Saturday, October 28, 2017

Southern New Mexico: Sunshine, Bat Caves and Aliens

There were lovely sunsets almost every night at the ranch.
October 13, 2017
Lakewood, New Mexico

Southern New Mexico’s Chihuahuan Desert is a desolate landscape. We thought that we were prepared for wilderness having spent the last couple of months in North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming but this is different.  Harsh and sunbaked with nothing for miles and miles except for oil derricks, sage and the occasional wiff of methane. We were beginning to wonder what we had gotten ourselves into when we pulled up to the SKP Ranch in Lakewood. The Ranch is part of the Escapee’s system and the park is like an oasis. The people there are very friendly. Everyone we saw greeted us and welcomed us to their part of New Mexico.  They set us at ease and answered our questions about where to find local services like groceries fuel and a Post Office.

We enjoyed the rest of the afternoon walking around the park and admiring all of the desert themed landscaping. There were a lot of small rabbits hopping around. I was happy to spot a Roadrunner on a couple of occasions. A large covey of Scaled Quail have made the park their home. We were warned of snakes and were happy not to have spotted any.

October 15, 2017
Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico

Our primary reason for coming to this part of New Mexico was a trip to Carlsbad Caverns. We enjoy caves, especially the magnificent formations in wet caves and have had Carlsbad on our list for a long time.

Carlsbad has both a natural entrance and an elevator that allow you access to the Big Room where you enjoy a self guided tour along the cave trail.
Both methods of arrival lead you to the cafeteria where you can enjoy a light lunch at tables lit only by tiny lanterns. It was a great way to start the cave experience.

This was our first cave experience where we were allowed to roam freely. It was a very pleasant difference. We didn’t hear any cave stories or explanations of geologic formations but the tradeoff was a quiet walk 750 feet below the surface through a wonderland of creatively lit speleothems.

There is something about being in a cave and breathing in the clean, slightly damp air. We both love getting dripped on by water that should have been building some kind of flowstone. Maybe it’s all the negative ions and maybe it’s the wondrous sight of formations that took thousands of years to form but a cave tour always puts me in a good mood.

October 17, 2018
Roswell, New Mexico

Our trip to southern New Mexico would not have seemed complete without a trip to Roswell. We love to celebrate the unusual and weird and Roswell’s 1947 UFO story is a good example.
Roswell embraces its history. We spotted a lot of little green men outside of local businesses and many stores, like Stellar Coffee, have otherworldly sounding names.

We enjoyed a visit to the International UFO Museum and Research Center and had a good time reading newspaper accounts of the event and sworn statements from local witnesses. There was an interesting display of crop circles and the mysteries that surround them as well as photographs paintings and other artwork of ancient peoples that seem to picture technology not available in those times.

Some see an interstellar traveller in a spaceship, others a reclining man playing a lyre with his foot.
We found some fun books for the boys in the gift shop and then walked around Main Street for a bit. Stellar Coffee Co had a nice coffee house atmosphere and good wifi.
We had lunch at Big D’s Downtown Dive at the recommendation of a museum employee and were very pleasantly surprised. More than a sandwich shop Big D’s offers great food made from fresh ingredients and served with pride.
Roswell has the area’s only bike shop called, wait for it, Outlaw Alien Bike Shop.  Fred was happy to be able to get the tire of his Rad Bike fixed. These sharp New Mexico rocks on not good for the fat tires but the fellow that was working did a good fix while we were enjoying lunch.

October 18, 2017
Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

South of Carlsbad Caverns is a marine fossil reef called El Capitan that formed the Guadalupe Mountains of West Texas. This is the highest point in Texas at 8749 feet above current sea level.
They are remote and wild and fantastically beautiful with a diverse ecosystem.  The mountain range is surrounded by the high Chihuahuan Desert that was once home to the Mescalero Apache who discovered mountain springs that supported their community. By the mid 1800’s those water sources were valued by explorers and the United States Army who drove the Apache from their mountain home. The mountains surround deep canyons that are protected from the desert wind and direct sunlight all day. Here you will find willow trees, walnut trees and Ponderosa pines, sheltering elk and deer. McKittrick Canyon has a mountain fed stream that supports oak and ash and maple trees whose Fall color changes rival those of northern Vermont.

