Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A Visit to Southeastern New Mexico

One part of New Mexico that I rarely see is the southeastern part which is surrounded on the south and east by the state of Texas.  It was very hot there in August, with temperatures in the low 100's, but we had the grand-children and Ron's daughter, Anne, visiting from Minnesota so we planned a trip to Carlsbad Caverns National Park at the end of the week they were here.

"Tailgating" dinner at the Santa Fe Opera (photo by Anne Farrar)

First, we had a busy few days in Santa Fe and Albuquerque:  watched the premiere opera of "Cold Mountain" at the Santa Fe Opera, visited the Museum of Nuclear Science and the International Rattlesnake Museum in Albuquerque, and hiked the Crest Trail of Sandia Mountain (10, 678 ft. elevation).

Milla and Will at the Santa Fe Opera (photo by Anne Farrar)

Milla getting up close to an Albino Boa at the Rattlesnake Museum in Old Town (photo by Anne Farrar)

Milla and Will at the Museum of Nuclear Science in Albuquerque (photo by Anne Farrar)
Anne sitting on the Sandia Crest 5000 feet above our house in Albuquerque

Will and Milla on Sandia Crest

Anne and the kids were delighted by the Broad-tailed Hummingbirds eagerly feeding at the nectar feeders at the Crest House.

On August 7th,  we headed east on I-40 to US 285 south through the area my daughter, Amanda, calls "Nowhere New Mexico".  This is the shortest road to Carlsbad from Albuquerque (it takes only 4 hours)  but it is boring and almost straight as an arrow.  We spent our time looking for antelope, horses and cows.

We stopped in Roswell for a visit to the UFO Museum which commemorates and documents the alleged crash of an alien spacecraft in 1947 and it's subsequent "cover-up" by the government.

After lunch, we headed to Carlsbad where we had reservations via AirBnB for The Fiddler's Inn B&B. This area of New Mexico is characterized by oil and gas development, dairy farms and ranches.  There is a shortage of housing and infrastructure generally due to the fast developing expoitation of oil and gas here similar to West Texas.  Lucky for us, we were able to get into a 1912 historic house where we had a two room suite called the Orange Blossom Suite which made for a much more pleasant stay in Carlsbad.  The owners, Tonk and Julie, brought us a rollaway so the five of us had comfortable digs.

Orange Blossom Suite

That night, the kids and Anne and I went to Carlsbad Caverns to watch The Bat Flight.  The ranger gives an informative talk right before dusk at the front of the Natural Entrance just before 440,000 Mexican Freetailed bats exit for feeding in the night.  Here's a video done in 2008.  Today, no filming or photos are allowed because it distrubs the bats.

 The next morning, we were provided breakfast at The Blue House Bakery nearby.  Always a favorite, we've been coming there since 2005.  Then, we were off to the Carlsbad Caverns to the great delight of Will and Milla (age 12 and 7 respectively).  About a half hour drive to the south of Carlsbad, we entered the National Park where it was about 103 degrees F. already at 9AM.

Kids have free admission and Ron and I have our America the Beautiful pass so Anne and we were free.   The kids posed as bats before we went into the cave entrance.

The Natural Entrance...

...was a long walk down (photo by Anne Farrar)

We walked more than 750 feet below the surface
Looking up at the last bit of light from the outside

It was 53 degrees F. at the bottom of the cave where a snack bar, restrooms, gift shop and elevators back to the top greet you.  
After 2 hours underground, we bought a warm hoodie for the well-chilled Milla (photo by Anne Farrar) 

Back on top we saw a lovely sculpture of the bats.

We browsed the gift shop for souvenirs but passed on eating at the restaurant.  We headed north on US 285 to Artesia where Anne used her smart phone to score us an authentic Mexican taqueria called La Herradura located in the barrio on the east side of the railroad tracks in a large metal building.  Muy delicioso!  Low prices, good food! I had the taco plate, chose the following meats:  pork in red chile, barbacoa, and picadillo!!!

We made a decision to not go back the boring way we came.  So about 1:30PM we headed west to Cloudcroft in the Sacramento Mountains.  It definitely was cooler and more beautiful but we were in for about 6 more hours of car travel.  The area was very green with tall grasses and pine forest.  It began to rain and we headed down the steep western side of the Sacramentos toward Alamogordo and the White Sands Missile Range, then turning north toward the small farming villages of  Tularosa and Carrizozo.  Ron wanted to find a pecan stand because that is a major crop here.  We never did find one before we hit el malpais - the badland lava beds of The Valley of Fires Recreation Area.

Lava Beds

 We stopped at the Valley of Fires about 5PM and Anne and the kids took an exporatory walk on an elevated path above the sharp rock of the lava flow.

Everybody was tired so off we went on US 380 on the northern edge of the White Sands Missile Range when we saw the sign marking The Trinity Site.  The atomic bomb was developed during WW II in Los Alamos, New Mexico.  The Trinity Site is where the first atomic device was exploded on July 16, 1945.  What we had learned about its development at the Museum of Nuclear Science in Albuquerque all came down to this desolate place.  Twice a year, in April and October, the site is open to the public.

J. Robert Oppenheimer's quote at the sight of the explosion is most prophetic: "If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendor of the mighty one ...Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." (from  the Bhagavad Gita)

The arrow marks the Trinity Site
We arrived in San Antonio by the Rio Grande about 6:30PM where we had some beers, green chile cheeseburgers and fries at the Owl Bar & Cafe (a must stop in New Mexico gastronomy).

Finally got home about 8:30PM and despite being tired, we all jumped into the hot tub for a relaxing soak.  Anne and the kids were headed home the next day.

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