Cochiti Lake

April 2 – 4, 2018

If not for a wrong turn, or should I say a failure to turn, our travel from ABQ to Cochiti Lake would have been about 30 miles total.  Call it a navigator failure.  At least we knew for sure we missed our turn when the pavement ended and a barricade blocked the way.  Fortunately, Pat could turn us around with Bitsy in tow and that made our travel day a whopping 40 miles.  We’re out of the city again and that makes us happy.

Cochiti Lake Recreation Area

This stop was at a Corps of Engineers park on Cochiti Lake formed by damming up the Rio Grande.

DSC00475

From the overlook in the park, you can see the brown water of the Rio Grande meet the greenish water in Cochiti Lake.  Lucy is parked on the left and you can tell by the empty places that we’re a little head of season.  In fact, you can’t reserve spots here yet.  They are strictly first-come first-served, or FCFS in RV lingo, but we were lucky to score a spot with electricity and water.  The short drive and early arrival helped since those spots were all taken by 2pm, and on a Monday no less.

DSC00457

The rest of Cochiti Lake with the dam on the right.

We came prepared to be self-sufficient, cooked all our own meals and did our Jackson walks in the park.  It was nice after two weeks in town to get off the beaten path again.  Of course we had a few ‘wind warning’ days that required Pat to put up a tarp as a wind break for grilling out.  We’ll just say it was a partial successful, since it required him to go out around 10pm one night to take it down.  A corner came loose and the whole thing was making an awful racket in the night.  Yes, still terribly windy well past 11pm!

20180405_103529 - Edited

On the last day we discovered this little lovely down by the boat dock.  Amazing find in the desert.

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks

This National Monument came highly recommended by our new friends we met in Alamogordo.  It was just down the road from Cochiti Lake, so thought we’d scout it out to see if it would be a good place to visit with our friends Lisa and Al.  Kasha-Katuwe means “white cliffs” in the Pueblo language and you can guess from the rest of the name what rock shape is favored.

DSC00458

We’ve seen a lot of rock formations this past year and weren’t sure we’d be impressed with more hoodoos, but these were completely unique.  This is the first cliff you come to with all the little tent hoodoos up and down the rock face.  They look like cement tee-pees up close, but are made up of volcanic ash and rocks sculpted by wind and water.

DSC00466

This landscape makes for some amazing hiking.

I just couldn’t stop taking pictures of the cliffs and the “tents”.

DSC00461

About halfway along the trail, you enter a slot canyon.  Even here, nature finds a way.  Since taking this picture, we’ve seen more than one photographer’s work that includes this same tree.  It apparently fascinates most everyone on this trail.

DSC00462

And when I say slot canyon, I mean slot.  Parts of the trail are only as wide as your foot and you have to be cooperative with other hikers to pass along the way.

DSC00460

Looks like frosting, but really showcases what the rock “flow” must have looked like a million years ago when the canyon formed.

DSC00463

Then you pop right back out on the other side of the canyon to continue the hike upward.

DSC00468

Another amazing tree.  Now that, my friends, is a root, and looks like it just might snatch Pat off the trail.

DSC00471

We almost made it to the top of the ridge when the ranger turned us around.   If I hadn’t stopped to take so many pictures we’d have made it all the way.  This view was good enough for the day and hopefully we’ll get to return when our friends arrive.

 

DSC00469

I can’t help but see whipped cream turrets in the landscape.  The Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the distance make a lovely backdrop.

DSC00472

Remember spying shapes in the clouds as a kid?  On the return hike we start spotting shapes in the rocks and trees.  Pat’s showing where he thinks the ground used to be before erosion exposed the base of this tree.  Of course I was looking at the opening below.

DSC00473

Momma’s in the “doorway” holding the baby.

DSC00467

And can you find Lincoln’s face in this rock?

We complained about the high winds during most of this camping stop, but without that same howling wind, this place wouldn’t exist.  Powerful evidence of things unseen.

Next up – Santa Fe with one of our shortest travels days yet.  See you on the way!

 

 

Advertisements

ABQ – Part 2

March 19 – April 1

Our two weeks in Albuquerque are drawing to a close and we’re ready to move on.  The city and all its amenities have been nice, but time to change it up and camp in a more rural setting.  Before we go, there are a few more outings to cover.

Jemez Mountain Trail Scenic Byway

Since we’re spending significant time in Santa Fe, we weren’t terribly concerned about seeing all the surrounding area.  We did want to cover the closest portion of the Jemez Mountain Trail, and set out one day to do just that.

DSC00453

About 15 minutes outside of Albuquerque and you begin to figure out why everyone raves about the scenery.  The red rocks are so, well, red!  You can’t help but notice the change in coloring, especially on such bright sunny days.  This view is right across from the visitor’s center in the Pueblo of Jemez.

DSC00418DSC00420

The color makes you stare.  I had to pull the car over to gawk completely.  Pat’s interested in that light colored rock slide.

At the visitor’s center, we learned that the Jemez Pueblo is one of 19 in New Mexico, and is a federally recognized American Indian tribe.  According to their literature they are “a sovereign nation with an independent government and tribal court system”.  The Jemez are known for their pottery and traditional dances as well as their unique language, “Towa”.  They are the only tribe to speak that language and it’s not recorded in written form.  Pat and I discussed the difficulties of keeping the traditions alive with the young people, when right down the road from the pueblo are all the modern conveniences to lure them away from the old ways.

We exited the visitor’s center and decided to head to the Gilman Tunnels and save the rest of the scenic drive for our Santa Fe explorations.  The tunnel road is a spur from the main scenic route, and gets narrower and narrower until signs tell you it is now a one lane road with turn-outs for passing.

