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

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