grandson mason

grandson mason

grandson jaxson

grandson jaxson

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

30/31MAR10 - Carlsbad, NM

Tuesday morning we continued our journey to El Paso, TX, by driving from Alamogordo to Carlsbad, NM. Since Alamogordo is in the Tularosa Basin this meant we had to go up & up somewhere on the road to Carlsbad. Corrie was not pleased when we soon saw two signs; one that required supplemental engine braking for vehicles over 10 tons, & one restricting total length to 75 feet. To Dan it was no big deal & we were soon setting up camp in Carlsbad.

We then headed to the No Whiner Diner for lunch. Their menu declares – they are not responsible for your bad decisions in your life. We then did our usual walkabout of downtown Carlsbad, and discovered they have a very scenic river drive along the Pecos River with many fine homes & a beautiful riverwalk park.
The first thing next morning, Wednesday, we headed to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Turns out we were the first ones there at 0800. Since you can not enter the Caverns until 0830, we viewed the Park Service film about various Caverns in the USA before heading to the Natural Entrance.
There are elevators that will take you down to the Caverns, but we opted for the Natural Entrance discovered by cowboy Jim White. This is the entrance where White commenced his explorations of the Caverns as he tried to convince everyone that this was something special, & from which the bat guano was extracted before the federal government obtained the land. In fact the first tourists were lowered & raised out of the Caverns in the guano bucket! Starting in bright sunshine & descending to complete darkness, while trying not to step in bat guano, it was a fantastic descent of over 750 feet (ie 75 stories)! One of the most impressive sights was Iceberg Rock, a 200,000 pound rock (that’s right 100 tons) that fell from the ceiling! Corrie was somewhat worried about a reoccurrence because this area of New Mexico had experienced a 4.5 earthquake last week. Our recommendation is skip the elevator if you are in good shape (if you are in really good shape, you can hike out this way).

The hike down from Natural Entrance brings you to the rest area & lunch room where Dan was eagerly anticipating a world famous Cavern Burger prepared in the deepest cafeteria in the world. Sadly, it was not to be, because all food is now cooked above ground & all you can get is cold sandwiches & drinks in this one area of the Caverns. This is an environmentally correct change, but still Dan was disappointed.

At 1000 hours we caught the Kings Palace tour, for which we had made reservations a week ago & cost us $16. Turns out there are almost no freebies in this National Park. The Natural Entrance route & the Big Room route are “free” after you pay your entrance fee, but there are very few information placards describing what you are seeing on these routes. There are lettered sign posts tied into an audio device you can rent, & numbered sign posts tied into a pamphlet you can buy. And the info on the numbered posts is different then on the lettered posts; so if you want the complete story, you need to pay twice!

The Ranger guided tours are the best bet, but are only available via reservations & at an additional cost. In addition, you need to make reservations weeks or months (especially during the summer) in advance. To complicate things further, some tours are only available on weekends. We were interested in two tours that went to portions of the Caverns not available to the general public, but they were sold out. There are even tours where you get on your bellies and try to wiggle thru openings less than 18 inches high!!! We were fortunate to get reservations for the Kings Palace tour that started at 1000. This portion of the Caverns was open to the public until the 1980s, but was closed due to environmental damage (ie weddings, dances, etc). It was a fantastic one & 1/2 hours because of the Ranger’s continual description of the geology, history, environment, etc, etc, of the Caverns. Did you know they have discovered over 100 microbes in this cavern complex alone? And one appears to eat breast cancer cells, & another appears to eat plastic!

After the tour we could have toured the Big Room for free, but frankly we were bushed! So we rode the elevator topsides & had lunch on the terrace. We could have had a Cavern Burger, but we felt it wasn’t the same as when you could get one 750 feet below. Also, in the welcome center is a display of Ansel Adams photos of the Caverns. Turns out Adams was “hired” by the WPA in 1936 under the Roosevelt Administration to photograph many of the National Parks/Monuments for a mural/montage in DC; a project that was never completed because of WWII. Adams was so used to working with natural light, that he was not satisfied with his Caverns photos & destroyed many of the prints! In fact Ansel stated – “...something that should not exist in relation to human beings. Something that is as remote as the galaxy, incomprehensible as a nightmare, and beautiful in spite of everything.” In the late 1978 someone discovered the few remaining negatives/prints, in a file drawer at the Carlsbad Caverns National Park (and you thought Indiana Jones & the Lost Ark was fiction). These negatives were eventually restored & have been on rotating display since 2008.