 

DSC00422

We drove as far as we could until the road ended with a gated gravel trail.  Once we turned around, we came face to face with this giant tree growing out of the rocks.  This is probably at least 40 feet tall jutting right out of the cliffside.

DSC00421

Here’s a closer look at that amazing tree.

DSC00424

There are two tunnels that lead to the end of the road and they’re carved right out of the surrounding cliffs.

DSC00423

There’s Bitsy on the other side of the tunnel waiting patiently for us to walk back through.  These tunnels are right next to Rio Guadalupe and the only other river we’ve seen lately besides the Rio Grande.  A beautiful drive and they say it only gets better the rest of the way around to Santa Fe.  Can’t wait to see for ourselves in a few weeks.

DSC00426

DSC00425

The Dogwood and Red Bud trees have suddenly come to life during our stay in the area.

Placitas

One of the locals told us about some walking trails close to the KOA.  Placitas is a neighboring town just up the road and has a forest service parking lot so you can access the trails in the Cibola National Forest.  We were tired of walking Jackson around in the same camping loops, so took a ride to Placitas.

DSC00434

Here’s our forest service road/trail at the foot of the Sandia Mountains.  We’re not sure how this classifies as a National Forest, but there are some trees.  They just aren’t huddling up together as much as we had hoped.  At least these roads are kind to Jackson’s feet and we can avoid the cactus and other pokey things.

DSC00433

Looking the other direction, there are the pueblo homes in Placitas with the Jemez Mountains to the West.

This turned out to be a great place for Jackson outings and it quickly became our daily routine.  He gets a car ride and a lengthy walk out of the deal.

Fire and Ice

Our one restaurant find for this stop was the Range Cafe in Bernalillo.  When my stomach was still a little funny from the Elephant Butte taco incident, I really wanted comfort food.  I had a dynamite turkey dinner complete with dressing and mashed potatoes, topped off with their signature green chili gravy.  Yum!  Pat had the meatloaf since he always gets that if it’s on the menu.

20180456

While we waited for our table, we plucked random brochures out of the tourist display.  The one labeled ICE CAVE & Bandera Volcano caught my eye.  I have a fascination with volcanoes, but have yet to see anything up close and personal.  This place outside of Grants, NM boasts a volcano that formed an ice cave, thus the fire and ice.  It struck us both as something we must see, but we weren’t going to be any closer than the ABQ stop.  That is, if you can call 110 miles one way “close”.

DSC00451

DSC00436

This place is on the Continental Divide and is referred to as the ‘Ring of Fire’ since there are 29 volcanic peaks in the area.  This is a view from the hike to the top of the Bandera Volcano and 15 volcanoes are visible from here.

DSC00439

The view looking into the volcanic crater.  This particular volcano erupted around 10,000 years ago and is one of the best examples and most accessible in the country.  There were many in Alaska, but you couldn’t get to any of them except by plane.  So glad to finally hike up to one.  Speaking of the hike, it wasn’t particularly long, but at an elevation of 8,122 feet, you do manage to get the blood pumping.

 

I was amazed at the tenacity of these big fir trees on the slant of the cindercone.  Pat’s reaching out to one of the huge roots just to show how big they really are.

DSC00441

The Juniper, Douglas Fir and Ponderosa Pine really take a beating from the elements up here and some of them are approximately 700 years old.

DSC00440

The ground looks like tilled soil, but upon closer inspection, is really piles of volcanic rock like this one.

DSC00446

After the Bandera Volcano erupted, it produced a lava flow almost 23 miles long, with a crater 800 feet deep.  This shot is of the canyon created from that lava flow.  A collapsed lava tube from the flow produced the second marvel in the area – an ice cave.  The temperature inside never gets above 31 degrees.  Rain water and snow melt continue to collect in the cave producing a growing layer of ice.

DSC00448

After the hike to the volcano look out point, we headed down the trail to the ice cave.  I know the photo isn’t stunning, but look at the upper right striped-looking piece of ice.  Yes, that is ice and the green coloring is from Arctic algae.  That striped piece used to be an ice wall 12 feet high back in the 40s.  The ice floor continues to rise each year and that’s all that’s left of the wall.

DSC00449

The afternoon sun made the lighting all wrong, but this gives you an idea of the cave entrance size and the amount of ice below.

DSC00450

This kitty gave me a start as we headed down the stairs to the ice cave.  We’ve been in mountain lion country, so at first glance as it scurried away, I wasn’t sure what it was.  Poor kitty just hunkered down and I think it hoped if it ignored us, we would ignore it.

DSC00447

Lichen and Alpine moss cover the rocks close to the mouth of the cave.  A little snow thrown in makes for an odd assortment of colors and textures.

And the final factoid that we liked?  This lava flow is rich in iron content and results in lots of lightning strikes.  In fact, we found out that New Mexico is second only to Florida in lightning strikes.

 

A few more views of the day.  Well worth the drive.

Bosque River Tour

Time for another bicycle rental.  Pat has his eye on the trails again, so we head back to Old Town ABQ to get our wheels.  Armed with a map of the Bosque River Trail, we’re on our way.  The last time we did this was in Anchorage.  Maybe we do it in all towns that start with ‘A’?  I must say, this bike ride was nothing at all like Anchorage.  Of course we weren’t expecting it to be that scenic, but we were expecting some Rio Grande River views.  The name would imply that, don’t you think?

No, you don’t pedal beside the Rio Grande as the name and map seem to indicate.  What you do pedal past are a series of irrigation ditches.  Well, ok, we did see three elephants through the fence behind the zoo, the Bug-arium at the botanical gardens, and two duck/fishing ponds.  Other than that, it was a lot of UN-scenic trail.  We thought we might get a glimpse of the river right over that berm next to the irrigation ditch, so we pedaled off the paved trail and through the gravel.  Pat turned around at a huge pile of what looked like broken auto glass and I had to swerve to miss the sad looking stray dog that suddenly appeared.  In fact, I draw the line at a certain amount of burglar bars and razor wire.  Actually, ANY amount of razor wire.  I’d actually never seen the stuff quite so up close and personal before.  That’s when we turned around.

