Healing and fun continue in New Mexico

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Note: Once again I’m slacking off on my blogging, but I have good reasons.  We just got back from a wonderful trip to central Europe, and now we’re on our way to Tucson for Steve’s follow-up appointments.  I have a lot of writing to catch up on, as well as reading the current status of fellow bloggers.

For now, let me take you back two months to our time in New Mexico where Steve continued his recovery.  After a post-treatment follow-up with his oncologist, we were OK’d to finally get out of overheated Tucson.  Steve wasn’t yet in top shape to drive Betsy, but we just had to move on. The city life with blaring sirens, traffic, train horns, dust, and impossible heat was getting old.  We had to hit the road!

This post is a clipped version of the many fun things we did while in New Mexico:

Our escape to southwest New Mexico began at Silver City.  Sitting at a cool 6142′ of elevation, it was perfect for a month of healing.  Rose Valley RV Ranch was highly recommended by most of our RV friends who had stayed there.  What a difference a change in elevation, scenery, temperature, and state made.  To top it off, our next door neighbors were super quiet since they were all six feet below ground at Pioneer Cemetery, on Old Silver City Cemetery’s “Memory Lane!”

Steve had a complication resulting from his radiation treatments.  The good doctor gave him a cocktail of medications to remedy a throat ulcer, in addition to painkillers for management of his unrelenting head and jaw pain.  We took it easy for the first week as his body adjusted to the onslaught of drugs, but we did manage to maintain our daily morning walks by strolling around the neighboring cemetery on a little hill that pumped up our heart rates.

View of Silver City from nearby Boston Hill

Silver City is a vibrant little artsy town that was our gateway to several explorations.  When Steve was up for it we spent time walking the historic downtown and driving the scenic wide open space of the Gila wilderness.  We also tackled a few “real” hiking trails, visited historical spots and attended events in town.

Silver City

Shoe shopping at historic downtown Silver City

Just one of the many art galleries here

The Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument is just an hour’s drive from Silver City on a scenic and sometimes narrow road.  It’s an interlinked dwelling built in alcoves within a remote canyon deep in the Gila wilderness.  The dwellings were built in five cliff alcoves by Mogollon peoples between 1275 and 1300 A.D.

On another day we went to White Water Canyon, where we followed the easy Catwalk National Scenic Trail.  The sheer cliff walls rise out of the stream bed, and metal walkways are supported on steel beams drilled into the rock 20′ above the water.  It zigzags from cliff to cliff as it winds through the canyon.

The walkway hangs 20 ft above the creek

The walkway was originally built by the Civilian Conservation Corps and was named The Catwalk, referring to the original plank-board walkway that was placed atop the steel pipe used to bring water to the ore processing plant downstream.

Whitewater Creek

A creek runs through Whitewater Canyon

Just southeast of Silver City is the City of Rocks, consisting of rows of monolithic blocks formed by volcanic ash welded together 35 million years ago.

While roaming around the rocks, we imagined the various formations as a small city containing houses, chimneys, courtyards and streets.

Back in Old Silver City, we enjoyed seeing the Silver Steamroller Street Printing Event which was featured during the Southwest Print Fiesta.  We watched as large-scale hand carved blocks were inked, placed on the street, and pressed onto paper by a 3,000-pound steamroller.  Very cool!

While in southwest New Mexico previously, we experienced their unique cuisine, and one of the biggest questions here is, “red or green?”  At the center of it all is the New Mexican hatch chile, in both red and green varieties, which is used in everything from enchiladas to ice cream.  We tried it again this time, but Steve learned the hard way that it was too spicy in his current condition.  Oh well, I still love the green ones!

After a month in Silver City we moved on to Elephant Butte Lake State Park.  We had heard good things about this place, where the lake is the largest and most popular in New Mexico.  Here we continued to chill and enjoy the view together in the peace and quiet of late-season camping.

A double rainbow adorns Betsy after an afternoon storm

In life, you take what you get and run with it the best that you can 🙂

Goofing off on the reservoir dam

I was looking forward to a visit to Bosque del Apache Wildlife National Refuge, but was disappointed to learn I was too early for the arrival of migratory birds.  At least while driving the scenic road I was able to take in the sights of mountains and expansive meadows, and to enjoy some wildlife encounters:

Where are the birds?  Looking out from an observation blind

A deck where hundreds of Sandhill Cranes can be observed taking flight – but not today!

