In case we weren’t sure if we were in Greenland, or Vermont, we just look at the sinks in the terlit rooms.
Employees of the park service? Gov’t spending gone wild?
Stuck in the Land of Enchantment. We’ve been in New Mexico for over a week; I really wish we ventured further north. But David looked at the forecast and it’s cold there. What we didn’t realize is that it’s kind of cold everywhere in New Mexico! Oh well. So while Albuquerque is the biggest city in the state, and Santa Fe is supposed to be a cultured/trendy city, we’ve been in the second largest city, Las Cruces, the town of Deming, the city of Truth or Consequences, and now Carlsbad. Never heard of those towns or never realized where they were? Us neither. It’s like going to a hot girl’s house to hang out and getting there to find out that she’s not home yet. And hanging out with her grandma and drunk uncle for a few hours before you finally figure out an escape route.
A girl who used to work for me is from New Mexico and when I told her we were in the land of enchantment, she replied: we call it the land of entrapment. When pouring over the guidebooks for southern New Mexico I saw blimps on towns like Truth or Consequences: affordable, trendy, hip, earthy, loaded with chiropractors, reiki masters, yoga instructors. I thought it’d be a cool town. And it’s not that it was uncool… but do we all agree that trailer parks and run down buildings are cool?
Carlsbad is famous for the caverns. But it’s a one trick pony kind of town. One major street— highway 285. Use 285 to avoid the sinkhole. Seriously, the sign on the side of the road says that. Cows in the road on the way to the campground. Don’t eat the fish in the lake because they have DDT. Bizarre place. It makes me wonder what the northern part of the state is like. Northern New Mexico sits on the Colorado Plateau (just like southern Utah, my favorite place on earth). The area seems filled with history, with culture, but is that even true? Now I wonder if Santa Fe is more like Pie Town (the town named after a diner that used to be there and had good pies. Seriously. What is with these people).
Another strange thing about New Mexico: the state parks charge next to nothing to camp. $14 a night for a site with electricity, water, and free showers (just for reference, in Arizona it was $25, the only difference being nicer showers without a metered water tap, in New Mexico you get about 30 seconds of hot water and then have to hit the button for more, so on and so on till you’re still covered in suds but give up and towel off). $14 is cheap— but wait, there’s more! You can buy a yearly state park pass, it’s like $180 for instaters and maybe $220 for out of staters. With this pass, it’s $4 a night for a site with electric and hot water. And the rule is: you can stay at any state park for up to 14 nights. After the 14 nights are up, you have to leave for 6 nights before you can go back to that specific state park. So there are people who travel from one park to another every fortnight and live full time in New Mexico state parks. We originally planned to camp at Percha Dam state park, but when I called to find out how full the park was and if we’d need a reservation the lady that answered the phone was at Caballo Lake state park (because Percha Dam is so small they don’t have a phone line or staff— and the parks are only about 5 miles apart). She said no problems finding a site at either campground. Good. So we pulled into Percha Dam (looked at all the beat up trailers just begging us to open some Natty Ice and pull out our camping chairs in front of them, just crying out for David to beat me, just one black eye!) and we headed for Caballo Lake. Caballo Lake seemed nicer, but we realized later that it was only due to chance. Because the campgrounds are so close, people go from one to other every 14 days. We found this out because the guy at the campsite next to us dubbed David social captain of the campground and every time David opened the door to the camper, threw on his slippers and ran outside to talk to him. This guy was not only a champion beer drinker, but a full timer. David also got social king of the campground points from the old Korean guy that yapped at him for hours, the other guy across from us that maintained an immaculate black Chevy van with stainless steel trim. Our neighbors give you a visual of this place? We named the drunk next door Earl. Not sure what his god given name was. But he was from Pennsylvania, so liked that we’re from the Northeast. On Thanksgiving he left us a copy of the Albuquerque Gazette on the picnic table. David was like, oh great, now he’ll want to talk about it… And it’s true. Next time we saw Earl he was quick to say, left you that paper. See what shit passes for news out here. Jesus, can’t find a New York Times. Nothing. David was impressed that Earl read the New York Times. I felt happy that he insulted the gift he gave us, only New Englanders will give you their rejected stuff as a gift, and then tell you how shitty it is.