DSC00454

The redeeming factor for this ride was the short detour to Sonic for slushies.  We finished them off at the one developed spot by the Rio Grande that was actually paved and free of theft deterrent.  And we got some good exercise.

Easter

We celebrated Easter Sunday on our last day in ABQ.  There was a nice church close by in Bernalillo, and we managed to dig out our dress clothes.  A skirt and heels for me and dress pants and dress shirt for Pat.  Turns out Pat doesn’t have dress socks anymore, but as long as he remains standing, the Adidas logo won’t show.  (I’ve been corrected during proofreading.  He does have dress socks, just didn’t choose to wear them.)

Pat read for the afternoon and I made more cards.  I’m now all set for a special birthday in April (someone’s turning 24!), and Mother’s Day in May.  The graduation cards for our friends and family grads are also well on their way to completion.  Our final dinner was supposed to be stir-fry, but neither of us was inclined to cook.  Back to the Range Cafe we go.  Pat had a chicken burrito with the red chili sauce on the side (good call on his part), and I sampled the pork loin I had my eye on during the previous visit.  Both were oh so good!  I highly recommend this place if you’re ever in the area.

Just like that, two weeks have passed.  Next up – Cochiti Lake Corp of Engineers campground for a few “out of town” days, with Santa Fe close on its heels.  See you on the way!

 

Albuquerque – Part 1

March 19 – April 1

Albuquerque is even higher in elevation than Denver, but boasts mild weather in town, with the option for skiing at the top of Sandia Peak.  I visited with my friend Wendy just two years ago and thought this might be a place for us to settle.  We’re not sure we like it that much, but Pat likes skiing and we both like mild winters, so we suspect we’ll be back again, at least for a visit.

Coronado Historic Site

We took it slow when we first arrived and looked for a good place for strolling with Jackson.  Since our campground is in Bernalillo, just north of ABQ, we’re just minutes away from the Coronado Historic Site.  Right in the middle of construction – road and hotel – lies an archeological site beside the Rio Grande.  Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, a Spanish conquistador, arrived here in 1540 looking for the Seven Cities of Gold.  Instead, he found villages inhabited by the Pueblo Indians.  He and his crew would likely have starved without the assistance of these Indians.

DSC00452

I have to say, this was the prettiest view I captured of the Rio Grande and the Sandia Mountains.  You’d think you were in the middle of nowhere, but this lovely spot is surrounded by gas stations, fast food restaurants, and even a casino with a hotel under construction.  The striking red grass was beautiful in the sun.

DSC00404DSC00403

Our stroll took us beside the Rio Grande, but also past a pueblo reconstruction and ruins.

A view of the Rio Grande looking north and the boys walking south.

Sandia Peak

I loved the tram ride up the mountain from my previous visit, so that was at the top of my list of things to do.  We were all set to go one afternoon, when I double-checked my directions and determined that on Tuesdays, it’s only open after 5pm.  Guess what?  It’s Tuesday.  So we waited for the next gorgeous day to take the tram and hopefully do a hike if the snow didn’t stop us.

DSC00408

We did have to slog through mud, slush and snow, but it wasn’t too bad.  The views were so worth it.  In the distance (way, way), is Sierra Blanca, that peak in the pictures from White Sands.

DSC00417

I had to wait for the tram to come by again for this photo.  I didn’t take any pictures on the ride up or down since it was Spring Break and the car was packed both times.

Wendy and I wanted to hike to this CCC cabin when we were here in February of 2016.  It was too snowy and icy during that visit and we barely got away from the visitor’s center building.  Fortunately/unfortunately, they’ve had very little snowfall this year, so we didn’t have to do too much slipping and sliding to make the three mile hike.

DSC00416

We made it!

A few more views of the day.  The ski lift, meadow below the CCC cabin, view looking south and our snowy wooded path.

Flamenco Dancing

As is our custom in a new place, we stopped at the visitor’s center to get local advice on what to see and do.  Emily was so enthusiastic and convinced us that flamenco dancing at the Hotel Albuquerque was THE thing to see.  So online I go to book tickets.  I was able to get two seats that looked like they’d have good views of the dancing and we made it our Friday night date.

Part of the fun turned out to be just getting seated.  A couple was in our spot enjoying wine and snacks, but I give the hostess great credit for handling it well and keeping us out of the middle.  I don’t think those folks were too happy since ours were the better seats.

As for the flamenco dancing, it was pretty amazing.  I’m calling it Angry Spanish Opera.  We didn’t understand a word of the songs, but could tell by the facial expressions that there was a lot of passion in the music.  The ladies had flowing dresses and flowers in their hair.  And when they hiked up their skirts?  Well, they were about to get serious.  They stomped and tapped until the sweat poured.  Our seats were perfect for seeing the footwork.  I really enjoyed the guitarist who handled all the music, but the hands down best part was the young guy who danced.  I’m trying to convince Pat that he needs a pair of those tight pants.  In the end, it was a great cultural experience, and something we’ve never seen anywhere else.  Viva España!

Old Town

DSC00429

Spring is sprung in ABQ!  We headed to the walkable Old Town area to see the shops, churches, and monuments.

 

DSC00427

It’s Holy Week, and the San Felipe de Neri Catholic Church built in 1793 is just beautiful.  A nice stop to pause, reflect and pray.

DSC00430

Tucked away in the remains of a tree outside the church was this interesting praying figure.

