Lake Champlain: Insights from a Ferry Crossing

by Dr. Denise R. Ames

My cousin, Paula, and I took a 6-day, summer road trip from Albany, New York to Maine and then to Craryville, New York where we would join a family reunion.

After our Ausable Chasm adventure (see previous blog) my cousin and I were starving. We headed north on Route 9 the short distance along the beautiful Lake Champlain to the town of Plattsburg, New York. We googled for restaurants and the Twisted Carrot caught my eye. Located downtown, we ordered a yummy hamburger, a big Caesar salad, sweet potato fries, lots of refreshing ice tea, and appropriately, a carrot cake for desert. We split almost all of our food on the trip since portions tend to gigantic, eating out runs expensive after a while, and I wanted to be able to fit into my jeans after the trip.

Filled to the brim, we decided it was time to catch a ferry across Lake Champlain to Vermont. Since I was a kid, I have had a fascination with Lake Champlain. Perhaps it is its role in the American Revolutionary War, or the fact that it is such a deep lake. Whatever the reasons, to a geography buff kid it was one of my favorite lakes.

Lake Champlain is the thirteenth largest lake by area in the US. Approximately 490 square miles (1,269 km2) in area, the lake is 107 miles (172 km) long and 14 miles (23 km) across at its widest point, and has a maximum depth of approximately 400 feet (120 m). 

The lake narrowed just north of Plattsburg, NY where we boarded a ferry. We slipped out of the car and onto the upper deck to see the wide expanse of water stretching out between the states of New York and Vermont. The lake actually elongates northward into the province of Quebec in Canada. It was invigorating to feel the spray of churning water making its way to the upper deck to cool me off after the morning’s exertions at Ausable Chasm.  

Ferry on Lake Champlain, photo Denise Ames

Joining us on the upper deck were two cousins who were on a reunion road trip across New England. It was fun to compare our stories, since we were cousins on a similar road trip, and revel in their reacquaintance after a years-long absence. The 15 minutes it took us to cross the lake zoomed by and before we knew it we had docked south of Burlington, Vermont. 

My cousin and I scrambled into our car just in time to rev up the engine and exit the ferry. Once on land, we took a few looping twists and turns to finally arrive at the junction of Route 2, our eastward highway to Maine. I spied a convenience store and suggested we stop to get some ice tea for the road. I am addicted to ice tea (although I water it down to lessen the caffeine intake) and it is a staple drink for me through the summer.

Lake Champlain, photo Denise Ames

It was at this point that I discovered something very alarming. I had left my bag with camera, billfold, etc. on the upper deck of the ferry! It was only 24 hours into the trip and I already lost my most valuable belongings. I tried to remain calm as we headed back to the ferry dock. Paula seemed to be driving unusually slow I thought considering the emergency but I realized I was overly agitated.

We arrived at the dock and I got the ear of a clerk. She seemed sympathetic and assured me that this often happens (I guess others are as air-headed as me) and she would contact the captain. My anxiety ebbed as I realized that it was probably safe. About 10 minutes later word arrived from the captain that a crew member had retrieved my bag from the upper deck where I was mesmerized by the cousin story and inadvertently left it on the seat. The bag was safely ensconced in the captain’s cabin and would be delivered to me in about 20 minutes. I was greatly relieved. The episode also gave me a renewed sense of the integrity and honesty of most Americans. I was very grateful.

Passing ferry on Lake Champlain, photo Denise Ames

I eagerly awaited the arrival of the next ferry and my belongings. Paula and I joked that we hoped it didn’t sink as it chugged its way to the dock. A crew member met me at the gate and I gathered my bag. All contents intact.

As we climbed back into the car to continue our temporarily sidelined road trip I had time to reflect upon the afternoon’s events. The ferry ride was glorious. I rejoiced in seeing the historic and glistening lake and feeling it spray its droplets of water over me. It was inspiring to see the joy of the two cousins in renewing their bond of friendship and kinship. And finally, I was grateful to the ferry’s crew for helping me reunite with my indispensable bag. Good feelings all around.

Now as we were ready to turn onto Route 2 to continue our road trip, I spied that convenience store once again and I thought it was time to celebrate all the recent events with a cold ice tea. Paula wholeheartedly agreed.

About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences—teaching, extensive travels, scholarly research, personal experiences, and thoughtful reflections—have contributed to her global perspectives, balanced views, and cultural insights about the world. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit. She has written nine books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, and teaching units.

The Center for Global Awareness offers three programs: Global Awareness for Educators, globally-focused books and educational resources for educators and students grade 9-university; Gather, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners; and their newest program Gatt, Global Awareness Through Travel.

GATT is Dr. Ames’ travel advisory service that encourages supports travelers to see the world with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and reflect upon one’s own personal journey and place in the world. She incorporates five pathways—a holistic world history, cross-cultural awareness, multiple worldviews, significant global issues, and personal well-being—into her unique approach to gleaning all the wonders travel has to offer us.

Dr. Denise R. Ames has written 9 books for the Center for Global Awareness, check out their titles! Global Awareness Books  Email Dr. Ames at drames@global-awareness.org for more information.

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Natural Beauty and a Swinging Bridge: Ausable Chasm, New York

by Dr. Denise R. Ames

Ausable Chasm, New York, photo Denise Ames

Ausable Chasm was my first stop of my summer road trip from Albany, New York to Maine. Nestled in the Adirondacks region of upstate New York, it has been in private operation since 1870, with over 10 million visitors enjoying its natural beauty. My cousin and I elected to trek down to the banks of the river for a bird’s eye view of the terrain.

