New Mexico


OCTOBER 18, 2010

I’m continuing the entry for today here as most of the activity took place in New Mexico even though we will spend one more night in Colorado. We’ve been so lucky to have followed the Fall color changes from north to south over the past six weeks. The cottonwoods along the rivers and the aspens in the mountains are a mixture of peak and just past peak. Today began with overcast skies and a forecast of intermittent thunderstorms. As I was walking Opal this morning the sunrise was incredible. It lit the sky a deep pink and yellow. I just watched as the best color only lasted ten minutes.

Rio Grande Gorge at Wild Rivers NRA

We had a leisurely morning and decided to drive over to the Wild Rivers National Recreation Area near Questa, NM. This is north central New Mexico. While we were on our way to and from Great Sand Dunes NP, we crossed the Rio Grande River. I always associated it with southern Texas but the headwaters are up here. The Wild Rivers NRA  was created in 1968 to protect the Rio Grande Gorge and the confluence of it with the Red River. This was the first designation of a wild and scenic river. Since then there have been several others like the New River in West Virginia. This is in a very remote area. The two towns of Questa and Cerro are quite small and run down.  The area is under the management of the Bureau of Land Management. There are several overlooks and trails. We pulled off at Sheep Crossing overlook and hiked about halfway down the trail to get a view of the river. At this point the walls of the gorge are a sheer drop to the river. With the Fall color of gold and red and the green of the Rio Grande, the scene was strikingly beautiful. The trail was rated on the sign as easy. This must have been rated by a mountain goat. Steve said he’d call it moderate and if we’d gone all the way down even strenuous. Opal had a ball being off leash. Then we stopped at three more overlooks. All had picnic tables. At Junta Point you can see the two rivers converge. There are several small campgrounds where you can get water only and a few would accommodate our trailer. The Visitors Center is only open on Saturdays and Sundays. I can understand why as we saw only 2 other people at overlooks and 2 other campers. So we’ll have to make a return visit to get our lapel pin. Our travel vest with the pins is about a third full. It’s beginning to look like a Girl Scout on steroids.

Convergence of Rio Grande and Red Rivers

Looking Down the River

View from the top of the Gorge

Then we headed east to drive a loop described as a New Mexico scenic byway called The Enchanted Circle. It goes from NM 522 at Questa through the aspen and evergreen forest of the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness and the Taos Mountains to Red River, Eagle Nest and Taos. The loop is 85 miles. We’d said that we would drive to Eagle Nest and then see if we wanted to do the whole loop or double back. As we drove past Red River the temperature had dropped from the low sixties to 41 degrees. It was raining when we reached the decision point. We were afraid the mountain roads might get icy and opted to drive south through Taos. Along the way we found Eagle Nest State Park which looks like a great kayaking lake and future stop. We didn’t have a lot of time to spend in Taos but we did get out and walk a bit in the historic area looking for a replacement coffee mug. No luck. As we started on the way back, the sky cleared some and there was a beautiful rainbow. Some of the distant mountain tops looked as if they’d gotten new snow.

Rainbow On the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway

Back at the trailer we enjoyed a slow cooker pot roast and then uploaded an entry to the blog. Tomorrow we leave for Carlsbad, NM.

OCTOBER 19, 2010

We awoke this morning to 32 degrees outside and frozen water. Fortunately, we had some water in the RV tank for necessities and coffee. We closed the trailer and hitched up. We pulled out by 10AM. This has been the most enjoyable park we’ve stayed in on our trip. I look forward to returning.

We are retracing our route from yesterday down US 285 all the way to Carlsbad. As I write, we’ve just passed Taos and into new territory. Steve just remarked that they must be very exact in New Mexico. We’d just entered a work zone and he saw a sign saying that this project cost $4,678,956.32 and that the project covered the next 4.32 miles! We’ll be on the road approximately 6 hours. This won’t leave us time to do much sightseeing. There are several National Monuments nearby but that’s for another trip. We do hope to make a quick stop in Roswell. I just have to have an Alien or Area 51 T-shirt.

As the trip progressed we found ourselves slowed down by road construction for 30 miles north of Santa Fe and traffic in town. Then we had to stop for gas and lunch. In all it took us almost 8 hours to reach Brantley Lake State Park so we postponed the Roswell stop until another day. We wanted to be in place by sunset and just barely made it. This is a New Mexico State Park about 15 miles north of Carlsbad. The campsite is very level and private with 25 feet between sites. There are eight other RVs here in an area set up for 30 units. The landscape is flat desert and not very interesting after the Rockies. This morning we were in freezing temperatures and tonight we had to turn on the AC. What a difference 300 miles makes.