DSC00431  Then there’s Francisco Cuervo y Valdés, who founded Albuquerque back in 1706.

We rounded out our walking tour with a stop at the Alan Aragon Gallery.  This Navajo artist showed us how he makes his beautiful jewelry from start to finish.  Such a craftsman.  If he hadn’t been low on inventory from a recent show, I would likely have made a purchase.  Google him and see his creations for yourself.

Cha-Ching!

So what do you do on a rare rainy day in Albuquerque?  You head to the casino.  Actually went went twice, mainly because I had such a great time during our first visit.  I was finally able to find a slot machine that I understood and won $50!  I promptly cashed out and we almost doubled our money.  The second visit wasn’t as profitable, but cheap entertainment, considering we pretty much broke even and enjoyed free sodas.

Next up – one more post from Albuquerque with volcanoes, an ice cave and our biking adventure.

Truth or Consequences

March 14-18

This is not going to be a picture-filled post.  I just didn’t end up taking a lot of photos and you’ll understand why as I tell the tales from this stop.  But, few pictures doesn’t mean it wasn’t an adventure.  There’s always an adventure.

On The Way

Our drive from Alamogordo to Truth or Consequences found us in Las Cruces, New Mexico at the halfway point of our travel day.  Coincidentally, our great friend Ann happened to be there visiting her brother.  When we figured out our paths would cross, we made a lunch date.  Fortunately for us, there’s a nice park close to her brother’s house with a parking spot big enough for Lucy & Bitsy.

I kept telling Jackson who we were going to see and from two blocks away he spotted Miss Ann and started crying with excitement.  Hugs all around and a great Mexican lunch made for the perfect stop.  We actually ended up spending four hours catching up and it was so very nice.  That is truly the best part of this traveling lifestyle.

Elephant Butte Lake State Park

It was hard to leave, but we needed to make tracks for our final destination, Elephant Butte Lake State Park, just outside of Truth or Consequences.  We didn’t arrive until 5 pm and that’s a really late day for us.  We like to tuck in by 3 pm most days, but with daylight savings time in full swing, we have plenty of daylight left.  Enough to see the “view” from our site.

20180693

Our spot was on the row closest to Elephant Butte Lake, with a really nice view.  Well, that is if you can look past the giant pontoon boat.  Our next door neighbors had it parked in front of our spot.  Getting Lucy backed in was a bit tricky with the boat there, but Pat’s had lots of practice and managed to squeak it in.

20180694

Hurray!  The next day the boat left and didn’t return during the rest of our visit.  Now we have a nice clear view of the lake.

DSC00699

This lake was such an interesting color.  It really looked jade, but I just couldn’t seem to capture it in a picture.  An odd color unlike any other shade of green we’ve seen in our travels so far.

The Tour That Was A Bust

So, why are we here?  Well, this stop was one of Pat’s picks.  He wanted to stay in Truth or Consequences, better known as T or C, to visit Spaceport America.  For those of you unfamiliar, this is the place built to support commercial space travel, including tourist space travel.

Virgin Galactic is one of its tenants, and they’re famous for SpaceShipOne.  That craft won the 10 million dollar X-Prize back in 2004 for being the first private aircraft to enter suborbital space not once, but twice, within five days.  It was and still is a huge deal since it opened up possibilities for commercial space flight.  And commercial space flight needs a spaceport since a regular airport just won’t do.

All that sounds great, but due to financial red tape and the crash of SpaceShipTwo, the spaceport has really never taken off.  No pun intended.  Supposedly there are “tours” for $50 each, but that involves a lengthy van ride out to the middle of nowhere to see the unoccupied building, and only if you can get seven other space geeks to join you.  Thus, the tour that was a bust.  We saved our money, thank you very much.

DSC00696

There is a visitor’s center for Spaceport America, so we went there for free.  Mostly a big open room with a video all about how great the tour will be when you go, and a desk with no one manning it to sign up for your grand tour.

DSC00695

Other than the few interactive displays, the rest of the space was filled with framed movie posters on easels.  Apparently any space movie will do – The Astronaut Farmer, The Martian, Alien.  You get the idea.

T or C

So what did we do here with our four days set aside for all things space related?  Well, we did learn about the town at their visitor’s center attached to the Spaceport America echo chamber.

This town did a crazy thing back in 1950, and changed its name from Hot Springs to Truth or Consequences.  The NBC radio program “Truth or Consequences” held a contest and promised to broadcast on its 10th anniversary from the first town to change their name to match the show.  It made the town famous and they have yearly Fiesta days to commemorate the event.  Of course not everyone liked the change, but after four failed referendums to change the name back to Hot Springs, they gave up.  T or C is still known for its hot springs that don’t smell, and are at the perfect temperature for a 30 minute soak.  We considered taking a soak, but decided to go visit Ann in Las Cruces instead.

Ah, best laid plans and all that.  The Las Cruces day trip went down the tubes along with any other adventurous plans we had when I contracted food poisoning.  My search for the perfect fish taco has come to an end for a while.  And that’s all I’ll say about that.

We did mange to do some laundry here and two very important cleaning tasks.  First there was the refrigerator treasure hunt for whatever died in there and stunk up the coach every time you opened the door.  Just so you know, black beans don’t keep in a baggie for over a week without serious consequences.  Then there was the stink in the sink.  It smelled almost as bad in the bathroom sink as the fridge, and we took to keeping it stoppered.  It is amazing what copious amounts of hot water and Dawn dish soap will do.  Yes, we do live the high life.

Sidelined

It’s going to be hard to top the last four days, but it’s time to move on.  We’re excited, truly, to hit the road to make our two-week reservations in Albuquerque.  Not so fast, says mother nature.  The forecast for our travel day called for winds increasing throughout the day.  We only had 150 miles to go, so figured we’d be settled in before it got too bad.