We stopped at the Visitor Center to pick up a map and chose the Smith Spring trail. The trail is only 2.3 miles in length and gained only 400 feet in elevation so we felt comfortable with it at this elevation.

The first mile of the hike was through the desert landscape punctuated with Yucca, Prickly Pear cactus and sage. We spotted a lot of birds and a tiny lizard but no other wildlife.

The terrain started to climb as we got closer to the mountains. We were walking up rocky paths and around large boulders that were marine coral. It was so odd to see them so far away from the sea. The terrain leveled out and we started to see trees and bushes mixed among the desert plants.

Before long we heard the sound of running water. We had arrived at Smith Spring a tiny grotto of ferns and mossy rocks and water gently trickling from the bottom of a steep rock face. The water flowed in a tiny stream for about 20 feet before disappearring back into the rocks. That little bit of water is enough to create its own micro system here in the Chihuahuan desert. The return loop gave us expansive views out across the desert to the mountains beyond. It was a very satisfying hike.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park
727 Carlsbad Caverns Highway
Carlsbad Caverns, National Park, New Mexico

Guadalupe Mountains National Park
400 Pine Canyon Dr
Salt Flat, Texas

International UFO Museum and Research Center
114 N Main St
Roswell, New Mexico

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Heading Southwest and finally made it to Oklahoma

Trinidad Colorado, elevation 6010 feet.

October 8, 2017
Trinidad, Colorado

The weather forecast was predicting snow and freezing temperatures so we left Denver to head further south. Our original plans had been to stop in northern New Mexico but the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta is approaching and we could not find a place to stay within 150 miles of the city. Plan C or maybe D? is to drive a little east through the Oklahoma Panhandle down the western side of Texas and back into New Mexico south of Roswell.
We stopped one night in Trinidad Colorado on the Sante Fe Trail. The elevation was higher in Trinidad than in Denver but no precipitation was predicted so we felt pretty safe in stopping.

The Painted Lady butterfly's stopped in Trinidad too.
We drove as far as the Oklahoma panhandle on our second day stopping for 3 nights to catch up with housekeeping, basically I needed to do laundry as we were running short on cool weather clothes. It was a great drive, smooth travel on good roads and we enjoyed watching the landscape smooth out in front of us until we were out of the mountains and back to the plains. 

We enjoyed watching the landscape change as the road took us back to the palins.
Guymon is a very rural area. Folks were very nice and welcoming at the local library where we used the computer to print some documents. We found a coffee shop called Urban Bru that had good food and adequate wifi. We hung out there for an afternoon to catch up on email and schedule some blog posts.
It has made our family so happy that we spent some time in Oklahoma so it could be officially added to our travel map. They for feeling very badly that it was an isolated island of unseen territory.
Laundry and other details taken care of we headed further south to Lubbock.

Working Wooden Windmill

October 11, 2017
We stopped in Lubbock to see two museums that caught our interest.
The American Wind and Power Center has curated more that 150 American windmills that represent all phases of wind power in the United States. 
Indoors there is a large model train display with dioramas set up showing windmills at train stops where water was taken on to feed the steam engines. There is also a collection of grist mills from all over the world that document the meal grinding process.

Our favorite part of the exhibit is the outdoor display called Linebery Windmill Park which features every kind of windmill imaginable. Each has been restored to manufacturers specifications and can be seen in the park pumping underground water. These are the historic wind machines. The ones you used to picture on farms and ranches all over rural America. 

Some are made of wood, others of metal but all spinning in the breeze.

The museum displays a modern GE Wind Turbine and a VESTAS wind machine as well as smaller contemporary windmills that are meant for home and small business use. They are exhibited in the Devitt Mini Wind Farm.

Flowerdew Hundred wind powered Gristmill
The Flowerdew Hundred Post Mill is a replica of a wind driven grist mill that was originally built in a Virginia settlement 20 miles upstream from Jamestown. Built in 1621 it was the first wind driven grist mill in North America. The replica was commissioned in the 1970's by the owners of the Flowerdew Hundred Plantation and was acquired by the museum in 2010. It is a working windmill moving 2 pair of grinding stones. Each pair weighs 2400 pounds. One grinds wheat, the other corn.

