Los Alamos and Bandelier National Monument

Yesterday, Wednesday, November 6,2013 was a very exciting day for both of us.  We decided to take a day trip to Los Alamos and visit the Bradbury museum.  The drive from Santa Fe to Los Alamos is, as expected, visually stunning.  The mountains change to steep cliffs that appear to be made of sandstone, but are, instead made of volcanic ash.

Jemez Caldera – Valley is the result of what is left from the volcanic eruption.

Over one million years ago the Jemez volcano to the north of this area, erupted twice.  These eruptions were so massive that over 400 square miles of ash were ejected in amounts up to 1000 feet thick in this area.  The ash compacted over time and became a pink crumbly rock.  This then eroded over time in the weaker areas and formed a “Swiss cheese”  affect, giving the cliffs cave like holes.  The pueblo indians took advantage of these cliffs to enlarge these holes and build dwellings in them.




Swiss Cheese Cliffs in Bandelier National Monument

We arrived at Los Alamos first and immediately stopped and visited the museum.   The Bradbury is   a science museum dedicated to the history of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and to the current research and development projects of the lab. For us, being science buffs, we throughly enjoyed our visit at the Bradbury. The small history section was packed with information and exhibits, plus there was a short film you could enjoy in a spacious theater area with great seats. We spent almost 2 hours there looking at all there was to see. You can visit their web site here to learn more: Admission is FREE!

We had thought we would also spend some time exploring the town of Los Alamos. However, we quickly decided there was not much to see, except “Bath Tub Row” named for the houses that had indoor bath tubs at the time the lab was established. We saw Oppenheimer’s house and then decided to leave for the Bandelier National Monument. Leaving Los Alamos to get to this park is interesting. You must pass through a security clearance toll booth, where they look at your identification, driver’s license, since you must enter the section of the city that houses the Laboratory complex. Once out the effort is well worth it.

Cliff Dwelling

The area proceeding to the National monument is spectacular! Pine trees, mountain passes with hair pin turns and lastly a deep canyon with stunning cliffs! Los Alamos is hyped up on the internet to be really special, and it is OK mind you, but Bandelier is much better and not as advertised as Los Alamos. If you are in this area go to the monument!

Those who know me might be aware of my dread of heights. For the record,  I am working on conquering this fear, but it is a challenge. This trip has brought out the best and the worst of my dreads, as I call them. Dreading something is often worse than the actual event. The cliff dwellings were my challenge yesterday. For the most part the short walk to them is flat and very easy. The steps that lead to the cliffs where the pueblo is, are not for those who suffer as I do. I did it, though I have to admit I was weak in the knees when I got back to the car!

It is incredible that up to 500 people once dwelled here! So meager a lifestyle it must have been, yet they found plentiful water (there is a bubbling stream here that flows continually), game (turkeys were raised by the tribe), and numerous plants used for consumption and medicine. In addition, they planted corn, the staple. We never saw one, but there are antelope here.

The drive back in the late afternoon was equally spectacular. As we came into Santa Fe, the sun was just right against the mountain, and in shadow the range appeared purple. Purple mountain majesty, against the fruited plain, we saw it that day for sure!


The Blue Hole & Pecos

Today we visited two unique sights in New Mexico, a blue hole in Santa Rosa, and the pueblo ruins in the Pecos National Historic Park.  The blue hole is located just off old Route 66 in Santa Rosa.  The aquifer is an 80 foot opening forming a stunning blue hole of crystal clear water that flows at a rate of 3000 gpm.

The two of us at the Blue Hole.

The Blue Hole








We also visited the Pecos National Historical Park, which has some peublo ruins, and also the ruins of a mission.  Here is a photo of the mission.


Mission Ruins






The Palo Duro Canyon

This is day one of a much needed vacation for the two of us!  We decided to take a full week and travel Northwest to Santa Fe, New Mexico with a one day stop-over in Amarillo.  The main intent for this one day short trip was to spend a few hours exploring

Visitor’s Center Palo Duro State Park

the Palo Duro Canyon.  The name Palo Duro is Spanish for “hard wood”, which is a reference to the Juniper trees that are common in the canyon.  I was very pleasantly surprised by the sheer beauty of the cliffs and the spectacular colors in the strata formations.  Here are a few photos we took today.

The visitor’s center was an easy drive from the park entrance and had some window views of the canyon.  It was very windy when we arrived, so I was able to take some quick photos of  the canyon from inside the visitor’s center.

Danny in the Visitor’s Center















Palo Duro Canyon View


Class Reunion Web Site

This summer I got a broadcast email plea from a high school acquaintance asking someone to volunteer to help with a new reunion website for our high school graduation class (1969).  It has been a long time since I did any website volunteer work and this looked like it might be a good match for my talents and experience.  There was not much information in this email other than the old reunion web site was gone and to use Facebook was the last option he wanted.

Richardson High School 1969 Annual

I composed an email to my friend outlining my experience levels and some recommendations along with some links to some recent web site work I had done.  The next day I got an enthusiastic response and a meeting was set up to get together in person to discuss the various pros and cons of the various recommendations I had made. Who could turn down free web site consultation and development? Ha. Ha.

