Tuesday, April 30, 2013

More Petroglyphs

We recently reported on our visit to the rock carvings of Southeastern New Mexico at the BLM’s Three Rivers Petroglyphs Area.  In Albuquerque, they also have petroglyphs designated as a National Monument.  The area we toured is a ridge of volcanic rock spewed from a line of volcanoes.  It is not far from the Rio Grande River and the Indians of New Mexico over time had moved from areas that become ever more arid to the river valley.  Again, it is not clear just why the rock carvings were made and just what they signify, but we think it is very clear that the last one of our pictures below is of a rock carving of a alien visitor.



We nearly passed on the Three Rivers site as we knew we were going to Albuquerque and that the Petroglyphs National Monument was there.  That would have been a mistake.  The carvings at Three Rivers were more concentrated and they turned out to be our favorites.  We now know that a BLM Area may be every bit as good if not better than a National Monument.

Monday, April 29, 2013

A Meteorite Museum


100_5886We had seen on Aerial America that the campus of the University of New Mexico had some very interesting architecture so we drove over to have a look.  The main campus is just north of old Route 66 and some of its 1940s/1950s character.



Many of the buildings of the UNM campus have an adobe look to them.  Throughout the Albuquerque area there are many adobe look buildings and homes.  It gives the city a very unique character.  While at UNM we also took in three small museums that are located on campus – a meteorite museum, a geology museum and an anthropology museum. And, the best part, all three were free.


100_5896This was our first ever meteorite museum.  We occasionally take in the show of a meteorite shower.  But the ones we see never come close to reaching the ground.  Many times they are just ice crystals out of the tailings of a meteor.  These meteorites actually hit the ground and were made of iron or rock or both.  To the right is a picture of the largest single meteorite found in the United States from a hit in Kansas.  Can you imagine how this one lit us the sky as it passed through the atmosphere.

100_5903Our next museum stop was the geology museum.  We always enjoy rock, mineral, and gemstone displays.




100_5910Our final stop was the museum of anthropology.  There is a lot of pre-Columbus history in what is now New Mexico.  There were many Indian Pueblos that date back at least a thousand years.  It is amazing that pottery can survive for that many years.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Take Me Out To The Ballgame


100_5677Yay!  We went to our first baseball game of the year.  Last winter when we were in Florida, the home of the “Grapefruit League”, we were keenly aware of the happenings in baseball.  Spring Training is a big deal in Florida and there is a lot of media coverage about it which tends to build your enthusiasm.  We went to a couple Spring Training games and were following the daily reports on our Detroit Tigers in the online versions of the Detroit newspapers.  We were ready and excited for the regular season and were closely following results and standings.  This year while wintering in Texas, there seemed to be a dearth of Spring Training coverage.  We didn’t know what was happening at all.  Spring Training is a rite of Spring and a signal that winter is passing into spring and we missed it.  We haven’t been following the regular season nearly as closely as well.   And we are looking forward to wintering in Arizona next winter where the “Cactus League” of Spring Training occurs.


But our lack of a Spring Training fix is not going to keep us from seeking out some games as we travel about this year.  This week we saw our first game of the season here in Albuquerque at the home of the Albuquerque Isotopes, the Class AAA affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers.  The home team won big and we sang a loud rendition of “Take Me Out To The Ballpark” during the seventh inning stretch.

It’s time to PLAY BALL!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A Trip Back To The Midwest

This year our travel plans have us moving up and down the Rocky Mountains.  The closest we will be to our former homes in the Midwest is around 1,200 miles.  It would be a huge side trip to drive the motor home or the car to the Midwest and back.  So, this year we have decided that we will each take turns flying back to visit family.  One will fly the other will stay with the motor home and the Alley cat.

0303120941Gary needed to go back on some family business related to his Mother’s death so last week he flew back turning the trip into visits with his family.  That was a big part of the reason we set up our travel plans to get to Albuquerque – so that Gary could fly from a reasonably sized airport of which there are very few in Western Texas and New Mexico.  Staying put also allowed me to get into some deep cleaning of the motor home and gave me time to bond with Alley.

Being retired for a few years, Gary hadn’t flown much.  His last couple of flights were in 2010 when he flew to buy the motor home and then to buy the tow car.  So after nearly three years of not flying what happens?  He got caught up in a 5 hour nationwide computer outage of American Airlines with all of their planes grounded.  He had dutifully arrived two hours early at the Albuquerque airport only to then wait a total of 7 hours for his plane to depart, only knowing that he was likely to get to Dallas and not knowing if he would be able to connect on from there to Indianapolis.  Fortunately he could but his checked bag didn’t arrive in Indy on the same flight with him.  But given the stack up in flights, the bag arrived on the next flight only about half an hour behind the flight he was on.  Gary arrived at the door of his sister’s house in the Indianapolis area 13 hours after he left the door of our motor home in what was then in the midst of a driving rain storm.  Maybe this fly back idea is not the greatest after all.