After climbing down too many stairs to count, I finally was able to see the ground floor view of the gorge. Although the company promotes the gorge as the Grand Canyon of the Adirondacks, I would say that is a stretch. After viewing the actual Grand Canyon and the smaller Rio Grande Gorge near Taos, NM, I would say it is a big stretch. Nonetheless, it is a stunning and interesting site.  

Ausable Chasm and river, photo Denise Ames

As our guide explained to us, the Ausable Chasm is a sandstone gorge cut through by the Ausable River, which empties into Lake Champlain about one mile (1.6 km) downstream. The gorge is about two miles (3.2 km) long. The river is fed by the Rainbow Falls at its southern edge. The gorge was carved out of 500 million-year-old Potsdam Sandstone from the Cambrian Period. Since the end of the Pleistocene Epoch ice age 10,000 years ago, the movement and subsequent melting of glaciers created a series of caves and tunnels, which the Ausable River linked up.

Rushing water, Ausable Chasm, photo Denise Ames

Although I chaffed at wearing a hardhat on our river walk (it was so hot), I could see its benefits since the rocks along the river were worn and coated with a slippery sheet of light drizzle. I marveled at the sandstone formations cut through by driving torrents of water pounding them into jagged creations. Down by the river’s edge, the force of nature’s destructive fury was apparent to me and, despite the heat, sent a shiver down my spine.

Young people on an Outward Bound type of adventure, photo Denise Ames

I saw a number of young people tethered to cliffs participating in Outward Bound types of adventures. They seemed a bit tentative as they inched along a narrow pathway carved out of the sandstone cliffs. They were also hesitantly crossing the gorge on a suspension bridge made from knotted rope. I mused that they should have these challenging situations for seniors as well, but then I realized that most seniors (including myself) did not want that kind of physical challenge anymore.

Suspension bridge over the gorge, photo Denise Ames

Our group climbed more steps to a dead-end point along the gorge. Which way out? All I could see was a flimsy- looking suspension bridge dangling above the gorge and raging water. This must be for the young outdoor challenge adventurers I thought to myself. Surely, when we purchased our tickets the clerk would have told us if we had to cross this rickety bridge. I have always been fearful of heights, although not on the extreme end. My heart flutters when I get too close to the edge of a cliff or roof. Unfortunately, I have passed on that fear to my adult children who are also slightly acrophobia.

Suspension bridge over this gorge at Ausable Chasm, photo Denise Ames

As I was standing there convincing myself that we would not be crossing the suspension bridge, our guide cheerfully exclaimed that our next challenge was to cross the bridge! I was stunned. I quickly summarized my options. I could humiliate myself and turn around and go back, the six-year old girl next to me was eager to take my place. My other option was to face my fear and cross the bridge. I had never done something like this before and it would expand my sense of adventure and risk to do so. I didn’t want to become a risk-averse senior, fearful and afraid. It took me a few seconds to decide that I would cross the bridge, both physically and metaphorically.

Guide pointed out this rock formation resembled an elephant’s trunk, photo Denise Ames

I decided I would regard crossing the bridge as a personal quest. I was determined not to faint, sprawled across the bridge’s wobbly 2x10s like a beached whale. Our guide prattled away as we crossed the bridge, unaware that all the color had drained from my face and my eyes were glued to the steps in front of me. I had no intention of stopping to see the view from my mid-air vantage point. The rope bridge swayed back and forth as the rest of the group eagerly proceeded forward.

The crossing was quick, I hardly had time to contemplate my accomplishment. After the color returned to my face, I chatted with the mother of the 6-year old dare devil. She said she was surprised about the bridge as well, and had some foreboding as she crossed. The 6-year old said she was a gymnast and loved heights. She didn’t regard it such an accomplishment as I did.

The tour ended. I gathered my strength to ascend the cascade of steps out of the canyon. We decided to hike through the dense and misty forest until the steady drizzle of rain increased to uncomfortable status and we turned back.

Ausable Chasm, NY, photo Denise Ames

As I walked through the forest I contemplated my morning. I was struck by the number of people who paid what I thought were high entrance fees to enjoy what nature had to offer. I also marveled at the number of young people who took up the challenge to test their physical and mental pluck. I also reflected on my earlier thoughts that seniors were content to avoid challenging their physical and mental pluck and these adventures were only for the young.

Actually, I found that the physical and mental test of crossing the swaying suspension bridge was just the challenge I needed at the moment. It forced me to confront my long-time fear of heights and push myself into unknown territory. Indeed, the Ausable Chasm gave me renewed confidence in my slowly ebbing physical and mental abilities and found that if not challenged, indeed they will diminish. Perhaps, an Outbound type of adventure for seniors is just the thing we need. It worked for me.

About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences—teaching, scholarly research, personal experiences, extensive travels, and thoughtful reflections—have contributed to her balanced views and global perspectives. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit that develops globally-focused books and educational resources for educators and students grade 9-university. She has written eight books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, teaching units.

Along with CGA’s Gather program, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners and, Global Awareness for Educators, Dr. Ames is developing a new program: Turn, Transformation, Understanding, & Reflection Network. Turn encourages life-long learners to see with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and recognize the relationship of all things. She teaches workshops/classes and writes about Turn’s five topics: learning from the past, cross-cultural awareness, five worldviews, elder wisdom, and transformative travel.

Dr. Ames has written 9 books for the Center for Global Awareness, check out their offerings! Global Awareness Books 

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Ausable Chasm: A Stunning 150-Year-Old New York Natural Attraction

by Dr. Denise R. Ames

Natural attraction in New York, photo Denise Ames

Ausable Chasm sounded so intriguing I thought as I whizzed by the entrance sign and caught a glimpse of the rushing water falls. I was just a few hours into a road trip from Albany, New York to Maine and the sign for Ausable Chasm was the first possible stop that caught my eye.