WACO CG-4A one of 4 in existence.
Silent Wings is located at the old Lubbock Municipal Airport which was renovated to house the collection. It's exhibits tell the stories of the WWII glider program and its effects on the battles of Europe. The museum was founded by a group of former glider pilots who worked together to preserve their history and to make artifacts available for public display. They chose Lubbock because most glider pilots trained in the city prior to deployment.
The crown jewel of the museum is a fully restored WACO CG-4A Glider. 

Currency as diary, WWII glider pilot collection of notes on domestic and foreign bills..
What I found more interesting is actual film of the gliders taking off and landing and stories told by the pilots in their own words of their exploits behind enemy lines.
We learned that there was a air retrieval process for gliders that hadn't been heavily damaged on landing and saw video that demonstrated that labor intensive process. 
Visiting Silent Wings gave us a new respect for these intrepid men who flew into battle knowing that there were no second chances.

We loved seeing the Jeeps drive out of those gliders when they landed.
Our afternoon ended at Caprock Winery where I enjoyed their beautiful tasting room and learning about Caprocks award winning wines from tasting room manager Tim Abascal. Tim was enthusiastic about what Caprock has to offer and we had a nice conversation about Texas wine and the Finger Lakes region of New York. We came away with a fantastic red Zinfandel and a Merlot that will go very nicely with tonight's roast beef dinner.

Caprock Winery

Urban Bru Coffee
418 NW 21st Street
Guymon, Oklahoma

Silent Wings Museum
6202 N Interstate 27
Lubbock, Texas

American Wind Power Center
1701 Canyon Lake Drive
Lubbock, Texas

Caprock Winery
400 E Woodrow Rd
Lubbock, Texas

Friday, October 20, 2017

Colorado: A visit to the Rocky Mountains

Sunset behind the Rocky Mountains from the campground.

October 2, 2017
Longmont, Colorado
Wyoming in the rear view mirror we headed south to Colorado.
Visiting this beautiful state has been on our list since we started full time RVing nearly 3 years ago and the weather forecast looked promising for the next several days, even at this higher elevation.
It was difficult to find a place to stay. There are not a lot of options in the surrounding area and those that we called were full. We ended up at the Boulder County Fairground in Longmont and it was a pleasant surprise. The Campground is water and electric only but has a very well kept bathhouse. The fairground sits right next to a park and greenway so there was a lot of room to walk and ride bikes. We had a fantastic view of the Flat Irons and the Rocky Mountains snow covered front range.

Along the Creek Trail

October 3, 2017
We wanted to get a closer look at the mountains today so took a drive over to Eldorado Canyon State Park. I have to admit that we chose it because of the name wanting to Ride, boldly ride til we found Eldorado. Fred loves that movie.
To get to the State Park you must find your way through the village of Eldorado Springs, population 557. The houses in El Dorado Springs are built right into the base of the mountain with a narrow road in front. There seemed to be a number of workshops and at least one art gallery. This was a resort town in the early 1900’s boasting an artesian spring fed pool that was the largest in the country. People came from miles around on horseback and by train to bathe in its therapeutic water. The pool is still there but it closed on Labor Day so we were not able to experience it.

Rock climbers on the Flat Irons.

We found the State Park and stopped to watch some rock climbers scaling the sheer surface of the famous golden cliffs of “Eldo”. We learned that there are over 500 rock climbing routes here and that some are considered world class drawing International mountaineers to test their skills. We enjoyed watching them with our feet firmly planted on the ground.

View from Fowler Trail
The park offers a number of hiking opportunities. We chose the stream trail first, a short but spectacular ½ mile between the rushing water of a creek and the steep canyon wall.

Cave on the Creek Trail
We then moved on to the Fowler Trail which climbed above the canyon and gave us spectacular views of the valley. We saw more rock climbers on this side of the cliff. I had to marvel at them. It was a chilly day and i can’t imagine how cold their hands must have gotten gripping the exposed rock.

We were ready for some lunch by the time we finished so headed over to the Celestial Seasonings Tea Factory for sandwiches and a tour. We registered for the 3 o’clock tour and headed over to the cafe. Our tickets were packets of Blueberry tea bags, Bonus!

