Thursday, August 27, 2015

Tinkertown Museum and Petroglyphs

A sign on the wall at Tinkertown Museum
August 26, 2015

Today was one of those long, very full days that make it hard to remember everything! I am typing this in the car at 10pm New Mexico time, hoping that I can get most of it finished before we stop for the night in about 50 miles, because tomorrow will be yet another full day!

We woke up pretty early this morning, and by 8:30 we had dumped our tanks, filled up with water, and both of us had taken showers before leaving the luxury of a full-service RV park. However we still had to stop at the Walmart a block away, because we had a shopping list of things we needed. By the time we finished with everything, it was no longer early.

Our first destination today was Tinkertown Museum. We headed down NM Route 14, which is also called the Turquoise Highway—it connects Santa Fe and Albuquerque and is considered to be a scenic road. Almost immediately we passed another sculpture garden, but didn’t realize it until it was too late to stop. We saw a number of sculpture and art studios at the Santa Fe end of the road, and we went through the cute little town of Madrid. I probably could have spent several hours looking at all the studios and gift emporiums we saw as we crawled at 20mph through the town. But we did not stop until we reached Tinkertown, which is in the town of Sandia Park.
"Monarch Hotel"--notice the Fiddler on the Roof.
Tinkertown Museum is a folk art museum which is entirely the work of a man named Ross Ward. He was a painter and sculptor who was apparently never idle, and he managed to create and collect and repurpose thousands of objects. The collections at Tinkertown Museum were his hobby.  The centerpiece of the museum is Tinkertown, a miniature “wild west” town with a general store, a saloon, a hotel, etc—all filled with tiny detailed furniture and other items. And I do mean FILLED—I don’t think there was an inch of space which didn’t have something in it. (Click on the pictures to enlarge them in order to see the details.) The shelves of the general store were packed with goods, the streets had carts and workmen and pedestrians of every kind. In almost every building there was a button to push which would bring the town to life, everything from a barber cutting hair to a girl skipping rope. Horses pulled wagons laden with goods and workmen used their tools. There was even a Chinese laundry and several Chinese businesses. There were also completely anachronistic touches of whimsy, such as a fiddler on the roof of the hotel and Mary Poppins with her umbrella held aloft by the chimney of another building. 

New Mexico-Arizona State Line Trading Post Diorama
The walls opposite the Tinkertown display were filled with everything from newspaper articles about Mr. Ward to inspirational sayings to oddities of every sort—old photographs, documents, maps, and what have you. Even the ceiling was covered with odds and ends. And that was only the FIRST gallery!

The Museum is comprised of over 20 buildings, all made of wood and all very rustic. The walls of the outside are made from over 50,000 glass bottles—outside is a wall of round glass held together with cement, and inside are the tops of the bottles. Inside the floors are wood, and none too straight. Gaps in the floor are “paved” over with old license plates from every state as well as some foreign countries. There are also innumerable license plates on the walls of all the buildings, along with old advertising signs. Almost every surface has SOMETHING of interest or humor to catch the eye.
Saloon and Dance Hall Diorama
 The second gallery is devoted to circus scenery, dioramas, and memorabilia, including posters, carousel horses, a “sideshow” of “human oddities”, and coin-operated games of chance or fortune.  After that, we wandered past cases full of collections of dolls, advertising pencils, medicine bottles, swords and knives—it was just a crazy place! One building was devoted to the Theodora R, a wooden sailboat which was built in England. In 1981-1991, it was purchased and sailed around the world by another free spirit (I didn’t note his name) before coming to rest finally at the Tinkertown Museum. The chart of the voyage is painted on the wall of the building. In between the buildings there are tiny “courtyards” with more items, including a model water mill and a glass shrine with a Buddha sitting inside.