Moving from nature to astronomy, the Very Large Array Radio Telescope located west of Socorro, NM was something to behold.  It uses 27 dish antennas in a Y-shaped configuration, which work together as a single telescope system with an eye up to 22 miles across.   It collects and processes into digital images the radio waves emitted by astronomical objects.

Very Large Array

VLA antennas are moved to different positions to make the whole system “zoom” in and out

Very Large Array

These big boys each measure 82′ in diameter, stand 90′ tall and weigh 230 tons


This custom-built locomotive transporter carefully lifts and relocates each antenna after maintenance and during reconfigurations

Very Large Array

In the 1997 movie “Contact”, Jodie Foster made contact with the aliens here.  I tried too, but heard only a noisy air conditioner


And then it was time for us to fly away for our long-awaited river cruise in Europe!

All our bags were packed…

Before leaving, we secured Betsy at the home of our very gracious friends Hector and Brenda of Island Girl.  They were kind enough to keep an eye on her while we were cruising around Europe.  Hector is an accomplished professional photographer, and like us you may want to be wowed by his work at H.M. Lopez Photography.

You can’t get any better accommodations than here at Casa Lopez


Next up:  All aboard for a Viking river cruise!


Out and about in Santa Fe and Las Vegas, NM

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Loretto Chapel

The northernmost point of the Turquoise Trail officially ends at the junction of State Highway 14 and Interstate 25, just south of Santa Fe.  We set up camp at Santa Fe Skies RV Park (Steve’s review here), which offered spacious sites and panoramic views of four mountain ranges.  The park was recommended by our friends Ayn and Chuck, who are now part-time residents of Santa Fe and part-time travelers.  Our little reunion with them was our main reason for stopping, and we had a couple of excellent meals together.

Although we were greenhorns in the blogosphere in 2012, our interactions with other bloggers were already in high gear.  Ayn and Chuck  of Roadlife were the first bloggers we met up with on the road, in Anchorage, Alaska no less.  Three years later here we were in Santa Fe, and we spent plenty of time recalling our adventures in the “North to the Future” state.  It was great catching up with them, and we hope to meet again somewhere down the road.

Santa Fe was a revisit for us, as we were here about 12 years ago to check it out as a possible place to live and work.  This time we just meandered around town and checked out what had changed since our last visit.  It remains an intriguing old city known worldwide for its art galleries and pueblo-style architecture.  You don’t see tall buildings here, and even government buildings have retained the distinctive southwestern style that is based on the adobe (mud and straw) with wood construction look of the past.  Here are a few photos:

I learned a few facts about Santa Fe during this visit; it’s the capital of New Mexico (all this time I thought it was Albuquerque), and at 7,000 feet of elevation it is both the highest and oldest capital city in the US.  Those are just boring stats, but this city has lots to offer – especially if you’re artistically-inclined.  If you want to learn more about Santa Fe, Ingrid of Live Laugh RV has written several posts about their visit here.  She really captured the essence of the area through her excellent stories and vivid captures.

Our short stay in Santa Fe also brought us various weather-related scenarios.  Most mornings it was beautiful with clear skies framing the mountains.  But by early afternoon the winds kicked up and broadsided Betsy with vicious dust clouds.  In fact, it was so bad that we left our right-side slide in during most of our stay.  Our runny noses and sneezing continued as we tried to control the dust in the RV.

On departure day, we awoke to a winter wonderland, as about two inches of the white stuff had blanketed us during the night.  We were excited, as it was the first time we had been snowed on during our travels.  Fortunately, it had all melted by the time we were ready to head on down the road.

Robin building nest

Neither rain nor snow stops the Robin’s nest-building project

Santa Fe Skies RV Park

One clear sunny day, the mountains are visible for miles

Santa Fe Skies RV Park

Afternoon winds and dust obscured the mountains and made us miserable

Santa Fe Skies RV Park

Then it snowed, who cares about the mountains?

Santa Fe Skies RV PArk

Betsy survived her first snow event!

After all of the weather excitement, we continued on to Las Vegas, NM, which is only about 66 miles to the north.  This was just a quick pause to break up a long drive to our first stop in Colorado.

The nearby Las Vegas Wildlife Refuge beckoned to me.  We drove around their 8-mile auto tour route, but we didn’t walk the trails due to the bone-chilling cold and relentless winds. The Visitor’s Center displayed a great collection of bird egg replicas that represented all of the species that find sanctuary at the refuge.  I found them very interesting; they were all unique in their colors, textures and sizes.