I’m already planning our next vacation to the Colorado Plateau (which covers the four corners area and would allow us to visit western Colorado, eastern Utah, and northern New Mexico), but I think we’ve seen just about enough of Southern New Mexico. At least the trailer park parts of Southern New Mexico. And I’m not sure how much more of the place there is… except of course the famous caves. So to get more impressive we’ll have to go underground.
Today we drove the camper east to Carlsbad. From here we’ll explore the Caverns, Guadeloupe National Park and maybe Roswell. We also might take a ride back west a ways through some mountains and visit a space museum (guess whose idea that is). The easiest way to drive the camper east was to head south to El Paso and loop back into New Mexico. The other two options for driving to Carlsbad passed through some serious mountains that the camper doesn’t do well with— think 35mph in the right lane up a steep road with twenty cars piled behind us.
The nearly 300 mile ride gave us plenty of time to discuss our feelings. We pulled into Brantley Lake State Park just as the sun sunk below the horizon displaying some spectacular pinks and magentas against the lake. Check David’s facebook page for about a thousand sunset pictures. What makes the sunset different out west is that the land is so flat for so many miles that the western sky lights up with orange and pinks, but so does the eastern sky and even the southern sky. So the colors layer in a band in all directions, gauzy and delicate to the east and brilliant, neons to the west. Pictures can’t capture it.
We found a campsite that backed up against the lake, but decided to circle the whole area before pulling in. When we circled back around there was a woman sitting on her lawn chair in the site playing her ukulele. Happy as could be. Her son was on his bike at the edge of their site, but didn’t ride anywhere, just stood as if the bike were a between the legs crutch. David avoided hitting her with the camper for some reason and she moved her chair to her own site and offered to also move her truck for us so we could back in to our spot easier. We didn’t need any favors though and David backed the camper in perfectly as I wondered why a ten year old boy was camping on a Monday night in the middle of the desert (the lake is a nearly dry reservoir). Hippie parents? I didn’t hear any gospel hymns on the ukulele… which brings me to our ride in Texas.
El Paso sits just south of Las Cruces, NM, where we stocked up on supplies at Target and stopped at Starbucks for my free pound of coffee. We hammered through El Paso, passed the suburban sprawl, downtown area, many a BYOB strip club (wtf?), the streets David calls buy shit row, and trailer parks. After seeing the sights of El Paso from the camper the road turned deeply rural, empty but for scrubby bushes and the occasional parked trailer. Just as I started debating if I should use our camper bathroom while David sped along at 70mph (much slower than an airplane was my logic), we saw a sign for a rest area. Walking back to the camper from the rest area a dirty looking older dude (who I noticed wandering around, sticking his head into the men’s room as if he was searching for someone) stopped us. Uh oh, I thought, we had quite a few miles left and I did not want to listen as David mapped our last five months for some friendly stranger. I could hear him already: we’re flatlanders. The highest point at home is only about 800 feet. Then he’d put out his arms for emphasis and continue… Sometimes David is too damned nice to strangers. Luckily the guy asked us if we had a CD player in the camper. Good, he was going to sell us something, and didn’t want to idly chat. No, I answered and kept walking. But that damn friendly husband said, why do you ask? And the weird guys tells us that he wanted to give us a gospel country CD to listen to. I see, the weird peeker in the men’s bathroom is a Christian. Huh. At this point David’s friendliness was trumped by his demonic apathy for all things GOD and he said, yeah too bad. And we broke free. So our first interaction with someone in Texas was a dude trying to sell us Jesus, and it was exactly what I expected from the state. And exactly the reason that we’re boogying on by the Loony Star State as quickly as possible with our heads down— and hopefully no eye contact!
20131201. Day 154. Sunday
Going to play in the white sand.
We had a 200 mile ride planned today, so we were up’n'at’em right away this morning. No time to waste, lets get a moving. Well, time enough for a french press full of Turkeyday blend again/still. Them a forserious egg scramble loaded with leftover brats! Now thats a way to stuff it in early for a long days ride.