My cousin, Paula, had picked me up at the Albany, NY Airport at 4:30 and we were primed for our five night and six-day adventure. The trip would culminate in Craryville, NY at a family reunion. I stuffed my bags into her smallish SUV and immediately took my navigator’s seat, ready to direct us into the unknown. One thing I like best about my cousin is that we love to laugh, and this adventure would assure us of plenty of opportunities for uncontrolled hilarity.

Ausable Chasm, New York, photo Denise Ames

We made a mental note to return to Ausable Chasm the next day, since dusk was settling in and we were hungry and tired. We found what looked like a popular restaurant, as evidenced by the number of parked cars and outdoor diners. We entered the busy restaurant and looked for the hostess to seat us. We were surprised to find that there appeared to be about two or three young people manning the whole restaurant! A young woman finally seated us and took our order. She was the hostess, waitress, bartender, busperson, and even did dishes. Since Paula and I are former waitresses, she gained our respect for her hustle and flexibility. Her tip reflected this appreciation. We would encounter the lack of staff at many of the places we visited.

Ausable Chasm, photo Denise Ames

The next day dawned hot and muggy. Since I am from Albuquerque, New Mexico, the humidity was stifling. I wore jeans—reasoning to myself that hiking through woods laden with poison ivy, which I am prone to getting would at least offer some protection. Unfortunately, the jeans prevented any air circulation in the lower half of my body, making the sweat-soaked, clinging jeans unbearable. However, I persevered.

We moseyed into the Ausable Chasm welcome center and found out that it was not a public park but a private one that required an entrance fee. I am usually averse to going to private parks where a fee and lots of rules are imposed. I chafed at the prices and the rules. We decided to take a free hike to see the falls and the dramatic gorges.

The views were stunning and we enjoyed contemplating the old structures along the river. They were mills of some sort along the river, driven by the power of falling water to churn out flour or textiles. Whenever I see textile mills in the northeast that were in their heyday during the 1800s, I think of the complex relationship of the southern and northern regions of the US at the time. The north had the textile mills and the labor to run the mills, but they relied on cotton as their prime raw material. Of course, the pre-Civil War cotton was available to them because of the plantation system and slave labor. What a dismal mix.

The stroll along the river only took about 15 minutes so we were eager for a longer hike. Since my jeans had already adhered to my numb skin, I was ready for an adventure. We decided that we might as well succumb to the pay to hike arrangement at Ausable Chasm, since we weren’t all too excited to research and drive to an alternative site. We begrudgingly paid our fee and walked down to the river where our escorted part of the tour would begin.

It was a steep trek down lots of steps to the bottom of the river where the sound of rushing water was deafening. Our guide, a college sophomore majoring in biology, would lead us and a small group along the slippery rocks hugging the river. We donned bothersome hard hats and off we went.

Continued… July 20, Tuesday

About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences—teaching, scholarly research, personal experiences, extensive travels, and thoughtful reflections—have contributed to her balanced views and global perspectives. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit that develops globally-focused books and educational resources for educators and students grade 9-university. She has written eight books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, teaching units.

Along with CGA’s Gather program, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners and, Global Awareness for Educators, Dr. Ames is developing a new program: Turn, Transformation, Understanding, & Reflection Network. Turn encourages life-long learners to see with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and recognize the relationship of all things. She teaches workshops/classes and writes about Turn’s five topics: learning from the past, cross-cultural awareness, five worldviews, elder wisdom, and transformative travel.

Dr. Ames has written 9 books for the Center for Global Awareness, check out their offerings! Global Awareness Books 

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The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve: A Venture into a Desert World

by Dr. Denise R. Ames

Great Sand Dunes in distance, CO, photo Denise Ames

The day was bright and sunny as we, my partner Jim and I, drove east from Alamosa, CO to the Great Sand Dunes National Park. In fact, Alamosa claims to be the gateway to the dunes, and since it is the largest city within miles of the park, I think their claim is valid.

We picked the “coolest” day of the week to venture into the park, although the temperature would climb into the 80s and the humidity was noticeable. The flatlands of the region were evident as we drove the 34 miles to the park. Tall peaks of the Sangre de Christo Range loomed in the distance amidst a foggy haze, while in the foreground grew the flora of a high desert. It was a stark but interesting contrast.

Sand dunes, photo Denise Ames

A few miles from the park entrance, I got my first glimpse of the sand dunes. They rose out of the high desert landscape like an alien formation, something you might have seen on a sci fi movie from the 1960s. They didn’t look real, so out of place in nature’s landscape continuity.

I found out that the park contains the tallest sand dunes in North America and cover an area of about 30 sq mi (78 km2). Sediments from the surrounding mountains filled lakes in the San Luis Valley over geologic time periods. After lakes within the valley receded, exposed sand was blown by the southwest winds toward the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range, eventually forming the dunefield over tens of thousands of years. The tallest sand peak climbs an impressive 750 feet.

Jim, trail from visitor’s center to dunes, photo Denise Ames

We entered the park and headed for the visitor’s center to get our bearings. Jim was instructed by someone to take the trail at the back of the visitor’s center to access the dunes. We dutifully trudged down the bleak trail about a mile where we finally ran into a parking lot overflowing with vehicles. To our chagrin, we didn’t need to plod down that long, hot trail to the dunes, we could have driven our car to the parking lot! I had violated my own rule of scouting things out before setting off on a hike or walk.

Great Sand Dunes National Park, photo Denise Ames

Now we were near the dunes but our car, with our lunch and cool drinks, was parked about a mile up the hill at the visitor’s center. We decided to get the car and then drive it down to park. We decided to take a different way back to the visitor’s center, it was a bit longer but at least we didn’t have to slog through sand to get there. We finally made our way uphill to our car and drove it down to the parking lot, where we luckily found a parking place. We were now starved after all our unnecessary exertion and frustration.