Bird Egg Replicas

The wind finally died down the next day, so we drove 29 miles south to catch up on our hiking at Villanueva State Park.  It’s nestled between high sandstone bluffs that form a canyon along the Pecos River.

Viewpoint Trail, Villanueva State Park

Up and up we went

We followed all three of the trails and got a great workout as we ascended the Viewpoint and El Cerro trails.  They did not disappoint, as we had a panoramic view of the wide open New Mexico skies with a few mountains dotting the landscape.  We saw the town of Villanueva in the distance, with the Pecos River running alongside the bluffs of the park below.

Villanueva State Park

We heard some kind of a critter shuffling around in the tin cover of this shelter, but we never did figure out what it was

Pecos River

The Pecos River cuts deep along the red bluffs

Villanueva State Park

Looking down at the camping area of Villanueva State Park

But alas, it was time to go.  The only thing we didn’t like in the Land of Enchantment was the wind and dust, which apparently lasts an average of three months every year.  Other than that we enjoyed the scenery and loved our journey through this beautiful part of New Mexico.  In the fall we will head back through the far western part of the state on our winter migration.  We’re excited to find out what new adventures await us in that part of this great state.


Next up:  Highway of Legends, Colorado

Discovering the Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway, NM

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We left the Alien-infested town of Roswell and continued our human trek northward, stopping at Cedar Crest, NM.  We had planned this stop close to Albuquerque so we could catch up on some mundane tasks such as haircuts and a grocery stock-up at Costco.  But we also had an issue with Betsy’s furnace and a recall on our Honda that had to be dealt with. Finally, I needed some time to catch up on my blogging chores, since our stop at Big Bend was so active that we hardly had a minute to sit down there.

Steve Lowe

The handyman at work on the furnace

In between all of the chores (we can’t remain still for long), we were able to explore the Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway on Highway 14.  Our home base at the Turquoise Trail RV Park (Steve’s review here) was right at the south end of the Byway.

This Scenic Byway lies in the heart of central New Mexico, linking Albuquerque and Santa Fe.  We checked out the entire 50-mile-long trail along Highway 14 from Tijeras to Santa Fe. Along the way, we passed through the historic mining town of Cerillos and the cool little artsy town of Madrid.

Turquoise Trail

Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway

Quirky shops and restaurants lined the streets of Madrid, enticing us to come back for an excellent lunch (great suggestion, Hans!) and a better look around town when we moved Betsy up to Santa Fe a few days later.

Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway

Madrid, New Mexico

The Hollar

Stopped at the Hollar for lunch

We continued on to Cerillos, where the mining district is one of the oldest and most marked of the Old Spanish mineral developments in the Southwest.  We stopped here for some exercise and checked out the Jane Calvin Sanchez hiking trail at Cerillos State Park.

Following the trail for over two miles, we climbed several steep grades that really got our hearts pumping.  Old mining operations were quite evident as we passed several abandoned mine shafts displaying interpretive plaques.  We learned a bit of mining history while taking in some beautiful views of the endless New Mexico sky and surrounding mountains.


The old mine shafts are fenced off to keep people and critters from falling in


Plaques showed the history of mining here and facts about each hand-dug shaft

Cerillos State Park

We really are in the wild, wild west!

On another day we drove up to Sandia Peak, the highest in the Sandia Mountains. Towering at 10,678 ft., it dominates Albuquerque’s eastern skyline and from there we had panoramic views of Albuquerque and the Rio Grande Valley.  Right at the top we saw a “Steel Forest”, a major communications complex for the southwest since 1945.

Steel Forest of Sandia Crest Electronic Site

Sandia Crest’s Steel Forest communications site

Standing atop Sandia Crest, we were a mile above Albuquerque and two miles above sea level.  It was a clear day during our visit, allowing awesome views in every direction.


The city of Albuquerque and the Rio Grande lay before us

Sandai Mountains

Granite crags on the west side of the Sandia Mountains

Sandia Crest

Frequent and fierce winds up here cause “flagging” of the fir trees

While returning from a walk along the crest, we found some northward-facing spots still covered with snow, so of course I took advantage of a photo-op!

Sandia Crest

Springtime is the windy season here in New Mexico, and every big gust of wind brings clouds of dust with it.  That caused us to suffer with runny noses and watery eyes (not to mention a dusty car and RV) for a couple of weeks.  When the wind calmed down I took a break from my computer work and ventured around the RV park to see some of the flowering trees showing their buds (the park manager told us that spring begins on May 1st here).