We geared up and got on the road before 11. Thats pretty good for us. A left outta the park on RT187 and less then a mile and were at the on ramp to I-25 south. There isnt much fun in riding on the interstates. But, there are not a lot of roads out here, and we have no choice. The good thing about the interstates is the speed limit is 75, and traffic moves at 85, so you do get where ya going rapidly. Especially if your time is spent in the hammer lane! As ours usually is.
Its about 50 miles to Las Cruces, or the north end of the city, where we jump off exit 18(?) and get to RT70. Another 4 lane divided highway type road with speed limits in the 65-75 mph range. We ride by all the usual suburban stores, and then set our sights on the San Andres mountain range. We need to cross these mountains to get to the Tularosa Basin. Home of the White Sands Missile Range. Huh? Oh, yea, thats right, also home to the White Sands National Monument, our destination today. I am sure a few test pilots might enjoy misguiding a bomb or two to get the silly touristas outta the way of there fun and games!
We cruised the 70 miles from Las Cruces out to the Park. Quickly. As we approached it, you can see along the road lots of white sand, and some dunes, with a bit of shrubbery in them, kinda hiding the true colors. We pulled into the park and went into the vizzitizz center to have a look around.
These smaller parks certainly dont get much love. Love =$$$$. There museums are small, and not as imformative as the bigger parks. Its a shame really, they all deserve good funding. But, at $3/person at the toll booth, they must barely pay the help, nevermind make cake to fund infrastructure improvements. We do ask the ranger lady about the “pavement ends” sign, she said its hard packed sand, no worries. Cool, lets hit it.
We hop back on the bike and head into the park. The loop road takes ya 8 miles back into the park.
We continue in, stopping to read the signs on the way, there a waste really, we already read the same stuff in the little museum. But, it forces us to slow down a bit, and enjoy the visual treats. We spot “father Time” with his camel in the parking lot, and have a slowdown to take a picture or two. Then off into the vast acreage of sand. White Sand. We find a spot where no one is parked and stop the bike.
We slowly slid down the giant sand dunes, and geared back up. The ride outta the park was just as impressive as the ride in. We took our time and slowly exited the premises. We did stop at the gift store to look for the elusive sticker, and found one for the bike! Plus we looked at the slides they sell people to ride down the dunes. $16.99 for the $4.99 Bennys special.
Out of the park and back onto WestBound RT70. Back on the gas, and away we go. 75+ turns into 85, thats a comfort speed there for the conditions. If I didnt have precious cargo, I might turn it up a bit more, but, to many things can go wrong to quickly at speed, so steady as we go, we go steady. As were coming over the San Augustin Pass, I feel some sputtering and bogging on the throttle. Oh-shit, outta petrol. i reach down and flip the tank to reserve. We are at 185 for miles. Boo. Must be all the high speed runs were doing out here to avoid the border patrol. We get another 10 miles, on the outskirts of Las Cruces, and jump off and fill the tank with some 91 Octane Shell gasoline. Mmmm, good stuff. Onto I-25 north we go, 50 miles to beat the sunset. Hammer time is only interrupted by ANOTHER stop for inspection at the border patrol station. Geez, this shit is getting OLD. Talk about saturation. We pull into these inspection stations, and there are always 4-6 guys just standing there. Most times they just look at us, see 2 white people, and wave us thru. Occasionally the dude might be bored and asks us if we are citizens of the US. We nod in agreement, and are waved along. It no big deal, but its really a pain in the ass. I wonder who actually pulls in, and says, “yes-sir, we are mexicans, we don’t have passports, please deport us thank you.?” I digress.
We make it to exit 58 as the sun was creeping down behind the horizon.
That was a serious ride today, but didnt feel like it. Must be the speeds keep it from feeling like to long of a ride. Covering 100 miles in 90 minutes is mighty fine.
Dinner was quesadillas and a quicky salad. Done deal.
Weather today was sunny, and reasonably warm, dark and breezy at night, around 45
Total miles today was Zero on the RV, and 227 on the bike.
Tomorrow were traveling again. Long day in the RV, heading to Carlsbad, NM.
20131202. Day 155. Monday
Moving east again and again.
