Friends, rock teepees and a singing road – Bernalillo, NM

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We were excited to move 157 miles south from Farmington to Bernalillo, where the “two B’s” would be neighbors – the two B’s were our coach Betsy and our good friends’ home on wheels named Beluga.  Yes, we were very happy that Dave and Sue could arrange their schedule so we could meet up as we intersected briefly in New Mexico.

Betsy takes a break at multi-colored hills along Highway 150 S toward Bernalillo

The two B’s Beluga and Betsy (with my Baby checking out the Jeep)

We had planned our stop so we could also visit with friends Hector and Brenda, who now reside in the area.  These are the folks who graciously cared for Betsy for almost a month last year when we took our European cruise.

It was great that we could all enjoy some time together at a local brewery.  As usual, the time flew by as we all got caught up with stories of our recent adventures.

The Bernalillo gang: Steve, Me, Dave, Sue, Hector and Brenda

The weather after our arrival was less than perfect, but Sue was not deterred as she put together some activities that included exploring the Jemez Mountains, some wine tasting (we learned there are some good wines in New Mexico), driving the “musical road”, and a side trip to the foothills of the Sandia Mountains.

Sue’s post about our explorations is here, and below are some photos and comments I gathered from our fun day together:

Cluster of rock teepees along the Jemez Mountains

Surprisingly good wines at Ponderosa Winery – each couple went home with 2 bottles!

It took centuries for mineral deposits from a hot spring to create this amazing natural dam across the river

We even got snowed on a bit during our sightseeing

Goofing off at the dual Gilman Tunnels, which were blasted out of solid rock

This rock collapse looked to me like a ghost, or maybe Darth Vader?

My cohorts modeled at a rock structure in the Sandia Mountain foothills

The Singing Road

A highlight of our excursion was driving over the rumble strip on a stretch of Route 66.  To get the road to play “America the Beautiful”, Dave had to drive over the strip at exactly 45mph.  He patiently drove it three times (and was probably considering committing hari-kari) as we tried to capture the sound on our phones.  Here’s the recording I captured, turn it up and listen carefully to hear it:

The Singing Road was created using metal plates placed under the pavement. The plates were covered with asphalt, then the rumble strips were installed.  You must drive the correct speed to hear the road “sing”; too slow or too fast and it doesn’t work.

We’re glad Sue knew about this interesting nearby attraction, we’d never heard of it and it was quite cool!

Eastbound 364 (Route 66) near Tijears, New Mexico

Before we went our separate ways, Dave lent Steve a hand with a simple repair on one of Betsy’s window awnings that required two ladders and two humans to get the job done.  Thanks, Dave!

Dave is VERY handy, and it was great to have his help

Waiting for a goodbye kiss from lovable Lewis (is he laughing at Steve’s haircut?)

Tent Rocks

After parting ways with our friends, we made a visit to Kasha Katuwe National Monument.  Several of our RVing friends had already explored and hiked at this interesting place, and we decided to give it a go on our last dreary and overcast day in Bernalillo.  In my previous post, I included photos of many interesting mini-hoodoos scattered around Bisti Wilderness.  At Kasha Katuwe the hoodoos were fairly uniform in shape and varied mostly in their size.  Called “tent rock formations”, they are yet another fascinating landscape to explore while also getting in a decent hike.

We followed both segments of the National Recreation Trail within the monument to get an up-close view of the geologic processes that created this spectacular scenery.  Our 4+ mile trek wound through a narrow slot canyon and climbed to the top of a mesa where we were rewarded with excellent views of the surrounding mountains.  We quickly discovered that this place is very popular, and even more so after several days of inclement weather.

Walking through slot canyons is always fun

Early Cochiti people left squiggles on the cliff walls

A single white Apache plume flower with a few purplish-pink feather-like seed heads

Geologic history fascinates us, and the story behind what happened here to create and shape these formations definitely did.  Unlike the Bisti Wilderness, this landscape didn’t result from ancient seas but rather from two different processes.

The first process was many volcanic eruptions, which dumped layer after layer of pumice ash and tuff deposits to over 1,000′ deep.

In the language of the Pueblo de Cochiti, “Kasha-Katuwe” means white cliffs

The second process was uplifting and exposure to the power of water and wind, which performed their magic to sculpt the volcanic layers.  Voilà!  A fairy tale landscape emerged that we are fortunate to explore and enjoy today.

A cluster of tent rocks look like gigantic sharpened pencils

Looks like a leaning ice cream cone – will it topple any minute?

Slot canyons created by the force of water

Hard boulder caps protect softer pumice beneath from erosion – until they fall off

Smaller tent rocks looked like Casper the Friendly (or not so friendly?) Ghost to me

Erosion exposed the roots of this Ponderosa Pine, but surprisingly it was green and seemed healthy

Evidenced by soot on the ceiling, some holes in the rocks were used as shelter by early people

View from the mesa top

A decent hike while enjoying wonderful scenery – yay!

This was a wonderful stopover.  Meeting up with friends AND enjoying interesting and lesser-known activities in New Mexico – works for us!

 

Next up:  Exploring a slice of Route 66



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ruins, Rocks and fantastical hoodoos – Farmington, NM

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Our trek south and east is well underway, and as you read this we’re already sitting in Alabama!  Yup, we’re moving along faster than usual, but doing lots of fun things as we also dodge some severe weather along the way.  The fast pace and juggling of our stops has put a bit of a cramp in my blogging efforts, but I’m trying to avoid falling too far behind 🙂 Continue reading

Healing and fun continue in New Mexico

Comments 30 Standard

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! Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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.

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

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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.

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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!

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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 .

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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

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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.

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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

Speleothems

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.

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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.

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

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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:

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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!