Cedar Waxwing

This Cedar Waxwing enjoyed the flowering Apple Crabtree

House Finch

Who wouldn’t love watching a couple of Finches kissing?

And this cute Prairie Dog appeared from his dugout to say hello to me!


I hustled back to Betsy as the wind started blowing again.  As we were to soon find out, there was plenty more wind and dust waiting for us at Santa Fe.


Next Up:  Venturing along the Santa Fe Trail


Our close encounter of the third kind – Roswell, NM

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In ufology, a close encounter is an event in which a person witnesses and/or interacts with an unidentified flying object.  A system of event classifications was introduced by an astronomer and UFO researcher, J. Allen Hynek.  According to him , Close Encounters of the First Kind refers to visual sightings of an unidentified flying object seemingly less than 500 feet away.  A Close Encounter of the Second Kind is a UFO event in which a physical effect is alleged, such as animals reacting or physical trace-like impressions on the ground. Close Encounters of the Third Kind refers to encounters in which one or more animated aliens are present, as was reported in the 1947 Roswell incident.  We learned these classifications, along with some other interesting factoids during our visit to the UFO Museum in Roswell .


Yep, we’re getting close to our destination!

When most people hear a reference to Roswell, they’re reminded of the 1947 UFO incident.  Since we weren’t around at that time, we relied on the information we read at the museum.  The story of the Roswell Incident has been painstakingly documented, as has information about aspects of other UFO phenomena, crop circles, UFO sightings and Nevada’s Area 51.  Only those who are “believers” or are really interested in this subject will spend the many hours required to read all of the museum’s displays and exhibits. There was so much material that we basically skimmed through what most interested us, then we watched the showtime movie “Roswell” at the museum’s theater.

UFO Museum

Kind of a creepy exhibit

After a couple of hours reading about witness stories and government cover-ups, we drove around town.  We quickly noticed these folks really play up the UFO thing – many of the store facades were alien-themed.

Roswell, New Mexico

Even some of the local landowners get into the act!

Looks like someone is trying to phone home…

Roswell, NM


Roswell has other museums that are not about UFO’s or Aliens.  Our blogger friends Hans and Lisa of Metamorphosis Road, who were only a few days behind us, visited several other museums in town.  Check out their site to see what fascinating things they discovered during their stay.

Lee, the owner of the Red Barn RV Park (Steve’s review here), gave us a list of things to do while in town.  One of her suggestions that I followed was a trip to the Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge to see if any migratory birds might be hanging around.

Bitter Lake NWR

I had my priorities straight, and went to visit some of my feathered friends.  Steve tagged along so he could walk some of the four trails there, and we ended up following the easy 2-mile Oxbow Trail.  We didn’t see any birds close-up on that walk, but we spotted a few during the 8-mile wildlife drive within the refuge.

The Bitter Lake NWR was only about 12 miles from our home base and consisted of over 24,000 acres in three units along the Pecos River.

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Bird Blind in the middle of the lake – well, it was a lake at one time

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge

The ever-diligent bird spy

Bitter Lake NWR

I went inside the bird blind, but they all flew away when they heard me

After our walk we continued on the driving tour and stopped at a few overlooks.  We finally saw some White Pelicans and a variety of ducks in the distance.  The park ranger informed us that fall and late winter are the best times to see Sandhill Cranes, ducks and geese.


American Avocet

First time I’ve seen an American Avocet

If you happen to be in the Roswell area in September, be aware that the 14th Annual Dragonfly Festival at the Refuge will be held then.  The refuge boasts having the most diverse population of dragonflies and damselflies in North America, and they will be there in great numbers by fall.  Access to the refuge is free, so you can visit as many times as you like.

After three nights in UFO land, we packed up and resumed our northward trek.


Next up:  Venturing off  of the Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway



Incredible Caverns – Carlsbad Cavern NP

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Totem Pole Stalagmite

Our drive on FM285 from Pecos, Texas to Carlsbad, New Mexico was the worst stretch of road we’ve ever driven, including even the worst that Alaska and Canada had to offer.  We urge folks with RV’s to avoid this filthy, dusty and dangerous road with no place to pull over.  Truck traffic is extremely heavy, and there are no attempts to repair the massive potholes – some stretching all the way across the road cannot be avoided.  We ran through one of them, and even though we had slowed down considerably we incurred irreparable damage to the tow bar receiver that held our bikes on their rack.