Circus Diorama
Outside there are more buildings with a lot of metal sculpture and a collection of “old west” items which were collected by Ward and his wife. One item of interest to us was a carnival medicine wagon which Ward built on an old Studebaker chassis for a circus he worked for. When we lost interest in all the “stuff”, we enjoyed watching a hummingbirds clustering around the feeders hanging outside the entrance, and the horses in the corral across from the parking lot. All in all, we spent about 2 hours at the Museum, and we didn’t escape the gift shop either—they had a very eclectic group of items, including Folkmanis puppets. Of course I encouraged Joe to buy more for the collection at his office.

Joe's new retirement plan--traveling medicine man!
After leaving the Tinkertown Museum, we continued south and west to Petroglyph National Monument. The very opposite in atmosphere from Tinkertown, it is very austere, with several areas to explore, none of which are attached to the Visitor Center, which was our first stop. We got there just after 3:00, and were warned that all the gates are locked at 5:00. After considering what to do, we went to the Boca Negra Canyon area, which has the most petroglyphs, and is the easiest hike (yes, we were getting tired—and it was the hottest part of the day.) We climbed up the paths slowly, enjoying the quiet, the relative solitude (there were only a few visitors to the park), and the black rocks. We especially found the plants which struggle to grow in what seems to be extremely inhospitable soil, to be exceptionally lovely—perhaps the backdrop of black rock and sand enhances the shapes and colors of the leaves and flowers. 

We took our time, and wandered back to the RV a little after 4:30. I noticed that one of our tires seemed to be a bit flat, so Joe checked the tire pressure on all the tires and filled the flat one with more air. We left the park exactly at 5, with the ranger literally locking the gates behind us. We got back on the interstate, but took the very next exit to fill the tires more efficiently with a truck stop air pump. 

We started to drive west again on I-40, with plans to stop for the night at a state park about 100 miles down the road. But only about 20 miles further, we suddenly came to a complete stop, along with all the other traffic. We turned off our engine (as did all the trucks around us) and just sat there.  Not a single car passed in the other direction, and after a while we decided it couldn’t be construction, there must have been an accident. So I made us cheese and crackers, Joe read his book, and I played with Facebook posts and wrote some postcards. Just as we were stopping there, a thunderstorm passed through. After about an hour, we started moving VERY slowly, and discovered that the cause of the standstill was what looked like a horrible truck accident which affected the entire eastbound highway and the median—we could see signs of a fire and there were emergency vehicles all over. I am guessing that the wet road surface contributed to the accident. Our side was the fortunate side—we at least got to move finally. The eastbound side was backed up for at least 6 miles that I saw, and I suppose it got longer before they could finally pass. Just horrible. But certainly more comfortable for people in RVs than in cars or trucks.
After that, we drove for a while, then stopped at a Walmart parking lot to make some dinner. We then decided that rather than overnight at the Walmart with the other RVs that seemed to be settling in there (the state park was long since out of the question), we would drive down the highway for another 50 miles to the next rest area, near Gallup NM. In retrospect, we probably should have stayed at the Walmart—we ended up driving through a torrential rainstorm (two friends have told me this is the “monsoon season” in this area) which lasted for quite a long time. After having seen the truck accident, it was even more scary. When we got to the place where there was ostensibly a rest stop, we saw no signs of it! So we drove two more miles, looking for the Walmart in Gallup, and we couldn’t find that either.

We finally located the Cracker Barrel at the same exit, and came to rest in one of their RV slots for the night, next to a gigantic Class A RV. I now have the realization that if you do not actually PASS the business you are looking for at the exit, the first place to look would be further along in the direction you are traveling.  Also, in the Southwest, assume that EVERYTHING will be within a mile or so of the interstate—after that, you are in “nowhere.” Both the Cracker Barrel and the Walmart were further west of our exit, we passed the latter this morning when we got back on the highway. I also noticed there were easily 9-10 RV’s parked there—we’d have had LOTS of company if we’d found it.

View of Interstate 40 in New Mexico

"Live life as a Pursuit of Happiness"
We are now traveling along I-40 west toward the Painted Desert and Petrified Rocks National Park. We are in ARIZONA, having finally added the last southwestern state to our sticker map! It is a beautiful day (although still signs on the road of the rainstorm from last night) and we are having biscuits for breakfast.

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