I did about 4 or 5 hours of research before I responded to my high school friend’s request (David).  My research involved the use of content management systems (CMS).  A good CMS will allow an inexperienced nonprofessional to create and maintain a great looking web site without very much knowledge except perhaps with a word processor.  Blogs are excellent examples of CMS systems.  The last thing I wanted was to saddle David with a website he could not maintain without my help (which is partly why he was unable to keep the last web site going).  I did want to assist in any way I could to make this transition easy for him and give him a beautiful web site to look at and navigate easily.  It was an obvious choice to go with a CMS, the next criteria was to select a CMS that had plenty of great features, strong security and one that did not burden the classmates with any extra charges or fees.

Joomla came to mind first.  I have created and maintained a couple of web sites on that CMS platform.  Joomla is free and open source.  All you need is server space and a URL and you can start creating your web site, once you have downloaded Joomla.  Joomla does require a learning curve (even to install it requires some research) and unless you use it regularly you can forget some of the finer points of using it.  If you want to customize the look of a template in Joomla or create your own template having a knowledge of html and CSS is essential to getting the exact look you want.  The plus side is, once you have a great template, maintaining the web site is easy.  Backups and extensions don’t’ come with the basic setup.  You must get those separately and install them one by one.  The main extension I needed was an extensive database, enough for the possibility of over 900 classmates and their profiles.


Adding a database to Joomla is possible, there are plenty of options out there.  Some knowledge of database structure and query is required to use these extensions.  This did not fit my criteria of allowing any administrator to easily maintain this web site.  The learning curve seemed a bit steep, even for me.  What I needed was a CMS specifically designed for class reunions.  Turns out there are plenty of these out there.  It is just a matter of picking the best one for the features and price.

Here is a brief list of class reunion web sites and their features and prices are on links I have supplied.  These are sorted by how Google responded to my search, “Class Reunion Web sites”:

  1. – Pricing structure monthly with a credit card fee to process tickets
    1. Standard features include database for classmates, forums, a way to add donations etc. and more.  The monthly fee seemed a bit high and fees to process tickets was also a bit on the high side at the time of my research (5%).
  2. – Free, no pop-ups, no spam.  Only a donation is suggested, $15/year per classmate.  The look of the web sites did not impress me.  They all looked pretty much the same.  We had a large class and we wanted a professional appearance that would attract attention.  Plus, adding up the suggested donation per classmate on a graduating class our size seemed pretty high fee.  Seemed to me that it might be time consuming and nagging to ask for money from your classmates.
  3.  Pricing structure is reasonable, web site header design is customizable, and template structure was easy to navigate.  They also can point to an existing URL, which the free web sites don’t offer (they create a directory structure under their own URL).  There were no fees to the classmates at all.  FAQ page offered some detailed information before you purchase anything making the decision to recommend with this particular company much more comfortable.  In addition, they allow you to backup the database to your computer as well as the automatic backup they provide on their servers, plus you can set up the site with more than one administrator.  This seemed like a perfect fit to allow both me and David to maintain the site at the same time.


There are more companies out there, I looked at several more, however if the fees were cheaper, it was reflected in the look of the web sites, which generally all looked the same.  Most had the exact same header design graphics, and no change to the links above or on the side and most of the content was crowded on the home page.  I wanted to have the ability to make this web site relatively unique and use an existing URL, plus post photos and links where I wanted them.  I also wanted to feel confident that should I be unable to help David, he could easily do any changes himself without me at all.  This would leave me free to go on vacation, or shut down my system without feeling guilty, while someone needed some help.  I also looked at each vendor to see how many customers they each had and the age of the users who posted these web sites.  I was specifically looking at web sites for classes before 1970.  I wanted to see what folks our age were posting and how they used their system.  Also, I checked to see if they posted any remarks regarding how easy this system was to use.  Classcreator has an open forum which posts many user comments, and questions.  It was good see that folks 10 years older than me using their system without a problem.  I was lucky to be in a geek family.  I have programmed in html, javascript and more.  Not everyone my age is into computers in the same way.

The last criteria was to make certain any web site created using this system would work on all current mobile devices.  I may be a computer geek, but I have also noticed many of my friends who are hooked into their mobile phones and tablets.  Some of these folks don’t use a personal computer at all any more.  I have both an iphone and a tablet at hand to check on just how easy these web sites are to use on a small screen.  Classcreator passed this test too, all of the web sites I tested that used this worked just fine on all devices I had, they were easy to navigate and see.  As an added plus, several graduating classes from our school also use this same company.

Mobile Device Availability

My meeting with David a couple of weeks later resulted in him wanting to think this recommendation over carefully.  He felt burned after his last web site developer, who hosted the web site on a private server, disappeared and the site was offline.  A great deal of time and research on David’s part had vanished and all he had left were whatever records were on his hard drive.  He felt a bit gun shy and I can’t blame him.  His backup included a large list of classmates and their contact information in Excel, plus countless photos and other memorabilia from previous reunions.  He supplied me this information on a portable drive, which I took back with me pending his decision on which system to use.

After our meeting, at David’s request, I did my best to try to contact his previous web site developer to see if there was any possible way to obtain a copy of that code to restore it.  It seemed that was the first choice to save the most time and money.  A week later, we both gave up.  No emails or phone calls placed to them were returned to either of us.

After this last effort failed, David immediately contacted the site administrator for Classcreator and began asking questions.  His questions were answered promptly and after a few days he too was satisfied that this system was our best choice.

Next:  Where do we go from here??

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