Our tickets to the Factory Tour.
The Cafe has great food. I enjoyed a salad that they fixed there so much that we have made it several times at home. It was a bed of mixed greens topped with roasted brussel sprouts and sweet potatoes. There was a slice of feta cheese and walnuts sprinkled on top and it was drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette.
While waiting for your tour the guides encourage you to enjoy the tasting room where you are given a cup to sample as many teas as you wish. There are a half dozen urns of pre made tea to choose from and there was a menu of teas that they would steep for you on request. We each tried several including Emperors Choice and Sangria Zinger.
The free tour was very interesting. There is a short film that describes the Hippie beginnings of the company and then a guided tour through the factory that included a walk through the herb storage area. The smells are out of this world. Fred, and a number of other people in the group, found the peppermint room overwhelming but overall it was a great experience.

Our nephew Cral gave us a locals tour of Denver.

October 4, 2017
Downtown Denver is a fun place and we had our own personal tour guide, our nephew Carl. Carl lives just a few minutes west of Denver and had offered us a locals tour. We drove to his house to meet up and to see his new home.  We met his energetic puppy Sadie and walked around his property talking about renovation plans.  Talking about such ambitious work made me glad that those days are behind me and that our kids and nieces and nephews are enjoying them now.
Carl drove as we headed out for our sightseeing adventure.
He pointed out Colfax Ave the longest wickedest street in America.
We drove through neighborhoods of beautifully restored Victorian homes that reminded us of New England cities. We talked about breweries and coffee shops and restaurants including one called Linger whose building was once a mortuary. It seems that the chef/owner has embraced the history of the building without crossing the line to tacky. It sounded interesting in a macabre kind of way and apparently is a hip place to eat and be seen in Denver.
He drove us past the tourist areas including the 16th Street Mall and Pedestrian Promenade.

Union Station
Our first stop was Union Station the restored train transportation hub of the city that boasts trendy restaurants live music and boutique type shopping opportunities. The Romanesque architecture is impressive and the pleasant environment even more sore.

Coors Field
We took a walk for a few blocks in order to see Coors Field. Unfortunately Denver’s baseball season is finished so we didn’t have a chance to see a game.
We left the station area and Carl took us to a coffee shop that he enjoys. The inside is decorated with vintage hand crank coffee grinders and the coffee was terrific.
Thanks Carl for a whirlwind tour of your city. We loved seeing you and where you live. You have chosen a beautiful place to call home.

Rocky Mountain houses on the way to Estes Park
October 5, 2017
We spent our last day in the Denver Area driving north to Estes Park and the Rocky Mountain National Park. We wanted to get a closer look at the mountains and Carl encouraged us to make the trip when we talked to him yesterday. The high peaks roads were closed due to the recent snowfall but elk are moving around in the park and in the town of Estes Park itself.

We headed to the Visitor Center to get some hints about where we could drive to see them. The drive to Estes Park is a slow climb. We gained nearly 5000 feet in elevation from our campground in Longmont to the highest point we were able to drive in the park (10,800 feet).

We drove through the park on two different trails stopping at all of the scenic overlooks to admire the scenery of the high peaks. We saw no elk at all until we left the National Park and were driving through a rural residential area. Fred looked down into a ravine and spotted a small herd that was resting quietly in the shade of some trees.

We found them!
Some were grazing and some laying down they seemed very content and didn’t seem to mind us looking at them. It made our day to spot them and to be able to see them so close by.

We stopped at Coffee on the Rocks a great small coffee shop/cafe for coffee and sandwiches before heading back to Longmont. It was warm enough to eat outdoors on the patio overlooking a small lake.
We will visit Rocky Mountain National Park again and make sure that we go earlier in the year so that we can stand at the top of America’s backbone and cross the Continental Divide.

Eldorado Canyon State Park
9 Kneale Rd
Eldorado Springs, Colorado

Celestial Seasonings Factory
4600 Sleepytime Dr
Boulder, Colorado

Union Station
1701 Wycoop St
Denver Colorado

Coors Field
2001 Blake St
Denver, Colorado

Rocky Mountain National Park
Beaver Meadows Visitor Center
1000 US Hwy 36
Estes Park, Colorado

Coffee on the Rocks
510 Moraine Ave

Estes Park, Colorado