2013-04-19_20-15-35_889But from there things got a lot better.  He got to see his family in Indiana and then drove on over to Columbus, Ohio to see his son Andy and daughter-in-law Natasha.  He had the opportunity to spend a long weekend with them.  As fairly new homeowners, they always have things that need to be done around the house.  When we were last there, Gary noticed that the driveway could use a dressing so he took some clothes with him that needed to be 100_5676trashed anyway and did them the job of coating it.  Looks pretty good, eh?  Maybe he can still do something productive.

But he is back at the motor home now and the kitty and I are glad to have him back.


100_5657We rolled into Albuquerque over a week ago.  The city is located in the Rio Grande River valley.  Yes, the same Rio Grande River of the Texas/Mexico border.  The backdrop for this city in the valley is the Sandia Mountains.  It is a beautiful setting.  We need to stay in one place for awhile and this seems like a good place to do so.  Gary got our taxes done and took the car in for an oil change and tire rotation and balancing.  I began a very needed cleaning of the interior of the motor home.

100_5659We went to the old town area of Albuquerque, the area from the founding of the city in the 1700s.   I went to Mass at the San Felipe de Neri Church, the oldest church in Albuquerque and which has continuously served the community since 1706.  The area is filled with adobe-style buildings housing galleries, shops and restaurants.  We also toured Central Avenue which back in the day was where Route 66 traversed the city.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

White Sands National Monument


100_5864Our final day trip in this area of New Mexico was to White Sands National Monument.  And when they say White Sands, they mean WHITE sands.  We were glad is was a somewhat cloudy day.  On a fully sunny day, these dunes would be so white they would hurt your eyes.  And why are they white?  They are the sand of gypsum, the stuff your very white drywall is made of.  And why don’t we see lots of white gypsum sand dunes in other places?  Well, gypsum is water soluble and easily washed away.  But here there is very little rainfall and there is no drainage out of the valley.

100_5860The dune fields are huge.  There are around 275 square miles of dunes in the area.

We found these dunes to be a spectacular sight.  Kids were out of school in the area and many were there sliding down the dunes in their snow saucers.  As we hiked a bit through the dunes, we found it easiest to walk barefoot – another good reason that the sun wasn’t fully beating down that day.


100_5871We walked a cute little nature trail presented from the view of one of the animals of this environment – the kit fox which only weigh five pounds on average, or only about a third of the weight of our fat cat (she won’t like it that we said that).  Many of the animals have adapted to this environment by turning white so as to blend in against the backdrop of the dunes.


100_5848We also stopped in this area at a pistachio farm.  It used to be that most pistachios sold in the US came from Iran (and they really grow the jumbo ones).  But since the mid-1980s, pistachios from Iran bound for the US have either been embargoed or subject to prohibitive anti-dumping duties, all benefiting the New Mexico and California growers.  Our stop was at the farm that also has “the world’s largest pistachio nut”.  And as we were browsing the gift shop, there came a loud boom and very definite shaking of the building.  Yes, this whole area is right on the boundary of the missile range.  We were frightened by it, but the locals seem to take it all in stride.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Carrizozo, Smokey Bear, Billy the Kid, Ruidoso, and Petroglyphs

We can pack a lot into a day of exploring the local area and with the distances between things out here, you wouldn’t want to travel to them individually.

100_5756Our first stop was in the little town nearest our campground, Carrizozo, New Mexico.  For some reason, the residents and shop owners of Carrizozo like to display painted donkey statues.  There were 50 or more of them around the downtown and on top of buildings.



100_5761The next stop on the tour was the Smokey Bear Historical Park in the town of Capitan.  We saw this facility from the motor home on our way into the area.  We read up on it a bit and went back to see it.  The Smokey that we all know from the posters and TV ads was created in 1944.  But in 1950, there was a real bear that was designated as the one and only living Smokey Bear and who lived most of his life at the National Zoo in Washington DC.  Well, the living Smokey was a bear cub who was found clinging to a tree in a forest fire near Capitan.  The badly singed cub was nursed back to health by a game warden who sold the concept that this should be the living Smokey.  Smokey lived at the National Zoo for 26 years and was seen by millions of people.  And when Smokey died his body was returned to New Mexico and buried back in Capitan at what is now the Smokey Bear Historical Park.  There are all things Smokey at the museum from the many campaigns Smokey appeared in over the years.