We were eager to see the dunes close up, but a wide, shallow flowing stream blocked our easy access. We stripped off our shoes and socks and waded into the clear stream, along with hundreds of other visitors. It was a refreshing act. Actually, wading along the stream seemed more relaxing than climbing the hot, steep sand dunes. We were tired after our strenuous and fruitless morning hike and climbing burning sand wasn’t as alluring as it was first thing in the morning.

After splashing through the cool water, we had to decide, climb the dunes or not. We ventured out of the stream and waited for our feet to dry to we could brush off the sand and put on our shoes. In just those few minutes we decided that no we were too tired, too old, too sun-baked, and too unadventurous to climb the dunes. After scorching my feet on the broiling sand in the brief minute that we made our final decision, I happily trotted back to the soothing stream.

The dunes, photo Denise Ames

After cooling our scorching feet, we decided to take one more stroll through the stream. I shifted my focus from sand to water. I thoroughly enjoyed watching every age group engaged with each other building dams and forts in the sand, lounging under their beach umbrellas, and partaking in a picnic lunch. It seemed such a fun thing to do.

After padding around the stream for a while, we headed back to our car. I took a final look back to the dune stretching into the sky. I briefly regretted that I hadn’t at least attempted to conquer those magnificent natural formations and then reason prevailed.

Relaxing by the sand dunes, photo Denise Ames

Conquest is not all that great. It seems part of the human condition that has prevailed for thousands of years; as a world historian I can cite many people who have succumbed to conquest and others who have been the conquerors. It goes both ways.

After all, the sand dunes were once part of Ute land and before that the mastodons roamed free until conquered and killed off by native people. Even though it is part of every human, I was content to know that I resisted the conquest impulse for the day, and simply waded in the cool stream.

About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences—teaching, scholarly research, personal experiences, extensive travels, and thoughtful reflections—have contributed to her balanced views and global perspectives. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit that develops globally-focused books and educational resources for educators and students grade 9-university. She has written eight books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, teaching units.

Along with CGA’s Gather program, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners and, Global Awareness for Educators, Dr. Ames is developing a new program: Turn, Transformation, Understanding, & Reflection Network. Turn encourages life-long learners to see with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and recognize the relationship of all things. She teaches workshops/classes and writes about Turn’s five topics: learning from the past, cross-cultural awareness, five worldviews, elder wisdom, and transformative travel.

Dr. Ames has written 9 books for the Center for Global Awareness, check out their offerings! Global Awareness Books 

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Alamosa, Colorado: A Wetland Paradise along the Rio Grande

by Dr. Denise R. Ames

Rio Grande wetlands, Alamosa, CO, photo Denise Ames

My partner, Jim, and I were visiting the Alamosa, CO area for some hiking and relaxation. We found that the area was a wetland paradise, and it was fascinating to explore the diverse ecosystem. I left off in the last blog as we were just taking off for a hike along the Rio Grande wetland area adjacent to Coe Park in the center of Alamosa.

Since we were hiking at dusk, we feared mosquitoes and other insects. However, I lucked out and they seemed to not notice my mosquito-enticing skin. Birds were out in full force, and we thoroughly enjoyed being serenaded along the river’s wetland stretch.

Wetlands along the Rio Grande in Alamosa, CO, photo Denise Ames

Although many people might have found the trail boring and the wetlands messy, we loved it. The slow-moving river meandered through stagnant pools of water, creating little ripples that went nowhere. The wetlands looked green and healthy, attesting to the attention that preservationists have made to restore the area to its natural state.

I love wetlands because they symbolize the patience of nature. It is not an overnight process to filter water and carbon, let alone store water, stabilize shorelines, and support diverse plants and animals. I was happy to find out that wetlands are also considered to be the most biologically diverse of all ecosystems. And here they were right before us.

Rio Grande wetlands, Alamosa, CO, photo Denise Ames

We wrapped up our walk as the night sky was rising and the day sky descending. We turned to tell the wetlands that we would return tomorrow for another visit. They seemed to say “have a good evening, see you tomorrow.”

The next day dawned hot and sunny. After a fitful night’s sleep, I didn’t wake as early as I wished. But the wetlands beckoned us to come for another visit despite the time. We agreed.

We discovered another trail winding along the slow-crawling Rio Grande that looked promising. On a cloudy day it would have been great, but with few trees to shelter us from the blazing sun, we eventually got hot and turned back.

Rio Grande Riparian Area, photo Denise Ames

We searched for other trails around the Alamosa Riparian area and by happenchance found one. We were seeking shade and we finally found it for a nice hike along the extensive wetlands created by the river. It was called the Two Oxbow Trails (East and West), I thought they sounded exotic. Even though the river was about ½ mile away, the wetlands extended far and wide. Frogs happily jumped from lily pads, butterflies fluttered about, and birds chirped their welcome.

Even though a sign ominously warned of a possible mountain lion threat, we saw no sign of them, nor, luckily, did we encounter one. The trees gave off enough shade to keep our thermostats from boiling over, even though temperatures climbed into the 90s and the humidity was noticeable.

The heat finally took its toll and we headed to the car and the short drive back to the hotel for a late afternoon siesta and ice tea break.

Riparian Park, wetlands of Rio Grande, photo Denise Ames

When we finally revived, we decided to hike another portion of the trail along the Rio Grande from Coe Park in the opposite direction of the one we took the night before. We meandered along the river heading south instead of north, but we were disappointed. It seemed the city had used the area for a dump instead of wildlife and wetland preservation. It sorely needed a clean-up.

