Heading to New Mexico from Arizona, we were looking forward to some fun. Everything from beautiful natural wonders to quirky tourist traps. It also marked the beginning of our trip back East, with a planned return to Georgia (and our grandson Jace) around April 1st.
Heading east on I-10, we find ourselves in Las Cruces, NM, worming our way northward to our eventual destination of Tularosa - just 30 minutes north of White Sands National Monument. This was our first planned destination we wanted to see in New Mexico, but the weather wasn't going to co-operate for a couple of days. High winds and colder temperatures made visiting White Sands something we needed to delay. Fortunately, our hosts at Mountain Meadows RV Park were able to extend our reservations an extra day to give the weather a chance to die down.
But now what to do for two days? 50 degree temps with wind chills down in the 30's require some indoor attractions. Good thing Alamogordo and Tularosa have some neat things to keep us busy.
One of the things we vowed to do in our RV journey was to stop at any place billing themselves as “The World's Largest” - anything. Having already stopped at The World's Largest Popcorn Ball last year during our drive through Iowa, we were ready for another “World's Largest”. In this case, The World's Largest Pistachio, located just a couple of miles away from our RV park in Tularosa, NM. It's located at McGinn's Pistachioland, and it's 30 feet tall! Besides all things pistachio, they feature local New Mexico wines that are very tasty. In fact, they offer wine tastings in their store, and you can sample up to four different wines to delight the palate. We picked up a couple of bottles each of a very nice Gewurtztraminer and Sangria.
The next day found us at the New Mexico Museum of Space. Not the largest museum you'll ever see, but it nicely captures New Mexico's significant contributions to our space program. After all, White Sands Missile Base was crucial to our successes in the heady days of early space flight. The museum also features one of the coolest looking elevators I've ever ridden in.
Thursday dawned sunny and warm, which meant White Sands National Monument was firmly in our sights. Our park had plastic saucers we could borrow for the purpose of “sledding” down the dunes at White Sands, so we grabbed a couple and headed south on Rt 70.
I've really never seen anything so starkly beautiful as White Sands. Bright white gypsum sand, blown by nature into dunes that can rise over 30 feet, sitting in a basin surrounded by majestic mountain ranges. The road in begins as paved, but changes over into hard packed sand approximately 5 miles into the 8 mile loop. Very weird for this former Massachusetts boy to see sand plowed to the side of the road just like snow!
We got to the park late, because we wanted to take the Sunset Stroll, a park volunteer-hosted walk that highlights the flora and fauna of White Sands. Very informative. Our guide was a full-time RV-er with a diesel Newmar who camp hosts the park over the winter. The stroll is timed so that he finishes up his presentation and positions the crowd at the perfect site to watch the sun drop down behind the mountains to the south and west of White Sands. It is a very moving and beautiful way to end your day there.
With our first of three destinations in the books, it was time to head east to the extraterrestrial capital of the world – Roswell, NM. And it is every bit as campy and touristy as advertised. Little and big green Roswell aliens decorate every shop and corner in and around town. Even the front entrance to our RV park wheels out 4 alien statues every morning and back inside every night. They're EVERYWHERE! Our visit to the UFO Museum downtown certainly had enough information inside to make you believe that SOMETHING happened there that was more than just some weather balloon crash. The other places we visited (the Alien Spacewalk and the Alien Zone) were campy and over the top, but fun to take in. Funniest comment was from the owner of the Alien Spacewalk, a place with lots of black lights and fluorescent paint, saying that the Alien Zone was a bit campy compared to his place. Personally, they BOTH give campy a run for the money. For Star Trek fans, the Alien Spacewalk has an actual Mugato costume on display.
We were able to take a 90-minute drive in the Mini down to Carlsbad to scope out our next destination (the Chosa BLM campground where we were going to test our boondocking skills for at least a week), and our visit to Roswell was complete. It is certainly a destination not to be missed, if only for a day or two.
Chosa BLM campground is a hidden gem just off Hwy 62 at mile marker 9 heading south from Carlsbad Caverns. BLM stands for Bureau of Land Management, and it's government land set aside for public use. No water, electric or sewer; just real estate to park your RV or pitch a tent to get off the grid for a while. It's free to stay there for up to 14 days at a time, and then you must leave.