It wasn’t looking good on the highway and we’d only made it about halfway.  On we pressed, but the winds were hitting us completely broadside.  The gusts made a horrible racket with the slide toppers on the side of the coach, and Pat was obviously fighting to hold Lucy in the road.  Between the groaning toppers and the rumble on the highway shoulder as we got pushed over with each gust, Jackson was a mess.  He practically climbed into my seat and no amount of hugging and consoling would help.  Should we pull off?  I figure whenever we ask ourselves that question the answer should probably be a resounding yes.  An exit came up and we took it.

A check of the weather confirmed the winds were to continue until 1 am, with gusting up to 70 mph.  We found a campground just a few miles away and took their very last spot.  A mere 50 miles from our destination and we are sidelined.

DSC00698

I sat and talked to a friend on the phone and watched the clouds roll by.  Once the worst had past, it wasn’t a bad view from our spot in Belen, NM.  Another camper told us that just down the highway, several semis were blown over in the winds.

When we did finally make it to Albuquerque the next day, our campground neighbors told their similar tale.  They went farther down the highway than we did until the point where they could no longer see to drive.  The dust was that bad.  They ended up at a rest stop for the night.  So glad we stopped when we did.

Next up: Albuquerque and putting my city driving pants back on.  See you on the way!

 

White Sands

March 9 – 13

I’ve heard of White Sands all my life and wanted to see the place firsthand.  It turned out to be a logical next step for us after Carlsbad, and we’re so glad we spent time there.  We like Alamogordo and especially Oliver Lee Memorial State Park at the foot of the Sacramento Mountains.

Oliver Lee Memorial State Park & More New Friends

You know how we were wanting to see some trees after our last stop.  Well, we were fortunate to drive through the Lincoln National Forest on the way to our next stop, Oliver Lee Memorial State Park.  We were both delighted to see towering fir trees and so much green!  Unfortunately, this was short-lived and as soon as we came off the mountain, we were right back in the Chihuahuan Desert again.  In fact, once we turned off the main road outside of Alamogordo headed to the park, we were really disappointed.  This was not looking promising for an interesting next stop.  Mountains, yes, but still desert-y and kinda run-down looking.

DSC00691

Let’s just say we got over it pretty fast.  Here’s the view of where we camped from up a nearby hiking trail.  There’s Lucy, Bitsy and a teeny tiny Pat & Jackson sitting out front.  Stunning 360 degree views with White Sands way in the distance.

DSC00634

Here’s the view the other direction looking at the Sacramento Mountains.  Not many trees, but we’ll live.

Actually the park itself turned out to be a great place to walk Jackson and get a little hiking in.  Signs of Spring were everywhere with the hum of bees in the budding trees and little green leaf buds on things we thought were dead.

DSC00690

The cholla cactus here had bright yellow segments at the ends and I managed to get this little birdy in the shot.  Not sure what he is.

 

More green stuff popping up near the flowing stream.  Such a nice surprise to hear running water again.

DSC00670

Any birders out there can correct me if I’m wrong.  I think this might be a Ruby-Crowned Kinglet.  The bright red spot on the head caught my eye.

DSC00656

Lots of birds and views from Oliver Lee.  We’d definitely come back here.

This was another good stop for meeting new friends.  Barbara & Bud were our camp hosts and also RVillagers.  We connected online right away and got together twice to sit and visit.  They were so easy to talk to and we had some good laughs.  We received some good restaurant and campground advice from them and will be keeping in touch.

White Sands National Monument

The main goal for this trip was to see White Sands National Monument.  We were able to make use of our yearly National Park Pass and visit twice.  The first time was in the afternoon and it was a little cloudy.  It turned out to be a spectacular time to visit, with nice cool breezes.

DSC00651

A favorite showcasing the pristine sand and a single set of footprints.

DSC00648

Pat says someone got footy prints all over his desert.  Actually we were surprised at how quickly our footprints were being erased by the wind.  By the time we retraced our steps, they were already smoothing out, soon to be gone completely.

DSC00644

Snow-covered Sierra Blanca Peak in the distance at almost 12,000 feet.  Such a contrast.  White Sands was like a huge beach with no ocean, surrounded by mountains.

DSC00647

Like frosting in the distance.  We were in shade and the little sliver of bright white was the sand in the sunlight.

A nice young man that reminded us of Ethan came along and offered to take our picture.  He was visiting from Kentucky and clearly taken by the views, too.  We returned the favor and did a little photo shoot for him.  Some visitors were also trying to sled down the dunes.  They didn’t do too many trip down since the hike back up is pretty tough.  A shot of the boardwalk and a few other favorites from the day.

Sunset Stroll

DSC00678

A few days later we went on the sunset stroll with one of the rangers.  Light and shadows made for different lovely views.  According to the ranger, this is the world’s largest gypsum dunefield.  It’s unlike the beach sand we’re used to.  Gypsum is a soft mineral and doesn’t get hot under the desert sun.  If you get some of this sand in your eyes, blinking will dissolve it.  Velvety soft sand, and there’s moisture just under the surface.

The sun is slipping away quickly as the ranger tells us about the plants and animals living here.  The yucca plants adapt with 30 foot stalks, the depth of some of the sand dunes.  Other plants build pedestals for themselves with their roots and the sand.  Of course the dunes move and cover spots while uncovering others, constantly moving and changing.

DSC00683DSC00685

Lower and lower it goes….

DSC00682

The Scramento Mountains glowed a ruby red in the background.  Our campground is way over that direction.

The purples and pinks remain my favorite.

DSC00688

Day is done. Gone the sun.  Loved, loved White Sands and all its moods.