Once at our campground, Steve examined the damage and added up the costs for a new receiver and to get our under-maintained and underused  bikes repaired.  With a heavy heart I agreed that we would scrap the receiver and donate the bikes to Goodwill.  We may get new ones at some point, perhaps after we settle down a bit when our current journey ends 😦

It was a sad day for me. The only positive thing that came out of our stop in Pecos, TX was that I was pronounced A-OK by my doctor there, who happened to be from the Philippines. And I couldn’t help but smile when this cute little Scaled Quail trotted along next to our rig and posed for me.  Otherwise, we found Pecos to be a dusty and depressing little oil town that we were happy to leave after a single night at a noisy and dirty RV park.

Scaled Quail

Scaled Quail striking a pose

Our spirits rose at our first stop in New Mexico, at Carlsbad.  Like most other folks traveling through, our main goal was to explore the Carlsbad Caverns.  We had missed them the last time we were in the area in February 2013, due to dangerous winds on the pass that we would have had to drive over from Alamogordo to the caverns.

Those of you who have been following us since 2012 know that we love to explore natural underground wonders.  For new readers who are interested in our previous cave adventures, check out the links below.  Caves and caverns usually share some common features, yet each of them has their own unique formations.  Here are the caves and caverns we explored while in these areas:

Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico

Carlsbad Caverns in the Chihuahuan Desert are one of the largest, deepest and most decorated caverns in the world.  There are about 118 caves with over 180 total miles of known passages and rooms.  There were eight tours available when we were there, and we chose three; the Natural Entrance 1.25 mi. self-guided route, the Big Room 1.25 mi. self-guided route and the one-mile King’s Palace guided tour.

At the mouth of the natural opening is the Bat Amphitheater, where an outflight of a large colony of Brazilian Free-tailed bats can be observed in the evenings during the months of May-October.  Steve loves watching bats and is already thinking of coming back here just to see these spectacular outflights.

Bat Amphitheater

Bat Amphitheater, where “Bat Flight” programs are held

But before we could even go inside, a Park Ranger thoroughly cleaned our shoes.  We had visited other caves in the east where the White Nose Syndrome has killed millions of bats. Even though we weren’t sure whether we had worn these shoes in any of those caves, we didn’t want to take any chances.  Plus, we had a nice chat with the ranger and our shoes looked fantastic when he was done!

Finally, we were off to the huge cavern opening.

Natural Entrance, Carlsbad Caverns

Looking up at the natural opening, which leads to the caves 750 ft. below

The natural entrance route is a paved downhill hike of about 800 ft. for 1.25 miles in semi-darkness.  But in 1898, Jim White entered this cave for the first time using a ladder of sticks and wire, and I thanked him for paving the way for us to see the splendor below.

Along the way were several plaques describing things around us, but what really caught our attention was a huge boulder in the center of the descending walkway.  It turned out to be a 200,000-ton iceberg rock that fell down from the cave wall.  We walked around it and tried to imagine how it would have sounded and felt when this colossus broke loose.  Since I could not capture its enormity, here’s a snapshot of the plaque about it:

Ice Rock

At the end of this strenuous route and at 800 ft. below the surface, we had our first experience of seeing an underground rest area/restrooms/cafe and gift shop.  That’s how huge it is here.  It’s also where the elevator stops for those in wheelchairs or who don’t want to make the hike down.

We took a break and waited for our next tour, which was the guided King’s Palace tour.

Gift Shop

Underground gift shop

Imagine yourself in an ornately decorated King’s palace, or a Queen’s bedroom.  Those are the names given to two of the huge caverns we saw during this one-mile walk.  A total of four naturally-decorated chambers with a fabulous variety of cave decorations unfolded before us.

From this tour we learned about the history of the caverns, and it really made us think about and appreciate more the wonders of the cavern and its past.  We were given plenty of time to snap pictures, but of the many I took in the darkness of this tour, only a couple came out good enough to share.  One of them is of an ancient bat, entombed in calcite on the floor of the cavern:

Ancient Bat

Skeleton of a bat, thousands of years old

Kings Palace

An endless variety of gorgeous formations awaited us around every turn

After taking another break we tackled the enormous Big Room.  Now this chamber is really something, and the incredible variety of formations we saw here blew our minds.  The chamber is really a massive natural limestone cave chamber which is larger than six football fields and could house the Notre Dame Cathedral.  Pause for a moment and imagine that!