100_5772We drove on to the town of Lincoln.  In the 1870s, this territory was a mostly lawless area.   The Lincoln Wars over control over the commerce of the area gave rise to the Regulators and to the infamy of Billy the Kid.  Billy was convicted of murdering a sheriff and was housed in this jail awaiting his hanging.  Somehow he gained control of a gun, shot two guards and escaped.   Three months later Pat Garret hunted him down and shot him dead.  There are many other period buildings in the town.

From Lincoln we drove up into the mountains and through the forested ski town of Ruidoso.  The ski area there is Ski Apache and is owned by the Apache Indians.  We also took in The Inn of the Mountains Gods, well at least the casino part, also owned by the Apaches.  Gary played a poker tournament and said he was doing quite well until his Queens in the hole ran into Kings in the hole.

Our last stop of this long day was at the Three Rivers Petroglyphs.  These rock carvings were made some 600 years ago by a prehistoric Indian tribe of which there are no known descendants.  It is unclear why these carvings in the rock on a ridge were made or what they signify.



Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Valley of Fires, New Mexico

100_5684While we are further exploring the Southeast of New Mexico, we are camped in an area called the Valley of Fires – a large lava field.  We discover places to visit through a variety of methods.  In this case, we found the Valley of Fires through a program on the Smithsonian Channel called Aerial America.  They do state-by-state episodes and much of the photography is from the air.  Unfortunately, we don’t regularly receive this channel and we DVR as many Aerial America shows as we can whenever Directv runs a free preview.

The Valley of Fires is operated by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) of the Department of the Interior.   The National Park Service (NPS) is also a part of the Department of Interior.  NPS administers all of the National Parks and most of the National Monuments.  It seems the BLM administers most of the rest of federal lands.  The Valley of Fires is a federal recreation area, we guess which means it is not sufficiently significant to qualify as a National Park or a National Monument or administration by the NPS.

100_5687But it is a interesting place just the same.  1,500 to 5,000 years ago, very recent in geological terms, there was a huge lava flow here.  The lava didn’t spew from the top of a volcano but rather vented from the ground.  The flow is 2 to 5 miles wide, 44 miles long and up to 165 feet deep.  We also have now arrived at our first 12,000 foot mountain peak as well.

The hill we are camped on is right above the lava field and largely surround by it.  The campsites are large with casitas and picnic tables.  In these areas, it would probably be way too hot in the summer to use an uncovered picnic table.  The campsites have water and 50 amp service for $18 a day.


100_5701There is an asphalt trail way through the lava field.  The lava is very craggy.  It isn’t formed that way.  It actually flowed in very smooth rivers of molten rock.  But as the outer portions of the flows hardened, the hot lava underneath stayed molten and flowing, creating open tubes underneath the surface.  Over time, the tubes collapsed and created the very rough landscape.  It can be very windy in this area.  (We know this from being hunkered down for the last two days with wind gusts up to 50mph).  The winds distribute dirt and sand across the lava field where it is trapped is cracks and crevices of the lava.  Desert plants then grow in this thin soil making for a surprising amount of vegetation in the lava field.

The Valley of Fires is located right next to the upper end of the White Sands Missile Test Range.  Those weren’t claps of thunder we heard when we first arrived.  The missile test range is quite active.

Monday, April 8, 2013

We Walked the Crater of an Atomic Bomb Blast

100_5744As we noted in a recent post, we had been moving far faster than we normally do because Gary had a couple date-specific things he wanted/needed to do.  Well, the first of those items was to visit the Trinity Site -- the site of the first explosion of an atomic bomb.  This took place on July 16, 1945 in the New Mexico desert in what is now a part of the White Sands Missile Range.  Few events have changed the course of the world as much as the start of the age of nuclear weapons.

100_5728Gary was aware of the Trinity Site but he had not thought there were any tours of it.  But someone made him aware that they allow people to visit the site on two days of the year – the first Saturdays of April and October. So we structured our travel schedule to accommodate this visit.  We arrived early at the site before a large caravan of people was scheduled in.  We estimated that around 2,500 people came through the site in the six hours that the gates to the missile range were open.  As you can see, there isn’t a crater at all anymore as it has been filled in.  And even the original crater was fairly small as the bomb was not exploded on the ground.

