moisture to the exceptional nature that surrounds us.

"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread,
 places to play in and pray in,
where nature may heal and cheer 
and give strength to body and soul alike."

John Muir

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Sunday, January 15, 2017

Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site on the Santa Fe Trail

One of the most evocative places to visit for history buffs of the Old West is Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site located on the plains of SE Colorado, just outside the town of La Junta. This reconstructed trading post was the last United States outpost for travelers before they would cross the Arkansas River and enter what was then a territory of Mexico, now New Mexico. The fort was originally built in 1833-34 by brothers Charles and William Bent, and Ceran St Vrain, as a trading post for the Native American fur trade.  Finding success the partners soon expanded and built other trading posts to the north and south and stores in Santa Fe and Taos.

Map Source

Bent's Fort soon became an important part of the Santa Fe Trail. The "Father of the Santa Fe Trail" was Captain William Becknell. In 1821 the land beyond Missouri was a vast uncharted region known only for its vast bison herds and Native American inhabitants. When Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821, trade between Santa Fe and the United States became a possibility, and Captain Becknell was determined to cross the hostile territory to do trade, blazing a path that would become known as the Santa Fe Trail. Soon, many wagon trains were using the trail to head to the southwest. Two passages soon developed, one called the Cimarron Cutoff and the other the Mountain Branch over Raton Pass--see map above. Bent's Fort became an important stop for those on the Mountain Branch of the trail.

Travelers, traders, trappers, the US Army, and the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes came together at Bent's Fort to rest, eat, trade and buy supplies and repair their wagons.  The largest trade with the Native Americans was for bison hides in exchange for the white man's goods. The famous Western Scout, Kit Carson, was a hunter for the fort from 1831 to 1842.  The explorer John C. Fremont used the fort as both a staging area and replenishment junction for his expeditions. During the Mexican-American War, in 1846, the fort became a staging area for Colonel Stephen Watts Kearny's "Army of the West." Kearny went on to seize New Mexico for the United States, and seventeen hundred army men and volunteers used the fort as the rendezvous point for the invasion.

Bent's Fort is described as having been a structure 180 feet long and 135 feet wide, built of adobe bricks. The walls were 15 feet in height and four feet thick. It was the strongest post at that time west of Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.

Some of the other principals in the history of Bent's Fort as displayed in a placard in the History Colorado Center exhibit. Please click on to enlarge this photo, and any other photo in this post, to enlarge them to see details.

Click on to enlarge

As one approaches Bent's Fort there is a gravestone of a stagecoach driver, Edward Dorris, who died in 1865 and is buried along with approximately 12 others in graves in a burial ground outside the fort. The Santa Fe Trail was always a perilous route and many perished along the route. On a prior blog post, about New Mexico, I showed one of the last grand landmark stops along the Santa Fe Trail, called Wagon Mound, where many settlers were attacked by Native Americans who were angry that their hunting grounds were being invaded and destroyed. Click here to read that post. That post also shows Raton Pass, which was the mountain pass the Santa Fe Trail traveled over.

Bent's Fort entrance is open to a large plaza surrounded on all sides by two level walls with staircases leading up to them ....

...and shaded walkways  along all the corridors leading into the varied rooms.

Primarily a trading post, Bent's Fort sold and traded goods in their general store. It was stocked with items such as calico fabric, blankets, cooking utensils, tobacco, muskets, gun powder, knives, buckets, medicines, beads, clay pipes, coffee, chocolate, corn, animal feed, writing material, and so on.

The fort was also operated by people of many nationalities and vocations, including blacksmiths, trappers, carpenters, wheelwrights, gunsmiths, cooks, cattle herders, clerks, etc.,  who would offer their services for a fee to visitors to the fort, 

The kitchen was staffed with cooks, including a slave of Charles Bent, Charlotte Green, who was famous for her pumpkin pies and flapjacks.

The ground level rooms also consisted of meeting rooms, and offices

As the resident Manager, William Bent oversaw all trade at the fort. He occupied private quarters in the fort, but also lived with his Cheyenne wife and family in their village as well. 

Bent's Old Fort often has days that feature costumed living history interpreters that provide guided tours and demonstrations, but my husband and I visited between tours and did a self guided tour instead, with literature provided by the staff. You can check the park web site for a calendar of events and tours held at the park on this link.

View of the fort entrance from the second floor...

...and from the other side of the ramparts.

It was interesting to see more of the re-construction of the fort that the National Park Services completed in 1976, as part of the United States Bicentennial Celebration, as well as the state of Colorado's Centennial Celebration. 

Most of the rooms upstairs were used for boarding, and were re-furnished in period style. 

There was even a billiard room upstairs. Billiards, card games, and chess and checkers were played to ease the long nights and days and help the fort's employees deal with boredom and home sickness.

A view of the Colorado plains from the roof top of the fort.

Often referred to as the "Castle on the Plains," Bent's Fort also had cannons for reinforcement.  The fort was never attacked, however, and the Bents worked hard to broker peaceful relations with all that they came in contact with.