Cloudcroft & the Lincoln National Forest

We just had to get another look at those fabulous trees just 30 minutes away up the mountain.  At an elevation of 8,668 feet, the town of Cloudcroft had snow while we were down in White Sands in our shorts.

DSC00658

Truthfully, we only found these piles at the ranger station when we got up there, but it was chilly and windy.  Almost 20 degrees colder that just a few miles down the road.

DSC00659

We had big plans to hike on this rails to trails section, but we just weren’t dressed for the wind up here.

I walked out onto the trestle overlook just as another tourist says “there’s nothing holding that up!”  “Now you tell me”, I say.  We all had a good laugh and got back into our warm cars.  The road from Cloudcroft drops about 4000 ft in elevation during the 12 miles into Alamogordo.  Very steep grades with runaway truck ramps, if you can make it that far.  Pat & Jackson posed with the forest service elk.  Yep, we were pretty high!  Remind me to tell you that joke sometime.

Pistachio Farm

Imagine our surprise when we drove from Carlsbad to here and encountered fields and fields of trees.  We’re can’t figure this out given the fact that trees don’t seem to make it here naturally.  Apparently pecan and pistachio trees don’t require much water and love it in this area.  You know we love a good factory or farm tour, so we signed on for one at the Heart of the Desert Eagle Ranch.

DSC00673

This place is home to more than 13,000 pistachio trees and 24,000 grapevines.  Pistachio trees are interesting with one male tree for every 12-16 female trees.  The winds around here do the pollinating with the male trees planted upwind.  The male trees are a little beefier looking that the female trees, so you can tell them apart pretty easily.  We bought some Riesling wine and salted pistachios for the road.

DSC00677

The world’s largest pistachio is just down the road at another orchard, so we had to go there, too.

Big Booms, The Blog & Other Tales

You may or may not know the other thing for which this area is famous.  The White Sands Missile Range.  On our first evening we heard a few booms that you could feel in your chest.  Our brave little toaster, Jackson, is horribly afraid of loud noises, so we were worried that this would be a rough stop for him.  Turns out we only had a few other booms, so all was well.

20180692

The main road leading to Las Cruces is even closed when they conduct some of the tests.  Fortunately we weren’t set to travel on one of those days.

DSC00653

Now those are some tumbleweeds in the making.  And this is also why we thought the area leading to the state park seemed rundown.  Abandoned more like.

Pat celebrated a birthday at this stop.  I didn’t bake him a cake, but did make him some pretty good homemade mac and cheese in the instant pot.  Have I told you that’s the best gadget ever?  And Pat got to read all day which makes him pretty happy.

DSC00654

Spotted this cactus on our Sunday morning stroll.  Easter is almost here!

Also, I’ve added a new feature to the blog.  Since there’s always a little lag between posts and our next destination, you’ll now find a spot titled “Where in the world are the Iversons”.  (Thanks Catherine for that idea)  I’ll do my best to keep that current so you’ll know where we are even if the blog hasn’t quite caught up.  Let me know how you like it.

DSC00669

Finally our super genius dog learned the hard way about cattle guards.  We walked up to this one in the park, merely to take a look down the road.  Jackson pauses for just a few seconds and then leaps onto this thing.  Picture a 100 pound lab with all four legs dangling through the bars.  Luckily he didn’t get hurt, so we could laugh about it.

20180668

They are so mean telling tales on me…..

Next up – Truth or Consequences and the tour that was a big bust.  See you on the way!

Carlsbad & More Chihuahuan Desert

March 3 – 8

Our first stop in New Mexico!  We’re happy to add a new state to the camping map, and also happy that we’ll have almost two whole months to explore New Mexico.  A great way to kick off our Wild West travels for 2018.

Brantley Lake State Park

Brantley Lake State Park is our first foray into New Mexico and boasts the Southern-most lake in the state.  It served our purpose as a home base to see Carlsbad Caverns, but we decided that this part of New Mexico has most of its beauty underground.

DSC00630

Not to hurt the feelings of anyone from in this area of New Mexico, but we’re seriously missing our trees.  This is the first lake we’ve been to with really none to speak of.  That scraggly thing in the picture is about the closest you get here.  Of course it’s a lake made by that dam in the photo.  Apparently the Chihuahuan Desert wins out, and there’s just not enough moisture to support tree life.  Sigh.  We miss them so.

2018060720180608

We just didn’t realize how much Chihuahuan Desert there is and that we’d be in it so long.

DSC00631

Jackson did like the road that ends in water.  It was a chance for him to get a drink.  In keeping with the desert, we couldn’t smell the water until we were practically right on top of it.  So very dry here.

Carlsbad Caverns

The main event was fortunately not the state park, but the deepest limestone cave in the United States and New Mexico’s only National Park.  At a constant 56 degrees and 90% humidity, it’s a contrast to the temps topside.  I needed my little cap on for this tour.

DSC00611

We opted for a self-guided tour this time since we’d already toured two other caverns recently.  The first part was the hike in using the natural entrance, taking you 1.25 miles down, or the equivalent of walking down a 75 story building.  Pretty steep.

DSC00612

There’s Pat giving me the wave to come on down.

DSC00614

Here’s a look down the pathway with that snaking walkway and very important handrails.  I learned the hard way on the last two tours that you have to keep really still to get any pictures that aren’t blurry.  I managed a few clear ones this time, especially since we practically had the place to ourselves and could take all the time we wanted.

DSC00615

Once you reach the bottom, the next tour area is the Big Room.  The formations in this place are HUGE and my favorites are the draperies.  They look just like delicate hanging fabric.  We learned from our handy audio tour that initially the cave was used by people to “mine” bat guano.  Early visitors had to enter the cavern in guano buckets.  No thank you.  Very happy for the walking trail down and the elevator back up.