We were up early enough today. Knowing we had some miles to go, we got moving quickly. I had hooked up the trailer and loaded the bike last night, so all we needed to do was disconnect and go. We had the french press brewed up quickly, and got a couple cackleberries into the empty bellies. Were ready to go. We had to make a stop at the pump-n-dump and empty the tanks. We put 10 gallons of water in each tank, with some cleaning chemicals. Its helpful to slosh around while traveling.
It was 9:30 when we left the State Park. A left onto RT187 and within a mile were at the onramp to I-25 southbound. We roll down the ramp, and build up some speed. Were going to motor along at 62-63 with the cruise control set. Hope the fuel mileage increases. We have our eyes on a Target store in Las Cruces. We will top off the fuel there, and then head south to El Paso. We spend an hour in the Target, then run into the Bucks for that free pound of christmas blend. And a free Iced Black Tea Lemonade please thank you.
Back on the Interstate we go. South bound I-25 merges onto I-10 and we are East bound into El Paso. We jump off exit 23b, and head east on RT180. Its miles and miles and miles of suburbs. Never ending. It seems to take forever to clear them, but eventually we do. We have to cross the Hueco Mountains, and we climb up them via Pow Wow Canyon.
After we descend outta there, its the big nothing for a 100 miles. We saw water in the Big salt basins, a surprise for sure. Then more nothing, Well, until we get to the Guadalupe Mountains. There is a National Park there we would like to see, but not today. The climb up thru Guadalupe Canyon was steep, and slow. I kept it in 3rd, and just didnt push it. No need to. Once we got to Guadalupe Pass, the wind really caught me off guard. It moved this big box over 1/2 a lane. And kept me there for way to long. It was a fight, and damb it, I was gonna have to win it. It was a blustery ride from there over to White City, where we stopped for petrol. Wow, 9.65 Mpg. That pretty good. The last fill up was 8.3. This flat steady easy driving might work out soon enough.
We were at the doorstep of Carlsbad Caverns, and there was a small village with a RV park, so we enquired. $40/night had us steppin n fetchin like our ass is on fire and our hat was catchin. We continued east on RT180 into the town of Carlsbad. Its a short ride up RT285 to our destination.
Brantley Lake State Park. Another $14/night campground. Its quiet out here on the lake, but now and then we get a whiff of petroleum. There is an oil boom out here, and its smelly.
We settle into site 31, near the terlit house and overlooking the water.
Dinner was cheese ravioli with a great red gravy to go over it!
Weather today was sunny, in the 60s, starry nights out here, in the high 40s.
Total miles today was 288 on the RV, Zero on the bike.
Tomorrow looks like a chill day, we need some internet time, so we will just go into Carlsbad and hit the MickeyD’s
20131203. Day 156. Tuesday
Staying in day today
We didnt hurry out today. Wind was whipping over the lake. Shaking the campah a good bit better then we could. We brewed the french press up, had a couple cackleberries over easy, then finally decided to brave the elements.
Were heading into town for some free WiFi, at the McBurger joint. We geared up and headed in a bout 1pm. Very blustery ride. But, we only had a 15 mile ride, we have ridden worse. Much worse. Death Valley comes to mind, or Tioga Pass, or Lee Vining near Mono Lake.
We spent two hours at Burgerdirt. Then a fast stop at the supahmahkit for some fresh veggies, and were done. Luckily the win died down at dusk, and we were able to blast back to the campah quickly without fighting it.
Dinner tonight was homefries, and leftover stirfry. Perfect, and a peice of chocolate cake someone had in the fridge!
Weather today was warm, 75 a bit cloudy, very windy. Tonight only suppose to drop into the high 50s.
Total miles today was Zero on the RV, about 45 on the bike.
Tomorrow were debating options, suppose to be really windy, so we might hibernate?
December first— the start of our sixth month on the road. We woke up early. Or I woke up early and climbed over David out of bed and read my book. I watched him roll over and take up the entire bed as soon as I was gone. He claims he was reaching for me. Debatable, but at any rate he woke up soon after.
We ran through our morning routine, though ran is not the right word. We leisurely ticked off our morning boxes: coffee, breakfast, showers, clean up, make lunch to take on the road, bike/headsets/helmets ready, etc. And off we were at the crack of 11!