The bomb was exploded atop a 100-foot steel tower, directly above the monument shown below.  Three observation points were established about two miles each from ground zero with other observations points 10 and 20 miles away.  The bomb exploded with the force of about 20,000 pounds of TNT.  The average temperature in the fire ball was calculated at nearly 15,000 degrees F.  The steel tower was vaporized.  Observers at the 10-mile station reported heat the equivalent of opening a hot oven.  Windows were broken up to 120 miles away and the fireball mushroom cloud reached 7.5 miles high.


100_5736The sand around the ground zero was turned into a form of glass, subsequently named Trinitite.  Most of it was removed from the site but there are still many particles of it as shown by the ones in my hand.



2013-04-06_09-09-47_542So, is it really more radioactive at Trinity Site?  Yes, just look at my crazed husband; however, he is like that all the time.  Radioactivity is about 10 times higher than outside the bomb blast area.  But let’s think about that a bit.  An hour spent at Trinity is about the same as 10 hours spent outside the site but when you think about that in relation to the nearly 9,000 hours of a year, it really is quite negligible additional exposure.  But then that glass I had in my hand was the most radioactive material at the site………………



More information on Trinity Site can be found at:





Sunday, April 7, 2013

What Happens In Roswell…..Did Not Happen

100_5636We moved up from Carlsbad to Roswell.  This was another place in New Mexico we were really looking forward to.  Roswell is the city most associated with UFOs and aliens.  In 1947, a farm hand found a debris field from the crash of some kind of craft.  At first, the Army issued a press release saying a flying disk had been found, but higher ups quickly replaced that story with one saying the debris was from a “weather balloon”.  That second story was largely accepted for a number of years until an Army Major who had been in the debris recovery stated that he believed the Army covered up what had been the recovery of an alien spacecraft.  This led to many additional “witnesses” coming forward with stories of how alien life forms had been recovered as well.

Public clamor over this incident eventually led in the 1990s to an official investigation and report by the Air Force.  Of course they concluded that the spaceship was a balloon from a top-secret program and that the aliens were parachute dummies.  But to this day there are many who still believe a flying saucer and aliens were recovered and they have a lot of “evidence’ to point to.

We believe that earth may well have been visited by alien spaceships but likely not in this particular incident in Roswell.  But it makes for a lot of kitsch in Roswell and we like our kitsch.


100_5745-001Gary bought a great T-shirt with a saying we borrowed for the title of this blogpost:  What Happens in Roswell Stays in Roswell Did Not Happen

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Guadalupe Mountains National Park


100_5603Our exploration of Guadalupe Mountains National Park http://www.nps.gov/gumo/index.htm was pretty much limited to a driveby after we toured Carlsbad Caverns, but it is a very dramatic driveby.  And there aren’t any roads that cut through the park as it is very rugged mountain range.

100_5619The most prominent peak is El Capitan shown the picture to the right and to the left in the panorama below.





100_5625We haven’t done real well in spotting animals but we did see these mule deer grazing on a foothill.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Carlsbad Caverns

100_5510If it seems like we are moving a bit faster than we usually do; well, we are.  Gary has a couple things he wants/needs to do on specific dates so we are orienting our travels to accommodate them.  We rolled out of Texas and into New Mexico.  We haven’t moved very far each day, but we have moved three days in a row.


100_5512Our present destination of Carlsbad Caverns is one that we really have been looking forward to.  http://www.nps.gov/cave/index.htm

Gary had been here twice before – in 1975 and in 2005.  This was my first visit.  It certainly has the reputation as one of the most spectacular of the national parks.  And we also had recently visited a very amazing cave in Texas – The Caverns of Sonora – and were looking forward to the comparison.

100_5511We camped at another state park.  This time it was Brantley Lake, north of the town of Carlsbad.  It was really hard to beat at $14 a night.


We were met at the entrance to the caverns by our Park Ranger who bore a striking resemblance to the Marine who guided us through the Marine Museum back in Virginia.


100_5518We entered the Caverns via the natural entrance.  This way takes you down switchback after switchback to a depth of around 750 feet below the Visitor’s Center.  Unfortunately, the bats were only beginning their migration back from wintering in Mexico.  We  missed the bats back in Austin for the same reason too.  It would have been quite the sight to have seen them flying out of the entrance of the cave.  Even though the bats were not there yet, we could certainly smell guano (it has an unforgettable odor).

There are a number of formations on the way down, but the really great stuff is down at the floor in the “Big Room”.



So, which set of caverns is better?  We have a split decision on this one.  Gary is definitely in the Carlsbad camp.  I had a slight preference for Sonora.  But without a doubt they are both spectacular and we surely are glad we toured them both.