Shaun,

Thanks for the opportunity to spend time with Uncle Bill.  He is really cool and the rest of his family is great too!  I especially enjoy the cat “Star” who seems to run the house.

Aunt Patty is a wonderful cook.  I enjoy eating her “HOT” Tex-Mex and Pennsylvania Dutch meals.  My favorite place to eat-out thus far is “2 Peppers.”  I usually order 2 cheese enchiladas, rice, refried beans, and flour tortillas.

          I’ve been staying in Cousin Andrew’s room.  We share his bunk beds.  It’s fun to climb to bed each night.  Andrew enjoys playing basketball and playing his violin.  His room is not as messy as your is…..ha, ha!

          Living on Fort Sam Houston is very different in that everyday at 0600 hours (military time) revile is sounded - a cannon is fired and the United States flag is raised.  Then again at 1700 hours retreat is sounded - a cannon is fired and the United States flag is lowered.  These are very neat ceremonies to observe and honor.  The people living and working on the fort show great respect for Old Glory…I like seeing that!

          Fort Sam Houston is the home of 5th Army Headquarters.  The Headquarters is responsible for Command and Control of all reserve units West of the Mississippi River.  Historically, this is one of the United States oldest forts.  Apache Medicine Man, Geronimo, was captured and held in the garrison quadrangle before being transported east to Florida (http://www.gbso.net/SKYHAWK/Geronimo.htm).  Today this same area is home for animals, deer, rabbits, guinea hens, peacocks, and ducks. 

The fort itself is located in the city of San Antonio, “Deep In the Heart of Texas.”  San Antonio is noted for the Spurs NBA team and the beautiful River Walk.  Historically, the city is noted for the Alamo Mission where 5,000 Mexican soldiers under the command of Santa Ana conducted battle against Texan volunteers.  Many Texans and United States citizens who fought lost their lives during this battle to include COL Travis, Davey Crocket, and Jim Bowie.  From this initial defeat, Texans rallied around the battle cry of “Remember the Alamo” and defeated Santa Ana in future battles.  Texas eventually won her independence from Mexico and became her own country.

The people of San Antonio are extremely friendly.  I have enjoyed interacting with them as I see the sites.  What is really interesting is most citizens are bi-lingual.  They fluently speak both Spanish and English.  I’ve learned much of their language and culture just by listening and observing their activities.

Cowboys and Cowgirls are well represented in the local population.  They really stand out in that I’m not familiar with seeing people dressed the way they dress.  They enjoy the fashions of cowboy hats, boots, shirts, jeans, and belts with very large “Silver” belt buckles.  Men wear string ties and ladies wear bandannas around their necks.  When they mix it up they dance to the Boot Scoot Boogie, Two Step, and the Cotton Eyed Joe.

Aunt Patty and Uncle Bill planned a road trip over Spring Break.  They welcomed me to come along…so I graciously excepted.  They said that they decided to take the family West…..I thought I was West?  Cousin Sarah flew in from Savannah Georgia. Cousin Andrew, Annie, Susie, and Sarah packed immediately for the trip because we were going to leave very early Saturday morning.  What little that I had I threw in an envelop.  I was so excited and set to go!  I have attached a drawing of a road map which we propose to follow.  Shaun we were going to drive through the following states:

 

We got up early on Saturday, 10 March, and departed San Antonio on the Pecos Trail (I-10).  This trail was used by the stage coach lines to transport people and goods from the port of Corpus Christie through San Antonio, Fort Stockton, El Paso, to San Diego.  Uncle Bill said we were not going the whole way to San Diego, but he had some fun things planned.  At El Paso we would turn right and follow the Rio Grande River North to Albuquerque and Santa Fe.  From Santa Fe we’d be following the Santa Fe trail and head west to Flagstaff.  We’d be traveling from San Antonio which has an elevation of 700 feet to Santa Fe which has an elevation of 7,000 feet.  We expect that the sunny 70-80 degree spring like weather of San Antonio hill country to change drastically to the 17-35 degree cold snowy weather of the Rocky Mountain locations in New Mexico and Arizona.  Do not worry Shaun, Cousin Sarah made me a suit out of cowhide to keep me warm and dry.