Today’s ride was a bit over 200 miles round trip, but a snoozer on the highway from Caballo Lake State Park to White Sands National Monument. We arrived at White Sands around 1, hit the visitor center and bought every sticker in the damn place, looked at the exhibits, and headed toward the sand. David poo-pooed the color, the beaches in Florida are soo much whiter! But it was spectacular. The road does an eight mile loop, the pavement ended halfway, but the sand packed down hard and it’s obvious the park service puts a lot of effort into maintaining the road against the traveling sand dunes, which can move up to 38 feet in a year! The sand is 100% gypsum, which is why it’s so white. The area actually shares a lot in common with some deserts in Mars, so scientists use the area as kind of a case study when they conduct Mars related research.
The entrance to the monument and the start of the road into the desert doesn’t appear that impressive at first. At the desert’s edge yucca and other plants grow. But as the wind shifts the sands, the landscape changes, and once we passed the point where the pavement ended the dunes were surreal. The park sells sleds, and we saw some kids sliding down the dunes. And year round the gypsum sand stays cool, even on 100 degree summer days. But since it snowed in the southwest last week, the sand was extra packed, a little wet and cold. We parked the bike and clombed up a dune, as David would say, then clomb down and went up another dune where we couldn’t see the road anymore.
The white sand and the deep blue sky with a few wispy clouds was stunning. Mountains to the east and the west stood out as grey shadows in the distance and we sat in the sand in our sweaters, the air was very comfortable. Not even a slight breeze and the sun warmed us nicely. It did not feel like December 1st! But I’m glad that it was because the park was nearly empty. These wild, beautiful places are set aside for all of us to enjoy, but it’s sure nice to enjoy them alone! Without tons of other tourists there you can really sit in a quiet place— no road noise, not even any animals or wind, just silence. You can imagine how these places looked before Americans ever saw them. You can picture the earth (because the white sand desert, and many of the places we’ve seen have appeared endless on the horizon) as one vast, varying geological footprint after another. All of our national parks leave the impression of the wildness that the country had, the vastness of this planet, and the cyclical never ending pattern of seasons printing themselves on the earth and changing it. The national parks are for the people, but don’t need the people. They are beautiful and awe inspiring all on their own.
So anyway… the whiteness of the dunes (though not as white as Florida sand) was only broken by the shadows at the sharp eastern edge of the dunes, where the sand abruptly dropped off. We could have sat there all afternoon. But David hadn’t immediately scarfed his lunch like I had the second we parked the bike. So we clomb down and had lunch. One of us ate lunch, the other snacked. Then we completed the loop, went to the gift shop and bought all of their stickers, and headed back home. On the way back to the camper we stopped to check out the dam that created the lake that our campground is named after. We could see the tall wall of the dam, and all the way at the south end, we could see the pitiful muddy banks of the subdued Rio Grande, but the dam itself was unimpressive. So back to the camper to make dinner, get ready for our departure tomorrow and a relaxing night enjoying our electric heater and hopefully not talking about our feelings too much. Better yet, maybe we’ll sit in silence. I’m sure that’s what David hoped for, but poor guy married the wrong lady for that.
I was a little nervous that none of the hot springs would be open on Thanksgiving, and that we’d be stuck in the camper because everyone else in the country decided to feast with their families. But David called 3 places and finally made reservations for the afternoon. So, I read my book a while longer. With the blinds open the sun streamed over the bed and it felt like a holiday, we had somewhere to be, but not so soon and plenty of time to relax. We showered, gathered our things for the afternoon, and headed toward Truth or Consequences.
David called two resorts and spas whose pools were closed for the holiday before he called River Bend. Looking at the brochures the previous day I picked River Bend as the nicest resort, but probably the most expensive and the last to call. Lucky for us, it was not only one of the few places open— was just as nice as the pictures showed— and was very affordable. For the two of us to soak in a private mineral pool was $30 for 50 minutes.
The town of T or C (as the locals call it) was smaller, grungier and generally less upscale than I thought it would be. In the guidebooks there are list upon list of reiki, acupuncture, massage therapists, aura readings, and other hippie services offered. I guess it continues to show what an east coast snob I am, or how the west is different from home, but apparently a huge chunk of these hippies live in trailers scattered around town. More trailers than houses lined the roads around T or C. Having said that, the town people were friendly and welcoming. Far from a slum, it just wasn’t what the tourist magazines advertised.