Once our hiking/walking needs had been satisfied for the day, we returned to the room, showered, and ventured out to a local restaurant for dinner. Afterwards, we hobbled back to the room and I welcomed a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow would be a big day, we were going to the Great Sand Dunes National Park. We would need all the energy we could muster for the outing. 

Happy 4th of July weekend! Since I will be celebrating the holiday, I will not post a blog on July 6, Tuesday. Will resume twice-weekly postings on July 8, Thursday.

About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences—teaching, scholarly research, personal experiences, extensive travels, and thoughtful reflections—have contributed to her balanced views and global perspectives. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit that develops globally-focused books and educational resources for educators and students grade 9-university. She has written eight books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, teaching units.

Along with CGA’s Gather program, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners and, Global Awareness for Educators, Dr. Ames is developing a new program: Turn, Transformation, Understanding, & Reflection Network. Turn encourages life-long learners to see with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and recognize the relationship of all things. She teaches workshops/classes and writes about Turn’s five topics: learning from the past, cross-cultural awareness, five worldviews, elder wisdom, and transformative travel.

Dr. Ames has written 9 books for the Center for Global Awareness, check out their offerings! Global Awareness Books 

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Alamosa, Colorado: Hub of the San Luis Valley

by Dr. Denise R. Ames

San Luis Valley Conservation Area

We needed a vacation, at least we thought we did. COVID-19 was on the wane and the country was opening up. My partner, Jim, and I had our vaccinations and we felt the urge to move. Even though we have lived in Albuquerque, NM for over 20 years, we have never been to Alamosa, Colorado, just a little over 200 miles away. It was calling us.

As we traveled north on US 285 to Alamosa, I was amazed at seeing such flat land stretching to the far horizon with a big blue sky dwarfing me and my Tiguan VW. Indeed, I felt swallowed by nature as I zoomed at 80 mph toward my destination.

Alamosa claims to be the hub of the San Luis Valley in south-central Colorado with a portion of it overlapping into northern New Mexico. The San Luis Valley was ceded to the United States by Mexico following the Mexican–American War (1846-1848). Afterwards, Hispanic settlers began moving north and settling in the valley, land that had previously been reserved for the Utes. During the 19th century Anglos (European descent) also settled in the valley and engaged in mining, ranching, and irrigated agriculture.

On the way to Alamosa, CO, mostly flat lands,
photo Denise Ames

As I researched the area, I found that the San Luis Valley is an unusual land formation. It has an average elevation of 7,664 feet (2,336 m) above sea level. It is a section of the Rio Grande Rift and is drained to the south by the Rio Grande, which rises in the San Juan Mountains to the west of the valley and flows south into the length of New Mexico. The valley is approximately 122 miles (196 km) long and 74 miles (119 km) wide.

Old train car parked at the Alamo Railway Station, photo Denise Ames

Our first stop upon reaching Alamosa was the visitor’s center. It was housed in the historic, train depot. Alamosa once proudly claimed to be the railroad hub of the valley before the 1950s. After that rail transportation ebbed and the age of the automobile took over. However, the city still houses vintage rail cars and locomotives attesting to its past railway glory. It was fun to meander through some of the old train cars and deserted rail yards.  

Rusted locomotive, Alamosa Railway Station, photo Denise Ames

With pamphlets and information in hand, we made our way to our hotel, a Hampton Inn. We usually like to stay at an Airbnb or local hotels, but our choices were limited. Anyway, it would be nice to have a good air conditioner, since it was hot in Alamosa as well. After lugging everything to our room and a brief rest, we decided on a walk along the Rio Grande accessed from Coe Park near the center of the city.

After dodging detours and one-ways we finally reached our destination and found a parking place, only to be pelted by a downpour. We remained in our car and watched people race to reach cover from the driving rain. The Little League games were put on temporary hold and concession tables folded up. From our car vantage point we couldn’t help but note the diversity of the citizenry. In fact, of the population of 9,441 (2019) 49% are Hispanic, 44.5% are Anglo, and a smattering of Black, Asian, and Native people make up the rest.

Hike along the Rio Grande wetlands, Alamosa, CO, photo Denise Ames

The San Luis Valley has a cold desert climate but has extensive water resources from the Rio Grande and groundwater. Groundwater in the form of wetlands is what brought us to this region. We found that there were numerous preserved wetlands—Blanca Wetlands, and Alamosa and Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuges—around the area. Unfortunately for us, but fortunate for wildlife, they were closed to hikers until July 15 to allow for nesting to take place.

To satisfy our wetlands obsession we decided to hike an easy trail along the Rio Grande riparian network adjacent to Coe Park. After the rain subsided, we set out for our hike. The Little League game resumed, as life in the all-American park seemed to spring back into action.

To be continued in the next blog, July 1, Thursday.

About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences—teaching, scholarly research, personal experiences, extensive travels, and thoughtful reflections—have contributed to her balanced views and global perspectives. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit that develops globally-focused books and educational resources for educators and students grade 9-university. She has written eight books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, teaching units.

Along with CGA’s Gather program, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners and, Global Awareness for Educators, Dr. Ames is developing a new program: Turn, Transformation, Understanding, & Reflection Network. Turn encourages life-long learners to see with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and recognize the relationship of all things. She teaches workshops/classes and writes about Turn’s five topics: learning from the past, cross-cultural awareness, five worldviews, elder wisdom, and transformative travel.

Dr. Ames has written 9 books for the Center for Global Awareness, check out their offerings! Global Awareness Books 

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The Atrisco Trail Along the Rio Grande: A Respite from the Heat in Albuquerque

by Dr. Denise R. Ames

It is hot here in Albuquerque. The temperature has hovered around, and often above, the 100 degrees mark for several weeks. My son, who lives in Phoenix, reminds me that he knows what heat is all about, 118 degrees on some days, and I am just a wimp! I agree with him that Phoenix temperatures are unbearable, but, to me, it is still hot in Albuquerque.