Tomorrow we’ll go to Carlsbad Caverns NP.
OCTOBER 20, 2010

I’m really happy to be in warm territory again. Today is expected to be in the high 70s and the night in the low to mid 50s. Of course that really doesn’t matter when you’ll be spending the day below ground where it’s always 56 degrees.

Natural Entrance to Carlsbad Caverns

Torrey Yucca

Landscape Above Carlsbad Caverns


We’re about 35 miles from Carlsbad Caverns NP. The road into the park takes you into the Guadelupe Mountains and the hills are covered with desert plants. This year has been a wet one for them. They usually receive 12 inches of rain and this year they had 40 inches so far. The late wildflowers are blooming and the hills are purple, yellow and white. The Torrey Yucca have already bloomed but their spikes still rise 8 or more feet in the air and are heavy with seed. We’re seeing different kinds of cacti than we’ve seen so far.
As is our habit we head to the Visitors Center for maps and information. There are two self-guided tours; one through the natural entrance of the cave that goes down a steep path for 700 feet (That’s 700 feet vertical… in a mile and a quarter walk.  The grade is about 25% in places, and we’re told it’s very strenuous…  sm)  to the area known as the Big Room. You can also reach the Big Room by elevator. This area is 750 feet below the surface. The Big Room is the largest area in the caverns with a length of 6 football fields. The paved path through it is 1.3 miles long.  Having been to Luray Caverns, I was expecting something similar. This was so much more. I felt as if I were in nature’s Sistine Chapel. Steve and I had carried our tripods with us. We knew that photos would require long exposures due to the dim lighting. That would be longer than you can hold steady by hand. We were taking photos at every turn until a ranger told us that the caverns would be closing in an hour and that we wouldn’t be able to walk the whole course even without taking pictures. That’s when we decided we’d return tomorrow instead of kayaking. We took what is referred to as the shortcut back to the elevators. We looked at some of the exhibits and then watched the movie about caves in the national parks. There are over 100 caves in this park. Most are not open to the public. One of them, Lechuguilla Cave is over 112 miles long and still being explored. Others like Slaughter Canyon Cave and Spyder Cave can be accessed by Ranger led tours. We’d watched a group return from a trip to the lowest point in Carlsbad Caverns at 846 feet. They had to ascend using knotted ropes and “walk” up the face of a rock wall.

The Lion's Tail

Chari Enters the Big Room with Ease

Stalagtite Meets Stalagmite


Say Ahhhh!

Nature's Artistry

View of the Big Room


Looking Through the Keyhole


Then we walked down to the amphitheater to see the Bat Flight program. The natural entrance to the cave is home to between 300,000-500,000 Mexican (aka Brazilian) Free Tail bats. The bats are 1.5 oz. with a 12” wing span. They live 1/2 mile into the cave.  Each night they swarm out and search for insects (mostly moths…sm). They live here from March thru October. They are due to migrate anytime so the ranger didn’t know for sure if we’d see them or not. In the summer the flight time is very predictable. At this time of year it varies about an hour. We waited for about an hour from the 5:30P start time. We watched cave swallows return for roosting. The ranger who led the program was excellent. He was able to keep us interested with spontaneous questions and answers. Then the bats made their appearance. They start at the mouth of the cave and circle. As they exit the cave they circle a little farther and a little faster for three to four levels. Then they fly south or southeast in an S shape line. The bats keep coming, and coming and coming. You can hear the sound of their wings. This goes on for about 2 hours. We stayed about 30 minutes and saw thousands of bats go by. Steve said this was a National Geographic moment for him. They do not allow any photos to be taken so you’ll just have to come see it for yourself.

Opal was very glad to see us. She does well by herself for 8-9 hours in the trailer. She’s become a great travel dog.

Nature's Sistine Chapel

OCTOBER 21, 2010

Chari mentioned that I said that seeing the bats had been a National Geographic moment.  I’ve had a few of them in my life… one was at the Bay of Fundy, being out on a small boat (twelve passengers) on a whale watch.  We came up on a pod of Right Whales, about five or six if I remember correctly, out of less than four hundred left in the world, and were close enough to them that when they spouted, I actually got wet.  Another time was in the Gulf of Maine, also on a whale watch cruise, when we didn’t see any whales to speak of, but found ourselves in the middle of a birthing colony of dolphins.  There were mothers and babies as far as the horizon in every direction… the moms being about ten or twelve feet in length and the babies about two, swimming as if they were still tied together by an umbilical cord.  It was a sight to remember.  Another National Geographic moment was at Rocky Mountain National Park, where I came up on a field where there was a bull elk at either end.  I stopped the car and got out, setting my camera on a tripod and waited.  They tentatively approached each other (this was the rutting season) and when they got close, one gave the other a poke with his antlers.  The favor was returned, and before long, they were locked together in an all-out battle.  I was on the fifty yard line, and couldn’t believe it.  Last night, watching thousands upon thousands of bats emerging from the cave, and flying up into the sky against an almost full moon was again, one of those moments.  Sometimes, it’s hard to believe that a person can be so lucky as to see these wonders of nature.

