Cloudcroft – Ghosts, Food and Domes

In last week’s post, you discovered an almost accidental lava field, a 100-year-old railroad trestle, and intensely storm-shrouded skies making great mountain landscapes near Cloudcroft, New Mexico. But I left you waiting for dinner. Sorry about that…

Lush surroundings at The Lodge, Cloudcroft - Fuji X-E2

Lush surroundings at The Lodge, Cloudcroft

We wanted some stronger beverages with dinner than those at the isolated Mayhill Cafe the previous evening, where our conversation with the waitress started like this:

Waitress: “Would you like something to drink – we have Pepsi, Sprite, Dr. Pepper…”

Me: “What kind of beer do you have?”

Waitress: “No beer. Sorry, no wine or cocktails either.”

So we washed down good food with water. After all, they were the only game in town.

The next day I searched for Cloudcroft restaurants serving beer, but just two came up. We were already curious about The Lodge built in 1899, so we chose Rebecca’s there.

Dining room view in Rebecca's at The Lodge, Cloudcroft

Dining room view in Rebecca’s at The Lodge, Cloudcroft

Classy Dining at The Haunted Restaurant
We arrived a few minutes after the restaurant started serving. Following some initial confusion over our lack of reservations, we were led to a table with a green forest view down the mountain. Unexpectedly, we had low-key jazz arrangements from a real live pianist while we ate.

And the food was excellent. The soup was the chef’s evening creation (green chili chicken), and the green salad was fresh enough to reach up and slap you. After Grilled King Salmon and the Steak Oscar special (including crab with Hollandaise sauce), there was illegally-sinful double chocolate cake topped by real whipped cream for dessert. We waddled around the grounds of the Lodge afterwards, enjoying the view down-mountain even more from outside.

Chili chicken vegetable soup, garden salad background
Rebecca's at The Lodge - Pat Goodman photograph

Chili chicken vegetable soup, garden salad background
Rebecca’s at The Lodge – Pat Goodman photograph

Rebecca’s is named for the resident ghost, an attractive red-headed chambermaid who was killed after her lumberjack boyfriend found her in the arms of another man in the early 1900s. At least that’s what the legend says. Staff and customers have reported ashtrays sliding across tables by themselves, lights turning on and off with no hand on the switch, and fires starting spontaneously in fireplaces. Some attribute these things to a good-humored ghost, but no one knows for sure.

Aspen forest on the Osha Trail, Cloudcroft

Aspen forest on the Osha Trail, Cloudcroft

Rain on the OSHA Trail
The next morning, we decided to explore the OSHA trail (no, not the Occupational Safety and Health Act trail). But as we walked through its aspen stands and pine forests, rain started pattering down. We stopped under a stand of pines to wait it out, but it didn’t look like it would be stopping soon. So we headed back down the trail and drove off in search of drier activities.

Armilery Sphere and Sundial, National Solar Observatory

Armilery Sphere and Sundial, National Solar Observatory

Domes on Sunspot Highway – All Done With Mirrors
The Sunspot Highway at least has a logical origin – it’s named for the National Solar Observatory at one of its turnoffs. We paid a small entry fee at the visitor center and enjoyed exhibits about diffraction of light (the physics that creates rainbows and chromatic aberration in lenses), planetary distances and sizes, and sunspots (naturally). Outside, I was taken with the spidery look of the Armilery Sphere and Sundial. Its design made me think of how far we’ve come with timekeeping you can wear on your wrist.

Sunstar and 3.5m Dome, Apache Point Observatory

Sunstar and 3.5m Dome, Apache Point Observatory
Leica Tri-Elmar 16-18-21mm f/4 ASPH on Fuji X-E2

Further down the highway, we came to the Apache Point Observatory. This collection of white domes is what most people think of when someone talks about observatories. The biggest is a 3.5m reflecting telescope (that’s a ‘scope using a big concave mirror about 11 1/2 feet in diameter to focus the light) By comparison, the mirror in the Hubble Space Telescope is just 2.4m or 7.9 feet in diameter.