Atrisco Trail, Albuquerque, NM, photo Denise Ames

My partner, Jim, and I love to take hikes into the woods and various mountain trails around Albuquerque and elsewhere. But many of the trails we love are exposed to the blistering sun. But we have an ace up our sleeve: the tree shaded trail along the west side of the Rio Grande called the Atrisco Trail. It is a summer-time solution to the heat and sun.

We enter the trail at an obscure location just south of Central Avenue (old Route 66) on the west side of the Rio Grande. There is a parking lot for vehicles but I have never seen it full. Since the east side of the river has a more affluent population than the west, the east side trails attract more outdoor activities. All fine by me, I like the fact that on the west side of the river there is not as much bicycle traffic or runners as on the east side, just the occasional hiker.

“Cotton” from the cottonwood trees, photo Denise Ames

Ahh, trees await us as we step out of our car and enter the forested sanctuary. We even get to park in the shade! We head south on one of the main trails that splinters and winds through the old cottonwoods that stretch their branches across our pathways sheltering us from the sweltering sun.

I prefer the dense paths that hug the Rio Grande. They are the most shaded, with foliage narrowing our path to a slim patch of dirt. We often have to duck underneath or hop over thick iron wires that block our path. They are remnants of the river’s flood and debris control complex that were erected decades ago and now serve little purpose other than providing an obstacle course for our morning hike.

We love one section of the trail where the cottonwood trees disburse their cotton-like substance. They are small bits of cotton-like fibers enclosing a small green cottonwood seed. The cotton is nature’s distribution agent, allowing the seeds to be widely dispersed as they are blown in the wind. As I walk through the accumulation of “cotton” it feels like I am entering a dream world of fluff, everything is soft and slowly floating about. Nothing is hard, tangible, or real, only illusory.

Iron barriers along the trail, photo Denise Ames

It is interesting to note on the trails close to the river whether it has risen or receded in comparison with the previous walk. The Rio Grande originates in mountains of south-central Colorado in the United States and flows to the Gulf of Mexico a total of 1,885 miles. However, where we hike it is shallow, and we often see people frolic on sandbars in the middle of the river.  

The trail along the west side of the Rio Grande stretches miles southward from our favorite hiking spot. We haven’t ventured to the end, as we are content with walking a few miles south and then back to our starting point. I never mind out and back trails, since I always find something different each way. It is funny how our minds see different things even though we are walking the same path. I guess that is a lesson of life.

Rio Grande at a high level, photo Denise Ames

Even though we are sheltered by the shade, the morning is starting to heat up and I am ready for a cool glass of water. We mosey our way back to the parking lot, saying hello to the occasional hiker.

I glanced back at our trail and the cottonwoods arching their branches towards the sky. I imagined that Native people hundreds of years ago might have also ambled along under the same branches and availed themselves of a shaded respite from the blazing inferno that baked the land. The cottonwoods, I thought, seemed to be happy to shelter whoever needed their cooling services, whether in the past or that very moment. I looked up and thanked them.   

About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences—teaching, scholarly research, personal experiences, extensive travels, and thoughtful reflections—have contributed to her balanced views and global perspectives. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit that develops globally-focused books and educational resources for educators and students grade 9-university. She has written eight books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, teaching units.

Along with CGA’s Gather program, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners and, Global Awareness for Educators, Dr. Ames is developing a new program: Turn, Transformation, Understanding, & Reflection Network. Turn encourages life-long learners to see with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and recognize the relationship of all things. She teaches workshops/classes and writes about Turn’s five topics: learning from the past, cross-cultural awareness, five worldviews, elder wisdom, and transformative travel.

Dr. Ames has written 9 books for the Center for Global Awareness, check out their offerings! Global Awareness Books 

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An Unexpected Message from the Sly Coyote Trail: Cibola National Wilderness, New Mexico

by Dr. Denise R. Ames

Coyote Trail, Cibola National Wilderness, NM
photo, Denise Ames

I often like to share with you some of the wonderful hiking trails I transverse and how inspiring they are to me, and hopefully you. The Coyote Trail in the Cibola National Wilderness, however, was not one of them. Its trail neighbors–the awe-inspiring Otereo and Tunnel Canyon Trails—were glorious, but alas, the Coyote Trail does not have any of the same charm. At least it didn’t to me. But it had another lesson that I did not imagine when I set out on this clever trail.

My partner, Jim, and I set off for a hike one sunny morning and decided on the Coyote Trail, since we have not hiked it before and it looked interesting. It also has a great name, coyote sounds so exotic. We have had good luck with near-by trails, so we thought, why not.

View from the Coyote Trail, photo Denise Ames

I contemplated even writing a blog about the trail but I thought I would write it from a different perspective from what I usually do. Trails mean different things to different people, and not everyone regards a walk through nature as a such a stirring experience as I do. Some like trails as an avenue for adventure or to test one’s physical limits and endurance. Although I do hike for exercise and to push my physical endurance, I would not rank these items as the primary reason for a hike. Usually I share a trail with people who do prioritize these aspects of being in nature, and I may grumble as I have to step aside on the trail for a speeding bike or avid runner. When I do I remind myself they are out to enjoy nature as I am and my way is not the only way.

Coyote Trail, photo Denise Ames

The hike along the Coyote Trail was a good reminder for me that nature means different things to different people.