Hall of Giants, Carlsbad Caverns

These are the largest speleothems in the room – the giant column on the right is 62 ft tall


Graphical description of cave deposit formations

The walk around this chamber is about 1.25 miles long and could take hours for someone marveling at the unending collection of dramatic and gigantic cave formations. Stalactites, stalagmites, draperies, and columns were just a few of the wonders we saw.  It’s so much bigger and unlike anything else we’ve seen that the whole experience seemed quite surreal.

Again, due to the low lighting I managed to capture only a few of the many amazing formations on this tour, some with the help of other visitors who had brought spotlights with them.


Steve seemed to particularly enjoy this unusual feature

Lions Tail

Looking up toward the ceiling we spotted two “Lions Tails” made of stalactite and “popcorn”

Chinese Theater

This area was called the Chinese Theater

Totem Pole Stalagmite

Totem Pole Stalagmite at 38 ft.

The wonders we saw underground at Carlsbad Caverns can not be captured in photos, you have to go there and experience it yourself.  Because of its high ceilings, I think claustrophobia would not be an issue for most folks, and the path and formations were backlighted beautifully to lead the way.

These are the “baddest” caverns we’ve seen in the U.S., and we highly recommend them to anyone traveling in the area.

Brantley Lake State Park

On another day, we drove to nearby Brantley Lake State Park to do even more hiking.  We followed a trail from the Visitor’s Center to the park’s campground, an easy 3-mile round-trip trek.


As you can see, I couldn’t stop myself from touching the tiny and beautiful wildflowers along the route 🙂



On our final night here at the Carlsbad KOA, (Steve’s review here) the moon was full and I thought the windmill in the foreground was a nice feature to add:



Next up:  Our Close Encounter of the Third Kind – Roswell, NM




Frolicking in the Sand and gazing at the Sun – Alamogordo

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White Sands National Monument

Other than missiles, rockets, and Holloman Air Force Base, Alamogordo, NM is also known for its gigantic sea of sparkling white gypsum.  The ever-changing dunes of brilliant and white gypsum sand engulf 275 sq miles of the White Sands National Monument.

White Sands National Monument

Gypsum dunes form here under a unique set of circumstances.  Rain and snow in the surrounding mountains dissolve the mineral gypsum from the rocks and carry it into the Tularosa Basin below.

San Andres Mountains

San Andres Mountains

Since there is no river to drain the basin, water containing the gypsum is trapped.  Then the water evaporates, leaving the gypsum behind in the form of selenite crystals.  The forces of nature – freezing and thawing, wetting and drying – eventually break the crystals down into sand-sized particles light enough to be moved by the wind.  Without wind there would be no dunes.  Since wind speeds of only 17 mph are needed to start the movement, we bet that the day after our visit when the wind storm with gusts of 40-50 mph must have moved a lot of dunes!

White Sands National Monument

Crescent shaped Barchan Dunes

Hiking along the 1.5 mile Dune Life Nature Trail, we were fascinated by the various animal footprints left behind.  Most of the animals are nocturnal because of the harsh daytime temperatures.  They are rarely seen during the day but their tracks from the previous night tell a story.  Within the extremely harsh environment of the dune field, plants and animals adapt to desert conditions – such as the Soaptree Yucca in the picture below, where two thirds of its body is now under the sand due to dune movement.

When you are surrounded by this glistening sand, you can’t help but feel like a kid.  I tried to “sled” down the dunes, can you tell I’m having so much fun!

From the sands on earth to the sun up in the skies we took a scenic drive to 9200′ via the Sunspot Solar System Model to the National Solar Observatory located in the Sacramento Mountains.  Dry air, with very little pollution and plenty of sunshine make the peak an excellent site for observing the sun.  The pretty drive began at “Neptune” in the town of Cloudcroft and ending up at the Sun, where the visitor center is located.

Since we didn’t call ahead, we were surprised when we found the visitor center closed on a Monday.  Fortunately, a walking tour map was available so we ventured on our own.  There are many gigantic telescopes housed in domes around the grounds.  The Evans Solar Facility houses the coronagraph and coelostat, which are mainly used to look at the corona around the sun – the faint outermost layer.

