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.
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.
We just didn’t realize how much Chihuahuan Desert there is and that we’d be in it so long.
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.
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.
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.
There’s Pat giving me the wave to come on down.
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.
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.
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.
Fairy Land – truly magical with all the delicate stalactites on the ceiling.
The Chinese Theater. Can’t you just see that Oriental man in the middle? We also liked the Lion’s Tale.
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.
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.
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.
So serene. This elk was not on any kind of alert when we came by.
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.
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
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.