We pulled up into the full parking lot, a good omen we thought for the popularity of the trail. However, from the get-go we found the trail lacking. The rocky terrain seemed harsh and unforgiving. But the real drawback, to me anyway, was the wide gravel drive that accommodated ATV and dirt bikes. I will admit, I do have a bias against motorized vehicles in nature, even snow mobiles. Nature to me should be pure, quiet, and untrammeled by modern mechanical ways. This was not such a trail.

Dirt bike on the Coyote Trail, photo Denise Ames

We decided to hike the trail for several miles anyway, despite our disapproval of the inclusion of mechanized vehicles. We heard the roar of engines off in the distance, but didn’t encounter any on the trail. The engine roar distracted me from focusing on birds and other sounds of nature, such as tiny lizards scampering out of our way. 

Then I saw one! The one was a man on a dirt bike/motorcycle. He was stopped at the end of trail, waiting for us to move aside so he could plunder nature, at least that is how I imagined it.

Coyote Trail, photo Denise Ames

I said hello and we engaged in some polite conversation. He said it was a great day to be out, I said the same. I noticed he had a sticker on his motor bike that said “Testing on Animals.” Ouch, I didn’t agree with that one. But nonetheless, we stepped out of the way as he steered his motorbike down the hill, waiting a respectable distance before starting up the engine.

We made our way back to the parking lot and complained briefly that the Coyote Trail was not our favorite. But I had to stop a minute to get the message that Coyote was sending to me, in his sly and veiled way, “nature has many meanings, and yours is not the only one.” I thought about my negative reaction to the man on the motorbike. It was so silly and judgmental. The trail wasn’t there just for me to enjoy, but others, despite their differences, could enjoy it as well. As I got into my car, I silently thanked Coyote for his worthwhile message.

About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences—teaching, scholarly research, personal experiences, extensive travels, and thoughtful reflections—have contributed to her balanced views and global perspectives. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit that develops globally-focused books and educational resources for educators and students grade 9-university. She has written eight books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, teaching units.

Along with CGA’s Gather program, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners and, Global Awareness for Educators, Dr. Ames is developing a new program: Turn, Transformation, Understanding, & Reflection Network. Turn encourages life-long learners to see with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and recognize the relationship of all things. She teaches workshops/classes and writes about Turn’s five topics: learning from the past, cross-cultural awareness, five worldviews, elder wisdom, and transformative travel. Dr. Ames has written 9 books for the Center for Global Awareness, check out their offerings! Global Awareness Books 

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TWA at JFK: A Glimpse at Travel in the 1960s

by Dr. Denise R. Ames

My visit with my daughter’s family, including my three grandchildren, was coming to an end! But one more adventure before taking-off on a Jet Blue flight from JFK in New York City to Albuquerque, a visit to the renovated old TWA terminal at JFK.

Many of you may not recognize the acronym TWA, it stands for Trans World Airlines. It was a major American airline that operated from 1930 until 2001.

The infamous and fascinating Howard Hughes acquired control of TWA in 1939, and after World War II led the expansion of the airline to serve Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Although headquarters of TWA was located in St. Louis, MO, its transatlantic hub was the TWA Flight Center at JFK Airport. Named after the charismatic president John Fitzgerald Kennedy on December 24, 1963, the former Idlewild Airport in New York City commemorated the slain president just a little over a month after his assassination.

In the 1960s, TWA was in its heyday, and traveling was glamorous. I remember taking my first airplane flight in September 1963 from Chicago to Dallas (I think on TWA). For the occasion, my mother made sure I had a new outfit (blue plaid pleated skirt and color-coordinated blue sweater). 

To showcase TWA’s prominence and the New York airport’s significance in the world, renowned architect Eero Saarinen and Associates were commissioned to design a new Flight Center for TWA. It was erected between 1959 and 1962. Saarinen is also known for designing the soaring Gateway Arch in St. Louis.

During the deregulation frenzy of the late 1970s, TWA experienced many troubles and several bankruptcies. It was ultimately bought by American Airlines and sadly the legendary airline ceased its operations in 2003.

The NY terminal closed in 2001—along with its namesake Trans World Airlines—because it could no longer support the size of modern airplanes. Nearly two decades later, the once abandoned landmark building reopened on May 15, 2019 as the TWA Hotel, JFK’s first on-airport hotel.

Midcentury modern best describes the style of the renovated Flight Center in all its nostalgic splendor. The sweeping lines and suspended overhangs scream the 1950s and 1960s architecture.

My family and I were excited about seeing the old TWA Flight Center. Since my Jet Blue flight and the Flight Center both operated out of Terminal 5, it made for a convenient and leisurely time before taking off. The kids loved the swivel stools, spinning around until dizzy. The classic red color of TWA adorned the seating and carpet. After touring the lobby, we headed to the bar to order some snacks and drinks.

Out of high school, I applied to be a stewardess (the name back then for flight attendant) with American and TWA Airlines. I was interviewed in Chicago, but alas I didn’t make the cut. Although my waitressing skills were a plus, I measured 5’8” tall and the cut-off was 5’5”. They also had weight restrictions, but at 18 years old I easily slipped under that number. I sat in the terminal imagining my life if I had become a stewardess. Perhaps I would have made a career out of it and not gone to college. Perhaps I would have traveled the world rather than have read about it. Alas, that path did not open to me. Instead, I finished college, got married, had a family, and pursued at career in education (grade7-university).

Watching my rambunctious grandchildren race about the bright red carpeted lounge area, I felt happy about the path I had chosen. My dear daughter and sweet grandchildren would not be tearing around if I had chosen differently.

Finally it was time to say good-bye. My grandchildren accompanied me through the renovated tunnel to the Jet Blue terminal. Lots of kisses and hugs as I waved good-bye. I reminisced about my short walk through memory lane inspired by the TWA renovation.