DSC00616

Hall of the Giants – and my attempt to recreate the picture that the National Park Service used for the collector’s stamp.  The ranger told us where to stand for this shot.

DSC00617

Fairy Land – truly magical with all the delicate stalactites on the ceiling.

DSC00606

The Chinese Theater.  Can’t you just see that Oriental man in the middle?  We also liked the Lion’s Tale.

DSC00618

The best part of this cave is the fact that it’s still active and growing almost everywhere.  Since it wasn’t crowded on our visit, we could stop and hear the water dripping.  A drop hit me smack on the top of my head and ran down into my eyes.  This water pool in the Big Room was beautiful with formations that looked like brain coral.

DSC00620

The model of the caverns in the visitor’s center was amazing.  Pat’s pointing to the building we’re standing in, and that angled section beneath it shows the Natural Entrance walkway.  From there you can see the bottom layer and the many vast sections of caves.  We only saw a small fraction of what’s underground.  Simply a marvel.

DSC00610

Don’t I look like a spelunker?  Fortunately there aren’t any small confined spaces to crawl through.  I’m not sure I could really do that.

Motorhome Dinner Party

Our new friends Henry & Linda were just a few spots down in the Brantley Lake Campground and we made a plan for dinner during our stay.  I made chicken fajitas in my Instant Pot and our guests made homemade flour tortillas.  I think they had the harder task to be honest.  (I can’t stop raving about my Instant Pot and how handy it is for cooking in our teensy kitchen.)  Anyway, we swapped beers, dipped chips, and sampled their frijoles and Mexican cookies.  Add a few hours of getting to know each other better, and we’re fast friends with an invitation to visit them in Maine when we finally head East again.

Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park

Before we both departed going out separate ways, we made a plan to meet Linda & Henry at the Living Desert State Park.  At $5 admission each, it was a bargain and a nice way to spend the afternoon.

Spring is really on the way and we saw some new blooms and happy desert plants.  Finally a Yucca with living blossoms.  Not sure what the yellow flower is.  And I just like the symmetry of the succulents.

We had the most fun with the animals.  Linda & Henry are avid birders and helped us identify a few locals who showed up in trees, and gave us some good info on the resident eagles and owls.

Honestly, who doesn’t love a good prairie dog town?  So comical with their waving tails on high intruder alert.

DSC00626

So serene.  This elk was not on any kind of alert when we came by.

DSC00622

I was nose to nose with this guy through the fence.  He was so curious and sniffed my nose, my hand, and my camera.  And then he lumbered off with not a graceful bone in his body.

DSC00621

Pat hams it up with the bat display.

Unfortunately it’s time to say goodbye to our new buddies.  Linda & Henry had to make tracks the next day headed back in the direction of Maine, while we were set to move on to our next New Mexico adventure.  I’m sure we’ll see them again in our travels.

One Scenic View & The Rabbits

DSC00609

To be fair, we did find some scenic views in this part of the country.  This shot is from the parking lot at Carlsbad Caverns.  You do a good bit of climbing on the road to get to the top only to descend below ground.

And there were rabbits.  We drove back to the campground that’s about four miles off the highway, one night after dark.  Other than desert scrub, there’s nothing out there on this winding narrow road.  Well nothing other than the rabbits running wildly across the road both ways.  And I do mean running.  We counted at least 20 criss-crossing our path, but then there was this one.  He or she ran right for Bitsy’s wheels.  I attribute this to too much Bugs Bunny cartoons as children, since we both start singing like Elmer Fudd.  “Killed a WAbbit, killed a WAbbit!”  I don’t think I hit it, or at least that’s what I tell myself.

Time to move on once again.  Next up – White Sands National Monument and more new friends.

Hueco Tanks

February 28 – March 2

Another stop and another state park.  Just as we like it.  Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site has an interesting mix of visitors, mainly because of it’s two very different claims to fame – rock climbing and ancient rock art.  We came to get a taste of both.  But first, the journey.

 Tumbleweeds, Blimps & Other Delights

We left Davis Mountains State Park and knew we’d have a pretty easy drive, but didn’t realize how eventful it would be.  Lots to see on the way.

20180607

First off, it was sooooo windy.  The kind that sends gusts to push us onto the shoulder.  The kind that blows honest-to-goodness tumblin’ tumbleweeds right into our path.  These suckers are pretty big and Pat does his best to swerve around to miss them.  He’s concerned about the stiff stems making it to the radiator.  Well, he managed to miss all but one.  We found dents and tumbleweed remains in the fine mesh Pat put over the front of the grill to protect Lucy’s radiator in Alaska.  Glad we still had it installed.  Onward to Marfa, TX.

20180604

We didn’t see the famed lights outside of Marfa, but we did see this Tethered Aerostat Radar System (TARS).  We played the “what is that” game for miles until we got close enough to see that it was indeed a blimp.  A moored helium balloon to be exact.  Turns out that US Customs & Border Patrol has eight of these at strategic border points to detect suspicious low-flying aircraft.  They fly these like kites and the radar has a range of 200 miles.  On this day they are definitely grounded due to the high winds.

Gas isn’t on our agenda for this travel day, but lunch is.  I see there’s a Flying J truck stop in Van Horn and it has a Wendy’s.  Do you know how long it’s been since we’ve even seen a Wendy’s?  That’d be three MONTHS!  Yes, we’ve been off the beaten path for quite a while where even fast-food is non-existent.  We happily park in a rough gravel lot next to the truck stop and indulge.  Jackson is promised french fries, so he doesn’t complain too much.

Our driving route after lunch takes us due North and gives us a grand view of the Guadalupe Mountains in the National Park.

20180581

When we get excited, Jackson gets up to take a look, too.  He’s gazing upon the road most likely, but there’s the highest point in Texas ahead – Guadalupe Peak at 8,749 feet.