More informational placards from the History Colorado Center. Click on to enlarge

After the war with Mexico, Charles Bent became the Governor of New Mexico, but on January 19, 1847, revolting Mexican and Pueblo Indians murdered him and other Americans in Taos.
The US government never paid the Bents compensation for using the fort for housing and supplying Kearny's troops during the Mexican American War. When there was a cholera epidemic and increasing unrest among southern Native American tribes who raided the Santa Fe Trail wagon trains, business declined at Bent's Fort and it fell on hard times. William Bent offered to sell the fort to the US Army in 1849, but they declined the offer. So a frustrated Bent moved his operations out and set fire to the fort, and abandoned it.
William Bent then built a new fort at the Arkansas River in 1853, known then as Big Timbers, but the glory days of trade were over, and it was not successful.  Bent leased this fort to the Army in 1860, which then constructed Fort Wise--later renamed Lyons-- nearby.  Ob November 29, 1864, Colonel John Chivington marched towards the Cheyenne Sand Creek Reservation, to destroy the native American's camped there, lead by the peace chief Black Kettle. Chivington posted a guard on William bent to prevent him from warning the Cheyenne leader and his people. You can read the story of the Sand Creek Massacre that occurred nearby in the placards above,  or on my blog post --here--about that event. William Bent died heartbroken in  Westport, Kansas in 1869.

Although most of Bent's Fort had been abandoned it was still used over time as stagecoach station and later as cattle corrals. In the 1950's the Colorado State Historical Society acquired the Bent's Old Fort and arranged for archaeological investigation to determine the fort's outlines. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960.

Exhibit at the History Colorado Center of artifacts found at Bent's Old Fort.

More archaeological excavations occurred after it became part of the National Park Service system and the park was reconstructed in 1976 with the help from these artifacts, diaries sketches and paintings.  

Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site preserves for the future the remarkable history of the fort as a place of early trade, it's role on the historic Santa Fe Trail, as well as its role in Western Expansion. It is a fascinating place to visit to learn about the Traders, Tribes and Travelers of the old west!

I'm linking this post to the following blog events:

Thank you to all the blog hosts!

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Monday, January 9, 2017

Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse

A week before Christmas, my husband and I visited the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse in Boulder, Colorado to enjoy lunch. The teahouse is located along Boulder Creek in the Central Park area of Boulder.  As the teahouse website states: "Completely built by hand without the use of power tools, the teahouse was constructed in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, as a gift to their sister city, Boulder. It was disassembled, crated up, and sent halfway around the world to be rebuilt in Boulder as a symbol of friendship and cultural exploration. The elaborate and creative teahouse now sits as a reminder to the citizens of Boulder to value cultural diversity, global cooperation, and international friendship." You can read the entire history of how the teahouse came about on this link. The teahouse has become one of the city's most attractive and popular tourist destinations, as well as a place locals enjoy for good food, tea, and atmosphere.

We love the drive north to Boulder for the wide-open views we see of open space and mountain ranges, although the tremendous population growth along the Front Range of Colorado has resulted in more and more roads being widened and express toll roads being installed, and this route is no exception.

The Davidson Mesa Scenic Overlook, along westbound US 36, just east of Boulder, has postcard-worthy views of both the city of Boulder and the Rocky Mountains in the distance.

The teahouse was busy the day we visited for lunch, and since we did not have reservations we had to wait about 30 minutes to be seated.

The wait gave me time to go outside to admire the outside eight handmade ceramic tile artwork panels that represented the "Tree of Life," and peruse the menu board. Click on all photos in this post to enlarge them for easier viewing of their details. The menus for breakfast, weekend brunch, lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner are also on the teahouse's website.

As we walked up the walkway we could see the winter dormant rose bushes that the Boulder Valley Rose Society maintains in season.  You can see photos of how the roses look in the teahouse gardens on their website at this link.

Next to the teahouse, ice skaters were enjoying the winter weather on an ice rink.

Time to go in...

One of the first things one notices when entering the teahouse are the twelve intricate hand-carved cedar pillar supports. Each one has different carvings, and they immediately cause you to look up at the equally intricately and colorfully painted ceiling that they support!

It is hard not to be amazed by all the traditional Tajikistan folk artwork that was painted onto the ceiling panels and to admire all the beautiful designs.

The other object you will immediately notice is the "Fountain of the Seven Beauties" in the middle of the teahouse.  There are seven hammered copper sculptures created by the artist Ivan Milosoich. The sculptures are based on a 12th-century poem.

There is also artwork and scrolled screens and tiles throughout the teahouse, and a beautiful bar area that sells all the popular teas that the teahouse serves.  The teahouse offers a large selection of white, green, black, oolong, and herbal teas. You can see information on these teas on this link on their website.

We chose a tangerine cinnamon herbal tea that we both enjoyed very much!

The teahouse's menus feature international cuisine for lunch and dinner, including Moroccan, Indian, Persian, Malaysian, and traditional Tajik dishes that change seasonally.  Everything we had for lunch was very flavorful and delicious!  There is also a traditional afternoon tea service with sweets and savories served in a three-tiered tower.  Reservations are required for afternoon tea.  

By the time we finished our lunch and tea, the winter sun was going down behind Boulder's iconic Flatiron Mountains in the distance.   We really enjoyed the break from pre-Christmas preparations and we have decided to go back again in summer to see the roses in the garden and enjoy one of the formal teas. I'll bring you back with us when we do! 

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