We stopped at Fort Stockton.  Fort Stockton is the only Army Fort named after a Naval Officer.  [Shaun, we got to find out what this naval officer did…he must have been good….Maybe there is a book in the library that will provide us more information on this guy.]  After the Civil War, the segregated Army assigned Black cavalry soldiers here to protect the precious cargo of people and goods traveling on wagon trains and stage coaches from the unruly Native American Indians (Chamanchi, Apache, Pueblo) who occupied this region of the country.   These soldiers did an outstanding job securing the area from Indian raids.  The Indians named these soldiers “Buffalo Soldiers” in that the soldier’s black curly hair reminded the Indians of the hair on the main of the buffalo.

Aunt Patty made us a nice sandwich lunch which we enjoyed while surveying the fort.  Fort Stockton had no walls because on the open desert plain you could see for miles.  Instead of walls the fort would send out soldiers who acted as listening and observation posts.  These remote soldiers would listen and look for signs of trouble.  Then when trouble was identified they would report back to the fort to muster the troop. The troop would then ride out in force to the site of trouble and resolve any issues that they might encounter.

Driving to El Paso, we noticed the ground change from lime stone to sand.  We noticed cyclones of sand pushed skyward by the wind.  These dust bowls made the air look smoky and cloudy.  There were large ranches of open cattle ranges.  These ranches had no barns for their cattle.  Aunt Patty explained that in Texas there is no need for barns in that herds do not need protection from the environment (cold weather) as they do in the North which has a colder climate.

El Paso is a border city with Mexico.  Cuidad Juarez is the Mexican sister city of El Paso.  The geographic dividing boundary between the United States and Mexico, Texas and Mexico, and El Paso and Juarez is the Rio Grande River.  Ciudad is noted for its Placedo el Toro, Bull Fights.  El Paso is the home of Fort Bliss and the Anti Aircraft Defense Systems.  Andrew and I had a great time looking at all the missiles (Patriot, Hercules, Titan, Vulcan, etc).  The missile museum was excellent, identifying weapons new and old and how the military deploys them.  Uncle Bill received a snappy salute from the fort gate guard Military Police as we entered and exited the fort…I saluted back….Impressive to see such honor and loyalty to a chosen profession!

Turning North on the interstate we followed the Rio Grande River toward Mesilla, New Mexico.  I was so excited because we planned to stop in Mesilla where “Billy the Kid,” (http://www.nmia.com/~btkog/) the noted outlaw, was caught, tried, sentenced and then he escaped.  The town was authentic Old West with shops, government buildings, and general stores made in accordance with adobe construction - probably a local building code enforced by the Borrow Manager.

It was great to arrive at Las Cruses.  After 600 miles of driving this was to be our first night stop.  We spent a restful evening enjoying a heated indoor pool and whirl pool before retiring for the night.

Sunday was a sunny yet cool day.  Continuing our drive North we began to see snow capped mountains.  These Rocky Mountains were part of range known as Sierra Andres (Cousin Andrew’s Mountains).  In this part of our road trip as with the first 600 miles urban areas, cities and town, were few and far between.  I certainly enjoyed seeing God’s high desert plan for myself.  God did an outstanding job with this creation……It is beautiful!

We encountered a United States Boarder Patrol inspection station about 50 miles North of Las Cruses.  Uncle Bill had to pull over and declare that all the passengers in the automobile were United States Citizens.  The Boarder Patrol Officer looked at me real suspiciously in that I did not look like Uncle Bill, Aunt Patty, or Cousins Sarah, Susie, Annie, or Andrew.  We were all concerned at first, but when he realized that I was wearing my Texas Cowboy outfit and noticed my Pennsylvanian dialect, the Boarder Patrol Officer was satisfied that I was a United States citizen and allowed us to continue our journey.

The road was long and looked almost endless in the distance.  A couple of times I could not tell where the ground stopped and the sky started (Forest Gump).  We passed from the lower plains to the high plains of the Rio Grande River valley.  The scenery was stunning….I have never seen anything like it.  Differences in ground sources (volcanic, sand, limestone, granite, slate, clay, etc) combined with changing vegetation and rolling sunlight and clouds to create a panoramic kaleidoscope of color.  What a sight to behold!