There’s also a 2.5m ‘scope used by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey working on a digital imaging and spectroscopic database of 25% of the celestial sphere. That’s a quarter of all the billions and billions of stars and other objects you see in Earth’s night sky. Instead of moving the scope out of the building, the building moves away from the ‘scope on railroad tracks to uncover it and image the sky. The domes were locked for the day, but we loved the distant views towards Carlsbad and Mexico.

Tracks for the building, 2.5m Sloan Digital Sky Survey telescope, Apache Point

Tracks for the building, 2.5m Sloan Digital Sky Survey telescope, Apache Point
Leica Tri-Elmar 16-18-21mm f/4 ASPH on Fuji X-E2

Where NOT to Eat in Cloudcroft
We headed back to Cloudcroft for a drink at The Lodge, under the watchful eye of former owner Al Capone (at least from his photo). As we were leaving, the desk clerk asked if we’d seen the Tower Room, with Clark Gables’ and Judy Garland’s names carved in the wall. When she discovered we hadn’t, we got directions to a door and a key to open it. We climbed a couple flights to find the framed name carvings, old but restored trusswork, and above-the-forest views of the mountains.

Trusswork, the Tower Room at The Lodge, Cloudcroft

Trusswork, the Tower Room at The Lodge, Cloudcroft

Our waitress from the previous night’s dinner had seen us in the bar and remembered my wife Pat. When she found out we were heading to the Western Bar & Cafe for dinner, she didn’t exactly say it was bad, but didn’t praise it either. We discovered why when we went there.

It’s not that the food was inedible – at least the hamburgers we had were OK. But there was a lot of dirt on the carpet and the service was very slow and indifferent (staff acted like they didn’t care if they got paid for the meal). A troup of costumed re-enactors came in for inexpensive dinner, and I hope they weren’t too disappointed.

On the way home the next day, we stopped at one of the viewpoints just west of the Highway 82 tunnel. The storm was clearing, leaving pillows of fluffy white clouds across the sky. Desert mountains are almost naked compared to their northern counterparts, so you can enjoy the curves and folds of the land as it stretches away in the distance.

Little RV on the lava, Valley of Fires Recreation Area

Little RV on the lava, Valley of Fires Recreation Area

We made another stop at Valley of Fires Recreation Area, this time seeing large blue flying insects with some of their much-smaller ant relatives. Then it was time to drive the rest of the way home. It had been a great break from the Albuquerque heat.

Shot Notes
Leica’s Tri-Elmar 16-18-21mm f/4 ASPH becomes a 24-27-31.5mm lens on the Fuji X-E2 crop-sensor camera. It still gives sparkling sharpness and great contrast to the corners, albeit with some vignetting (corner-darkening). All wide-angle lenses darken corners, so it’s not surprising. Lightroom lets you manually correct for vignetting if you enable lens profiles in the Develop module.

But if you choose correction for the Tri-Elmar, you only get its built-in profile, with no further adjustment possible. Your best bet is choosing a different wide-angle profile that allows manual vignetting correction, like Canon’s 24-70mm f/2.8L. A 24mm field of view is great for expansive landscapes, but I always place a few related foreground and background elements in there to fill the frame, without distracting from the main subject.

The other thing you get from the Tri-Elmar is immunity to flares when you’re shooting into direct sun. The Apache Point 3.5m dome picture was shot into the sun with this lens.

More Information
1. Mayhill Hotel & Cafe, accessed from http://www.mayhillnewmexico.com/
2. About The Lodge, accessed from http://www.thelodgeresort.com/about/
3. Rebecca’s Story, accessed from http://tinyurl.com/l4zz2xx
4. Trail Guide Map for the Osha Trail, accessed from http://tinyurl.com/yaoqcu4l
5. Occupational Safety and Health Act, accessed from http://tinyurl.com/yc8syoe8
6. Sunspot Visitor Center and Museum, accessed from http://nsosp.nso.edu/visitors_center\
7. The Sloan Digital Sky Survey, accessed from https://arxiv.org/pdf/astro-ph/9805314.pdf
8. Image Gallery: Telescope Photos, accessed from http://www.sdss2.org/gallery/gal_photos.html
9. Valley of Fires Recreation Area, accessed from http://tinyurl.com/dyd9jb8

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