Since we had never really boondocked before (except for a night here and there at a local WalMart), we wanted to give the 36LA a real test to see how long we could make it unhooked from everything. So we filled our freshwater tank (70 gallons), our propane (20 gallons) and our RV's gas tank (80 gallons), emptied our black and gray tanks, and found us a nice spot right up against the fence facing back towards Carlsbad Caverns just about 8 miles distant. One nice thing about boondocking is that I have less to do once we get on-site. Jacks go down, slides go out, but I don't have to do a thing with electrical cords, water hoses and sewer hoses. I just take out my Genturi exhaust extension to send our generator exhaust up and over our RV instead of into our neighbors campsite, and I'm sitting back sipping an adult beverage. Life is good!
Three things on our list to do in Carlsbad; The Caverns (of course!), Sitting Bull Falls, and Guadalupe National Park just south of us in Texas for a hike. And maybe a round of golf.
The caverns are spectacular. We opted to walk down into them from the Visitor's Center and do the entire tour, then take the elevator back up. Figured it would be the easiest for us seasoned citizens. Ended up being about a 2.5 mile hike up and down and around the beautifully lit features over 750 feet below the surface. Too many pictures to post on the blog, so I'll try to upload them to a separate section on our website, or link to them if I can. Most of the pictures I took used the lighting provided by the Park Service, but there were a couple of places which required some flash photography to be able to appreciate them. Either way, a truly spectacular day underground. No bats this time of year, but Barbara and I both agreed that bats weren't high on our viewing list anyway.
Now, for this next spot I'm going to temper this section with the fact that Barbara and I have both seen Niagara Falls and Amicalola Falls. The latter was right up the road from us in Georgia, and they begin 725 feet above their base. Niagara Falls speaks for itself; we've been above them on viewing platforms, below them on the famed “Maid of the Mist” tour boats, and have stood both behind and underneath them. We've felt a small portion of the power of these falls as they cascaded on top of our heads while standing on a wooden platform on the American side as the water hammered you from above.
Sitting Bull Falls is none of these.
That being said, for a set of falls in the desert southwest, they are pretty nice. But I can't help thinking that if Sitting Bull were alive today, he'd be saying, “What? Is that all I'm going to get named after me?” The interesting thing is that no river feeds Sitting Bull Falls. It's fed from an UNDERGROUND spring that bubbles 150 feet up. The hike down to the base is very easy and very short. The hike up to the source can be a bit challenging. You'll find Sitting Bull Falls about an hour or so west of the Caverns in the Dog Canyon area.
Our last destination was Guadalupe National Park, only 16 miles south of where we were based at Chosa BLM. We wanted an easy hike of about 1-2 miles just to stretch our legs and our stamina a bit, so the folks at Guadalupe sent us about a mile back north to Frijole Ranch. Beautiful hike, but still a bit challenging for our fitness level, but give us time – we're retired! We still managed to climb over 500 feet vertically and about 1.8 miles in distance.
Our biggest challenge at the end of our New Mexico adventure has been seeing how well we and the RV adapt to boondocking without any connections. In short, we have been VERY impressed with the operation of this motor home in a remote environment. After a full week, we have used just a half tank of fresh water, we're down to 70% on propane (from a high of 92%), our gray and black tanks are at 1/3rd each, and we've used about 14 gallons of gas for the generator. That breaks down to about .4 gallons of gas per hour of generator use.
Not bad. Not bad at all.
Basically, we could do 10 days easy, and maybe up to 14 days if needed. We used paper plates to minimize dishwater usage, took 2 “Navy showers” each (let the water get you wet, shut it off, soap up and rinse off), and in between we used full body wet wipes and dry shampoo to keep clean. Let me tell you, we REALLY appreciated Navy shower days!
Finally, we checked off another state on the golfing list. Played 9 holes at Lake Carlsbad Golf Course, a municipal course in typical municipal shape. Fairways in need of grassy attention, greens recently sanded in anticipation of the upcoming Spring season, and no real hazards to keep you honest. A bit disappointing from a golf perspective, but about what I expected to see.
Now it's time to make our way back to Georgia to visit with our grandson, and prep for our next big trip – Utah's Big Five National Parks – beginning April 15th.
We're Dave and Barbara Richard, and we're living the ultimate retirement experience - traveling the U.S. and Canada in style in a Tiffin Open Road 36LA Class A motor home, playing golf and stopping at every weird and wacky roadside attraction we can find.