Aunt Patty guided us past Albuquerque toward Santa Fe.  Santa Fe is the capital of New Mexico.  Santa Fe means “Holy Faith” in Spanish.  We drove straight to Santa Fe’s “Old Town” where the Santa Fe Trail began.  This trail was used by the settlers migrating on wagon trains to California during the “California Gold Rush.”

The Governor’s Palace was constructed in  1609 by order of the Viceroy of Spain.  This building is still standing and is the oldest continually used government building in the United States.  Through the years the building passed through the hands of the Spain, Mexico, United States, and eventually to the New Mexican State Government.  Today the building porch walkway is used by Indian Artisans to show and sell their wares.  

Cousin Annie wanted to visit the New Mexico State Capital Building.  I’m so glad we did.  Our tour guide, Abby, provided an excellent tour of the Legislative (Senate and Congress) and Executive Offices.  This tour was very impressive.  Shaun, do you know how old you must be to be a New Mexico State Senator?  Aunt Patty notices one of the Judiciary Committee’s agenda item was the “Pardon of Billy the Kid.”  Hey Shaun, we should go online and find out if a bill was adopted which Pardoned Billy the Kid!  The Capital was decorated with local art which is crem-de-la-crem.  Abby told us about what the State Seal represents:  Large Eagle - The United States; 3 Arrows - the 3 tribe (Comanche, Apache, Pueblo); Little Eagle with a snake in its mouth sitting on a cactus - depicts an Indian myth that the Indians should settle in the place where this eagle was sighted (Santa Fe is where they found this eagle); Under Script “Crescit Eundo” - Latin phrase meaning “It Grows - It Goes.”

The New Mexico State flag is yellow with a distinct red Zia Sun - Insignia of the Pueblo Indian.  The circle depicts the basic harmony of all things in the universe.  4 is the sacred number of the Zia and from the circle 4 sets of 4 straight lines radiate.  These lines embody the 4 main directions (North, South, East, West); the seasons of the year (summer, fall, winter, spring); the day (sunrise, noon, evening, night); and life (childhood, youth, manhood, old age).  The flag depicts that everything is bound together in the circle of life and love, without a beginning and without an ending.

Aunt Patty took us to see the Loretto stair case.  The Loretto Sisters need a staircase built in the church so that their choir members could climb to and sing from the choir loft.  A stair case was built in the 1700’s by an unknown carpenter using a hammer, saw, and a builder’s square.  The stair case spirals two complete revolutions (2 X 360) from the floor to the choir loft .  What makes this staircase so remarkable is that NO nails or skews or means of support were used.  This is a feat many carpenters today find impossible.  When the work was complete the carpenter disappeared without providing his name or receiving compensation.  Was this a miracle?  It was very impressive to visit and see.

Monday Uncle Bill drove us to the Sandia Tram.  This tram ride took us up to the Sandia Peak, an elevation of 10,378 feet.  This tram is the longest in the United States.  When we reach the top, Cousin Andrew, Annie, Susie, Sarah, and I played in the snow.  For them it was the first time since Germany they had seen snow (6+ years).  There were many skiers and snowboarders having loads of fun doing their thing.  While on the peak Uncle Bill treated us to a relaxing lunch looking out over 11,000 square miles of picturesque New Mexico (perhaps even Arizona?).   

Tuesday, Patty drove us from Albuquerque, New Mexico to the Grande Canyon in Arizona.  We enjoyed the drive and about halfway there we saw Humphrey’s peak.  Humphrey’s peak is an inactive volcano which reaches 12,000 feet in elevation and is the highest point in Arizona. The peak was covered with snow.  Driving to the Grand Canyon we came out of the desert environment and entered the Ponderosa Pine Forest.  These forest are home for such animals as the brown bear, elk, and bald eagle.  We reached the Grand Canyon about 1400 hours and walked the South rim which was covered with snow.  Cousin Andrew, Cousin Annie, and I had mega snowball fights as we observed the breathtaking view of the canyon.  What a view-ha-lieu (Mary Poppins).  We stayed about 3 hours.  It was very clear and you could see the North rim which is populated with large Ponderosa Pines from where we were.  From the rim to the Colorado River below is a drop of 4,000 feet.  In the Canyon you can see trails cut by hikers, horses, and mules.  The millions of years that it took for the Grand Canyon to form is truly mind boggling.  You can see all the different layers of dirt representing hundreds of thousands of years which hold secrets of fossils which are still being found and interpreted today. 