Sun Telescope

26-foot spar housed the coronagraph and coelostat

An impressive instrument we checked out was the Dunn Solar Telescope.  The tower above ground is 136′ tall, but there is another 228′ of the structure underground.  The kind of things on the Sun that scientists here are investigating are granulation, sunspots, solar flares and varying magnetic fields. If you look closely at the center monitor on the right image, you will note that the telescope is displaying a sunspot in real time. Cool, we saw the sun !

Just a few minutes from the Sunspot Solar Observatory was the privately-owned Apache Point Observatory.  There are four telescopes currently operated there, performing night-sky astronomical research.  If you are into research or are interested in the closest star to Earth, our Sun, a visit to the observatory is worthwhile.  If you are just curious travelers like us, then the scenic drive to Sacramento Peak makes it a good day!

From 9200′ we could admire a spectacular view of the Tularosa Basin with White Sands surrounded by the San Andres Mountains.

Tularosa Basin

Tularosa Basin with White Sands.  Betsy is parked somewhere down there!

Next up – the Lone Star State!

Of Space and Missiles – Alamogordo, NM

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New Mexico Hatch ChilesContinuing on our eastbound adventure, the first two stops in the “Land Of Enchantment”  (the moniker for New Mexico) led us to Las Cruces and Alamogordo. Right after the “Welcome to New Mexico” sign, we noticed several bright yellow warnings along the road advising of  high winds and the dust that comes with it.  And about that wind and dust?  Yes, we experienced it!  We were forced to cancel our upcoming stop at Carlsbad because of high wind warnings with gusts up to 60 mph, not at all recommended for large vehicles.  Bummer – we’ll have to visit the Carlsbad Caverns on our next trip through the area.


Before the winds and dust descended on Alamogordo, we managed to check out the area and some good attractions.

The White Sands Missile Range Museum reminded us of the momentous events of 1945 and how a bomb ended World War II.  The museum includes indoor and outdoor displays including “Missile Park”, which displays more than 50 rockets and missiles tested at the range.  The most significant relic is the V-2 rocket,  a captured German device which led to an array of experiments and paved the way for American manned space exploration.  Inside the museum are displays and exhibits tracing the origin of American missile and space activities and how the atomic age began.  There are also displays of the prehistoric cultures and the Old West found in southern New Mexico.

The museum is inside an Army Installation which is also used by the Navy and Air Force.  The White Sands Missile Range occupies 3200 sq. miles of southern New Mexico.  The range was established on July 9, 1945 to test emerging rocket technologies.  The missile range continues to test everything from the latest Department of Defense missiles to automobile hardware, satellite components and medical instruments.

The New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo is a great place to learn about  the origins of our nation’s space exploration program.  It also pays homage to men and women who have furthered humanity’s exploration of space.  The museum is tucked into the hills and was chosen to be the site of this museum due to the area’s involvement in the evolution of the space age.  We walked through five floors of displays and exhibits showing how New Mexico is the home to many space pioneers and developments that made space travel possible.

New Mexico Museum of Space History

New Mexico Museum of Space History

The Sonic Wind No 1 was used by Dr. John Paul Stapp, who rode the rocket sled to a speed of 632 miles per hour, then was decelerated at 30g’s.  Ouch!  The test was designed to measure human response to sudden deceleration.

Sonic Wind No 1

Sonic Wind No 1, the actual sled that Dr. Stapp rode

Another display is the Daisy Track which was another sled track used to study the human body’s tolerance to G-Forces.

The museum also houses a great IMAX/planetarium building.  We were in awe as we watched the IMAX movie detailing the Hubble Space Telescope’s legacy.  It also gave an amazing, inspiring look at the Milky Way galaxy and other images from the heart of the Orion Nebula, all the way to the edge of the observable universe.  Viewing it made us feel really, really small in this huge universe!

In Las Cruces we went into Mexican Food frenzy.  Steve’s former co-worker Will, who used to live in Las Cruces, urged us to try two Mexican restaurants while there.  We normally don’t eat mexican food two days in a row, but we had to try these highly recommended establishments.  Besides, it was my birthday!  What a fitting celebration, a Mexican Food orgy with lots of leftovers for future lunches.

La Posta is the original post (or station) that remained standing on the Butterfield Trail, and was eventually converted into a restaurant.  The food and service were five star – especially my Chile Margarita!

The other restaurant was a hole in the wall called Nellie’s Cafe.  This is really home cooked delicious mexican food!

Next up:  More cool things to do while in Alamogordo, NM.