Today, as Chari said, we figured we’d go back to Carlsbad.  The original plan was to get the paddles wet, but frankly, I was just as happy to have something else to do.  The landscape here is kind of flat desert, and kayaking in a lake surrounded by a whole lot of nothing isn’t my idea of having a lot of fun.  Especially after kayaking in places like Lake Powell, which had to have been one of my all-time favorite paddles.  So, I was happy to go back to the caverns.

Last night when we went to bed, there was a lot of thunder and lightning in the not-so-far distance.  It gradually got closer, and within an hour, it was right overhead.  Being in a trailer in a rainstorm is kind of like being inside a drum.  I love the sound of the thunder and the rain, but Opal wasn’t very happy.  She likes to pretend she’s a big brave dog, but in a situation like this, she huddles up into a corner and tries to hide.  I called her up onto the bed, and naturally, she laid down right in the middle, on top of the blankets, so I was left half bare-assed.  As soon as the storm passed, I kicked her off the bed, which she didn’t like too much.

But by morning, I was forgiven, and after a light breakfast, we drove back to the Caverns.  When we got there, we hurriedly walked back to the point where we had reached yesterday, which was about a third of the way through. 

It’s very hard to describe these caverns.  I’ve been to a few other caverns in my life… Howe Caverns in New York, Luray Caverns in Virginia…  and they were beautiful.  But compare them to a beautiful river gorge.  Then take Carlsbad Caverns…  using the same analogy, Carlsbad compares to the Grand Canyon.   It is just beyond description.

Needless to say, we were taking a lot of pictures.  After a while, Chari’s tripod broke…  the handle used for repositioning the camera snapped, so she wasn’t able to take any more long-time exposed pictures.  She had to make do with hand-holding the camera and using the flash.  I had been taking all long-time exposed pictures, and a little after that, found that doing so ate up my battery time, and I wasn’t able to take any pictures at all.  So, while between us, we’ve got a whole lot of pictures from the first two-thirds of the walk through, there aren’t too many of the last third. 

I guess we’ll just have to come back!

We stopped in town on the way back home to get the oil changed (for the second time this trip) in the car, and to do a little grocery shopping.  Then it was back to the trailer, where I took Opal out for a run while Chari got supper (chicken wings and rice) started.

Another wonderful day.
OCTOBER 22, 2010

Moving day again. We have a 5-6 hour ride ahead of us to Big Spring, Texas. Steve really wanted to see the UFO Museum in Roswell, NM so we drove north for 60 miles and were able to park the trailer on the street next to the museum. The story about a UFO crash with alien bodies recovered and the subsequent coverup by the US government has been kept alive for over 50 years. The museum has numerous clippings and personal accounts on display. Now, I do think there probably is other intelligent life but did they visit? Steve says he’s not sure what but something did happen. One of the most interesting exhibits to me was the interpretation of petroglyphs as probable aliens. Think of the Nazca Lines in Peru. We’d planned to spend an hour. By the time we saw the museum and had a green chile cheeseburger for lunch and bought gas we had lost 3 hours. Now we’d be getting to our destination after dark.

Driving through southeastern New Mexico is flat, featureless and straight. West Texas was more of the same but with cotton fields as far as you could see. We wondered why we hadn’t seen any cotton in NM. We had just passed through a town when I looked at the miles left on the digital display. It was under 50 miles to empty. The next town was 26 miles away. When you’re towing a trailer the ‘miles’ get used up fast. We made it to Lamesa with 6 miles of gas left. Out here we need to remember to gas up whenever you can. It’s a long way between towns. We finally got to the RV park about 8PM. It’s a very nice park called Texas RV Park and another Good Sam and AAA approved park.

We’ll be taking a two day break from the blog while we visit with family. To continue please see our Texas episode.


About vagabondpress

Recently retired and "hitting the road". Hobbies include travel, nature photography, kayaking, hiking, good food and good friends.
This entry was posted in Narrative, nature, New Mexico, photography. Bookmark the permalink.

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