I watched 2 chubby, buffed squirrels dance along the edge of the canyon performing tricks you would expect from a circus high wire act.  They were anxious to make their way home before a predator spied them.

After leaving the Grand Canyon we drove to Tuthill which was Luke Airforce Base’s recreation center (www.tuthillonline.com).  It was a great stop.  By the end of the day I was filled with excitement and energy, but dead tired.

Wednesday morning Aunt Patty woke us up to be fitted for skies, boots, polls, and bibs.  After breakfast we loaded our gear and headed for a snow fun day at the SnowBowl Ski Resort.  It was a cold sunny day, great for skiing.  Having never skied before I was in good company. Cousin Andrew, Annie, Susie, and Sarah had not skied before either.  Uncle Bill and Aunt Patty provided some on-the-slope-training and by lunch time we managed to make it down the easier hills without falling…a great feat.  Cousin Andrew, Annie, and I were a great team.  We chanced and mastered several steep slopes.  Had to watch out for those crazy snowboarders!  We skied together all day on Hart Prairie and Aspen Meadow slopes (until the lifts stopped) and had a great time.  The view from the top was magnificent!  When we returned to Tuthill for the night this time we were very excited but without energy and dog tired.  I did sleep well.

Thursday morning we left Flagstaff and drove to Sedona.  This drive was a 2,000 foot drop in elevation.  We took the scenic route through Oak Creek Canyon to the trout field streams below.  Cousin Susie commented it was like taking a driving test with all the S curve, Sharp Curve, and 7% grade traffic signs to acknowledge and follow in order to safeguard the traveler through the treacherous terrain.

There were many hikers and campers who spent the night in the canyon.  Temperature overnight fell to 17 degrees….they had to be roughing it…got to love it!  At the South end of the canyon is the western town of Sedona.  Really rough yet pleasant characters live here.  We ran into Doc Holiday who pulled his 6 shooter on me just because of my large “Texas” silver belt buckle.  Sedona is noted for its contemporary native culture (Indian) and the beautiful red rocks which surround the town.  Locals pointed out a rock formation which looked just like “Snoopy” laying on his back.

Driving East we headed back across the high plains, commonly known as the “Bad Lands.”  The settlers gave the region this name because the harsh environment, outlaw gangs, and the raiding Indians made it very hard for anyone to successfully cross them.  Cousin Andrew and I wanted to stop at the Meteor Crater Astrogeological site.  49,000 years ago a giant meteor hit the earth at 45,000 mph.  The meteor crater that formed is 570 feet deep, a mile across, and 3 miles in circumference.  We were able to see and touch massive meteorite displays.  The crater was 1st logged by a man named Franklin who was a scout for General Custer.  Franklin reported that it must have been the remaining crater of an inactive volcano.  For year it was named Franklin’s Hole.  In 1929, Mr Barringer, a Philadelphia miner, theorized that Franklin’s Hole was not of volcanic origin, but it was a crater formed when a meteorite hit the earth.  Mr. Barringer conducted many onsite studies and today his theory is considered fact.  Even though NO huge space rock lies deep within the crater, it is widely accepted that parts of the meteorite vaporized, melted, and fragmented upon entering the earth’s atmosphere and ground.  The crater and the ground located around the crater so closely resembles the terrain of the Earth’s moon and other planets that NASA has designated the crater as an official training site for astronauts.  Shaun, ask your Dad if he remembers the astronaut wearing the jet pack flying around the crater….When the astronaut did this it was shown on the black and white TV channels of the good old days of the Apollo Space missions.

During our drive East, we pasted the Continental Divide.  I did not know what that was so I asked Uncle Bill to explain it to me.  He said it was that line in the geographical terrain that the rain falling on the East side of the line would run Eastward to the Gulf of Mexico and on to the Atlantic Ocean, and the rain falling to the West of the line would flow Westward and run off to the Gulf of California or the Pacific Ocean.  Pretty neat!