The 1960s were a long time ago, but I remember them vividly. Much has happened since then, some good and some bad. One thing I do realize is that even though many choices are made through one’s life, it does little good to second guess them. What is important is living each moment with what one has and being grateful for it. I felt a sense of contentment realizing that being a stewardess probably wasn’t as glamorous as it seemed, and I would have probably become bored with it after a while and quit.

At least now I can say that I was happy seeing my grandchildren run through the tunnel back to the red-carpeted lounge and their loving parents. I turned the corner to pass through security and board my flight.

About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences—teaching, scholarly research, personal experiences, extensive travels, and thoughtful reflections—have contributed to her balanced views and global perspectives. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit that develops globally-focused books and educational resources for educators and students grade 9-university. She has written eight books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, teaching units.

Along with CGA’s Gather program, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners and, Global Awareness for Educators, Dr. Ames is developing a new program: Turn, Transformation, Understanding, & Reflection Network. Turn encourages life-long learners to see with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and recognize the relationship of all things. She teaches workshops/classes and writes about Turn’s five topics: learning from the past, cross-cultural awareness, five worldviews, elder wisdom, and transformative travel.

Dr. Ames has written 9 books for the Center for Global Awareness, check out their offerings! Global Awareness Books 

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Salt, a Part of Us, a Part of Nature: A Visit to the Salt Flats in New Mexico

by Dr. Denise R. Ames

We don’t think much about salt but it is a vital mineral essential for humans and other life forms. As I was driving to and from my visit to the Salinas (salt) Spanish Pueblos and Missions south of Albuquerque, New Mexico, I decided to take a brief detour to see the salt flats stretching across the barren New Mexico landscape.

I had learned in my research about the early Salinas pueblos that they gained wealth and built their pueblos in the area in part because of the salt trade. Even before the Spanish arrived, salt was carried across the arid flats of New Mexico for trade, and the Salinas people were part of the trading network.

Once the Spanish arrived and set up missions at Abo, Quarai, and Gran Quivira (see earlier posts), they too engaged in the trade. The Spanish aided the salt trade by introducing previously unknown pack animals to the Western hemisphere—horse, mules, donkeys—to transport the salt. Because of its weight, it is hard to imagine a more difficult trade item to transport across vast distances than salt. But donkeys were loaded with salt bags destined for nearby trading partners.

It seems counterintuitive, but salt is scarce and the universal need for it has played a role in wars, politics, and to raise tax revenues. In fact, it is essential for life in general. Salt is a mineral composed primarily of sodium chloride, a chemical compound belonging to the larger class of salts. Saltiness is one of the basic human tastes. It is one of the oldest and most ubiquitous food seasonings, and salting is an important method of food preservation. Salt is used in religious ceremonies and has other cultural and traditional significance.

Central New Mexico is not the only area to engage in the salt trade. Through human history, salt became an important article of trade and was transported by boat across the Mediterranean Sea, along specially built salt roads, and across the Sahara on camel caravans.

Many tourists to New Mexico find the salt trade to be of interest. Now the salt trade route is memorialized in the Salt Missions Trail Scenic Byway. It is a 150-mile byway in Central New Mexico that celebrates the cultures of native American, Spanish, and Anglo peoples in 13 communities and numerous historical and archaeological sites along the Byway.

I was eager to see where all the salt was located. I had visited the salt flats many years ago, but I wanted to see the area with “new eyes.” Traveling south on highway 337, I came to the junction of Highway 60.  I headed east on the two-lane highway for about 20 miles, to the town of Willard. Just east of Willard, I saw the first glimpse of the salt flats. It was breathtaking. I had to stop the car and get out!

It was a slightly windy day, and it must have been enough wind to stir the dry salt particles into a misty cloud that hovered over the land. It gave an ethereal look to the landscape, which is already stark. It was hard to imagine that a large portion of this area of New Mexico was underwater millions of years ago. These ancient lake salt beds provided critical salt supplies to residents and their trading partners until well into the 20th century.

I drove eastward for several more miles, stopping alongside the road to get a closer look at the ancient beds of salt. I searched the horizon, and all I saw were hills of salt. The scene gave me a surreal feeling, like nature was playing tricks on me. For a mineral that is essential for human and other forms of life, paradoxically, nothing grew on the salt flats, except for some scraggly brush that seemed to be merely passing through rather than digging in deep roots for the long haul.

What I like about New Mexico is that even though I am sheltered and secure within the urban morass of the city, just step outside these secure confines and I am confronted with nature unbound, stripped of any human attempts at civilizing. The salt flats were like this. Salt, stretching across the semi-desert, was raw and similar to what it would have been like millions of years ago. Salt is part of us and salt is part of nature.

I got in my car and drove back to Albuquerque, to my secure confines of hearth and home. But the feeling that swept over me as I gazed onto the salt flats always gives me pause, it said to me to stop and contemplate that not only are we part of nature, but nature is part of us. The salt flats reminded me of that truth.

About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences—teaching, scholarly research, personal experiences, extensive travels, and thoughtful reflections—have contributed to her balanced views and global perspectives. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit that develops globally-focused books and educational resources for educators and students grade 9-university. She has written eight books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, teaching units.

Along with CGA’s Gather program, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners and, Global Awareness for Educators, Dr. Ames is developing a new program: Turn, Transformation, Understanding, & Reflection Network. Turn encourages life-long learners to see with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and recognize the relationship of all things. She teaches workshops/classes and writes about Turn’s five topics: learning from the past, cross-cultural awareness, five worldviews, elder wisdom, and transformative travel.

Dr. Ames has written 9 books for the Center for Global Awareness, check out their offerings! Global Awareness Books 

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