After we make the turn West towards El Paso and our Hueco Tanks destination, Pat ends up leading a parade.  We’re pretty slow compared to the rest of the traffic, rarely doing more than 58-ish miles per hour.  Once a line forms, Pat likes to find a pull-off if it’s a difficult place for people to pass.  He pulls into a roadside picnic area and it turns out to be a fantastic impromptu stop.

DSC00583

For his courteous driving, we’re rewarded with this view of the Guadalupe Mountain range.  This is the Western Escarpment and according to the roadside sign, “one of the best exposed geologic rock sections in the world”, and “one of the best examples of a fossil reef anywhere in the world”.

A few more shots from my roadside photo shoot.  I call that first one “Boot on a Fencepost”.

The Huecos & The Tanks

Hueco (pronounced Waco) Tanks State Park is named for the two things it provides this desert area.  “Huecos” are natural basins, and you can find bowl, bathtub and pond-sized indentations in the rocks.  “Tanks” are the natural water pools from the collection of rain-water in the huecos.  Together they provide water for a wide variety of plants, animals, and also supported the ancient people who visited.

DSC00593

The drive into the park takes you around the North Mountain rock face.  I really do see a face in it – something sunning itself with eyes closed.  Maybe a frog or a lizard, with a bit of a smile.  The rocks in the park are really unique compared to what’s around in the area.  Essentially Hueco Tanks is four hills of stone made from molten rock that cooled underneath sandstone millions of years ago.  The limestone wore away to reveal the lumpy rocks, filled with huecos.

DSC00586

Here’s a look at one of the larger “tanks” surrounded by that bumpy rock.

DSC00580

Our first night here was beautiful.  The moon rose over the surrounding mountains that were aglow from the setting sun.  I stood right on Lucy’s steps to take this picture.

Rock Climbing & Rock Art

The park is filled with ancient pictographs, so they don’t let you hike about without a pass.  We reserved ours months ago so we could be sure to explore the area.  On one of the mountains, you can do a self-guided hike, and that’s where we got our taste of mountain “climbing”.  Actually we did what what is referred to as “bouldering”.  That’s where you climb over the face of small rocks or boulders using only natural handholds.

 

Mostly we just scrambled over and around rocks, but we’re counting is as bouldering.  The “real” climbing fanatics come in by the van load, each with their own crash pad.  This is essentially a big square foam mattress folded in half.  They wear them on their backs like backpacks until they get to their climbing spot.  From there, they lay them down on the ground as a landing spot when they fall.  We talked to a group of enthusiastic young people who assured us that you need a crash pad for when, not if, you fall.
DSC00588

This is the face of North Mountain head on.  We’re on our way past and look up since Pat hears a noise.  This is when we get to watch the real mountain climbing.

DSC00589

In the shady spot, about a third of the way up the cliff face, is this climber.  We find that we just can’t tear our eyes away.

The climber swung over to get another rope, swung back and kept climbing.  Almost at the top, and finally standing on top coiling up the ropes.  It was worth the whole stop to watch that feat, which was about a 200 foot vertical climb.

The other mountains in the park are closed to visitors unless you go on a guided hike.  We booked one to see the rock art.  Our guides, Tish and Dar, took us on quite a hike and one that really involved some bouldering.  At one point we were on a nice little ledge and I just didn’t look down.

DSC00599

We visited several caves with pictographs and petroglyphs that are estimated to date back to 1000 A.D.  Several different groups came to the area including the Apache, but who came here, and exactly when, is unknown.  There are estimated to be as many as 5,000 pictographs in the caves, with more being discovered each season.  Tish and Dar have been living in the park in a tent for over a year, and spend their spare time bouldering and cataloging new pictograph sites.  Now that’s camping!

DSC00595

Tish knew all about the plants and pointed out the yucca.  Their sharp points and stringy parts made a perfect needle and thread for the original people passing through.

More huecos, tanks and scenic views from our pictograph hike.

We’re Not Stalkers

When we first arrived and got set up in our camping spot, I noticed something in the spot next door.  I tell Pat, “Look!  It’s those people again”.  I say again, since we noticed this same white truck with Maine plates and  green kayaks mounted on top at Maverick Ranch, Davis Mountains State Park, and now here.  Truthfully there aren’t a lot of different routes out of Big Bend, but seeing the same people in these same state parks seemed unusual.  We knew that meant they must like the same kinds of places that we do, so we kept an eye out to finally meet them.  We also wanted to make sure they knew we weren’t stalking them.  It was grand to finally meet Henry and Linda, and they even went on the same pictograph hike with us.

Farewell Lone Star State

We’ve seen all we came to see, and we’re ready to leave Texas.  It’s been a great four months of wintering, but we need to add some new states to our camping map.  Some back-tracking was required on our travel day and we knew from experience, there was precious little on the route.  There was the Cornuda Cafe and that was absolutely it for any food along the way.  Looked quirkly and our new friends Linda and Henry were going to stop there, so we decided to give it a try.

20180602

All the tables had real legs, complete with jeans and cowboy boots.

20180601

My leg and our table leg.

Fantastic burgers and homemade french fries.  I had the World Famous Cornuda Burger with Green Chiles and Cheese.  Pat had a regular cheeseburger and we were both delighted.  And the guy playing guitar and harmonica wished us safe travels when we left.

DSC00603

This drive gave me one more chance to photograph Guadalupe Peak and a chance to drive past the National Park.  Texas has two national parks and we were fortunate enough to see both of them.

Next up: Guess where Linda and Henry are headed?  They have reservations in the same New Mexico state park that we do.  So stay tuned for Carlsbad Caverns and our first motorhome dinner party.