 

Driving through East central Arizona we passed through the Navajo and Hopi Indian Reservations.  23 Indian Reservations are housed within Arizona.  The Indian’s have a Sovereign Nation within the United States.  They have tribal leaders who coordinate with the Bureau of Indian Affair (BIA) which is an executive agent for the United States.  To be considered an Indian and covered by the BIA you must be not less than ¼ Indian.  Indians receive many benefits which are under the guidance and protection of the Federal Government. 

Cousin Annie wanted to stop at the Petrified Forest National Park.  The large park protects the site where trees were buried under sediment and volcanic ash for a long period of time.  During this period (millions of years), the organic compounds of the wood were replaced with inorganic minerals.  The logs of wood are now logs of rock, typically quartz. 

In the same park and on part of the Navajo Reservation you can see the Painted Desert.  The “Painted Desert” was produced when erosion formed mesas, pinnacles, washes, and canyons.  The depth of the erosion allowed shale, clay, and sandstone stratums to be exposed.  The exposure of these layers to air (O2) caused the minerals of the exposed layers to oxidize and change colors.  Since different minerals oxidize to form different colors, the layers produce spectacular scenery.  Add the changing sunlight and cloud cover and I do not believe I have seen a more naturally beautifully place!

Friday had us driving from Albuquerque to Ruidosa, New Mexico.  I was up early and eager to see more of the Southwest.  We drove across the “Valley of Fire” which is located North of the “White Sands Missile Range” and the “Trinity Site.”  The Trinity Site is where the 1st Atomic Bomb was exploded.  The “Valley of Fire” is the product of a volcano erupting 1,500 years ago and causing lava to flow and cover an area 4 - 6 miles wide, more than 160 feet thick, and 44 miles long.  The “White Sands Missile Range” is an active site where the United States military test weapons propelled by rocket power and guided by the latest in technology.  All of this was very interesting!

Entering Lincoln County, New Mexico, there were wood carvings of bears everywhere.  Shaun, Lincoln County was the home of the original “Smoky the Bear.”  Your mother can tell you the whole story of this famous bear cub (http://www.emnrd.state.nm.us/forestry/smokey.htm).  This bear became the widely known symbol for the prevention of forest fires.  Next time you go to a National Forest (example: Laurel Lake) watch for “Smoky the Bear.”  Of interest, the Rocky Mountain Range here is known as the Capitan Range which is the only Rocky Mountain Range that aligns East-West and not North-South.

The town of Lincoln is located in Lincoln County.  It was the site of the regional  court house where “Billy the Kid” was to have his sentence of hanging carried out.  Billy escaped only later to be gunned downed by Marshal Pat Garett.  Shaun, we need to find a book in the library that tells us all about this character.  The little that I’ve been able to find out is history and informative.  Lets get the book to solidify these facts!

After making it to Ruidosa, we settled in for the night on the Mescalero Apache Indian reservation at the Inn of the Mountain Gods.  Andrew and I kept a close lookout for Gernimo. We are not going to be taken by surprised again.  The reservation was nestled in the Sierra Blanco Mountain Range which is home for Ski Apache, the Southern most ski resort in the United States.  It is mid-March and at the elevation of 9 - 11,000 feet the ski lifts were still in full swing. There is a blanket of fresh snow predicted for the weekend.

We got up on Saturday after a relaxing restful sleep and began the last leg of our road trip. We drove from Ruidosa, New Mexico to San Antonio, Texas, over 500 miles in 10 hours, and did not encounter or stop for 1 red light.  The reality is that we only drove half way through the State of Texas.  400 miles more and we could have driven across the whole state. Texas is an extremely large (in square miles) state.

          Shaun, I had a wonderful time with Uncle Bill, Aunt Patty, and Cousins Sarah, Susie, Annie, and Andrew sharing their spring break.  Ustedes Casa esta me Casa.  They really know how to make a Flat Stanley feel right at home.  Please think of them if you must send me away again for a school project.  I’m sure they are planning another trip just as interesting as the one that I have related to you in this letter.

 

                                                          See ya’l Soon

                                                          Cowboy Flat Stanley