The private tub overlooked the Rio Grande on one side and was walled with a bamboo type fencing on the other three. It was mostly covered by a pagoda, which must be appreciated in the hot New Mexico summers. The leaves on the trees lining the river were yellows and dull oranges, beyond them were mountains. The water lazily headed downstream, less wild than I imagined the Rio Grande, but it’s loaded with dams that regulate the water flow. We reserved the coolest pool, whose temperature was around 104-105 degrees. The hottest one is about 108. This pool was also the quietest, furthest away from the public pools and at the edge of the resort.
The mineral springs supposedly have endless health benefits and I hoped they would all come true in our case. Whether or not they did, we relaxed for the hour and felt refreshed, contented and peaceful when our time was up. We hopped on the bike and headed back to camp our body temperatures raised and hair drying under our helmets. One of the features of the hot springs at T or C is that the water is filled with minerals, is a comfortable temperature, but most importantly has no sulfur smell. David brought soap because he always showers after swimming in pools or sitting in hot tubs as the water leaves his skin feeling greasy, but we toweled off from the tub and our skin felt clean and fresh.
Back at the camper I started Thanksgiving dinner and David climbed on the roof to watch the sunset and call his dad.
We had cornbread, home fries (by request) and a vegetable soup with a tomato base. Since we’ve started using the oven last week I’ve used it four or five times. Learning a new oven (or stove) is more difficult than a non-cook would imagine, and this one is stranger due to it’s size, the amount of time it takes to heat, the question of whether it heats at the right temperature or not, the way the broil feature doesn’t seem to exist, and how close the food sits to the heat source. I burned garlic bread on the bottom while broiling it. That hardly makes sense. It’s luxurious to have an oven though, it opens up our dinner options and since we’ve gone so long without, any of the challenges that come with the oven seem minor. As long as I’m not baking dainty pastries or desserts that require precision, the food will come out right. Of course, I’d like some pastries and desserts, but for now that’s what bakeries are for.
We considered visiting the Gila Cliff Dwellings for Thanksgiving, but the visitor center closed at 2 and the park closed at 3pm, which we thought was a little early, especially because we’d have a 100 mile mountainous drive to get there. We woke up on Black Friday ready for the ride. Out of bed early for us, we had coffee, breakfast and showered by 10:30. I packed our lunch while David got the bike ready and we hit the road a bit before 11. When we checked into the campground, the woman in the office told us that to get to Silver City (76 miles away and on the way to the Cliff Dwellings) took about two hours. The road there winds through a mountain pass at over 8,000 feet and goes through a few ghost towns from New Mexico’s silver mining days. Highway 152 is also a scenic byway, so we knew the ride would be enjoyable. And it was a great road, wound up through mountains and valleys, the north slope of the mountains covered with a fine layer of snow from last week’s storm, so the white stood out against the green pines and yellow grass on the slopes and matched the wispy clouds clinging to the peaks. The day warmed up nicely, and our heated jackets helped us stay toasty.
We passed a sign that informed us Gila Cliff Dwellings were about 35 miles and two hours away. Uh oh. We’d already been riding for nearly 2 hours. I don’t normally like it when David books along 20-30 miles over the speed limit, but at this point it seemed like the best option. We finally arrived at the park a little before 2:30. Hell of a ride. When I climbed down it felt like I was climbing off a horse. We stuffed some granola bars in our faces and ran into the visitor center— got to make this quick! I dragged David along. It’s a mile hike to the cliff dwellings and a long ride home!
It’s too bad we both felt pressured to hurry because the hike to the cliff was along a deep ravine and the path looked over a brook. The forest was dense and fragrant, and the path traversed back and forth over the water when the cliffs at one side became too steep. We nearly ran over a lady with a cane as we jumped over mud puddles and ran up stairs to the dwellings. When the narrow cliff opened up to sunlight from the west, the air warmed up and felt wonderful. Then the last two hundred feet or so were fairly steep and my nose ran and lungs burned as we finally made it to the top. Well worth the drive.