The last thing we did in the park was to drive the dirt road through Walnut Canyon. The first half of the drive was nothing special considering that we have been thru numerous desert parks like Joshua Tree, Big Bend, Petroglyphs, White Sands, Saguaro (east & west), Death Valley, etc, etc. But the last half when you drop down into the canyon was worth it!

After all this it was back to RV to rest & recuperate, before hitting the road tomorrow! But we definitely want to return for one of the other tours we couldn’t get reservations for, & to tour the Big Room. This was Corrie’s first cavern tour & only Dan’s second, but we want more. See below BLOG link for Dan’s thought on Luray Caverns. Although Luray had more “colors”, Carlsbad was in better “environmental” shape, & definitely more awesome!!!

Trivia – What is the difference between a basin and a valley?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

28/29MAR10 - Alamogordo, NM (holloman afb)

Sunday morning, 28MAR, we departed Albuquerque enroute El Paso, TX. The reason we are going to El Paso, rather than northwest to the Pacific Northwest, is because Dan has a job there between 05-09APR. Rather than head due south on I-25, we decided to do a little sightseeing enroute. The first stop would be Alamogordo, NM, to checkout the White Sands National Monument. Enroute we had to endure a DUI checkpoint in the middle of nowhere, on Sunday morning no less! We wonder if New Mexicans are hitting the communal wine a little hard?

We decided to try and stay at the RV Family Camp at Holloman Air Force Base. We were lucky and got the last site with hook-ups. Unfortunately, we have noticed a disturbing trend in the last year at military base RV parks. Although the parks are supposedly for short term recreational use, many are now full of base personnel who are using the sites for their long term housing. Of the 20 sites at Holloman, at least half are people that work on the base. After setting up camp Corrie took off to check out the Exchange & the Commissary; while Dan took off to photograph the Air Force planes on static display that is pretty standard on most USA Air Force Bases. This static display had a stealth strike aircraft (F-117, aka Nighthawk) on display, something Dan hadn’t seen before.

Monday morning we headed to the White Sands National Monument. This is the largest gypsum sand dune field in the world (key word being gypsum). We won’t bore you with the geology, but the Tularosa Basin is perfect for the creation of gypsum sand (as opposed to silicon sand or quartz sand) & its “capture” into sand dunes. It is the whitest white you have ever seen, & unlike other sands does not get hot in the blazing sun (allowing you to go barefoot at anytime). NOTE: the National Monument is next door to the White Sands Missile Range, which results in the Monument & local roads (including US 70) being shutdown a couple times a week presumably because a test missile is flying overhead.

In past BLOG entries about National Parks/Monuments we have highly recommended taking the free Ranger led tours, but it turned out that the only Ranger led tour was later that evening. So we hiked a nature trail through the dunes on a self-guided tour. On the trail every so often were pictures & information signs told from the view of a Kit Fox. Along with being very informative, they were often humorous. For example in describing Fast Food, the Kit Fox explained how he liked rabbits or hares for dinner, but they were fast & he rarely caught them. After this very enjoyable & informative hike, we drove through the rest of the dunes before heading into town.

We did a very quick tour of Alamogordo & found most of the town vacant. As usual Dan had some eccentric sites he wanted to photograph. And we also visited a couple of the many roadside stores selling pistachio items & tourist trinkets. Turns out that local farmers started planting pistachios in the early 70s, & now you can even get pistachio wine.

A little before sunset we returned to the White Sands National Monument to take a free Ranger led desert walk timed to allow you view sunset from the dunes. As we have talked about before, it well worth your time to take part in these freebies if you can coordinate your visit. Not only was it informative, enjoyable, with a beautiful sunset, but we were also treated to a spectacular full moon rise right as the sun set.

Trivia – What is the difference between a National Monument & a National Park? What is sand? What is the only mammal in White Sands that never drinks water (even after large rains)?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

19-27MAR10 - Albuquerque, NM (another rv rally)

19MAR, Friday, we drove further than we had planned, to get to Albuquerque, NM, and avoid a forecasted winter snow storm. Saturday morning, on the first day of spring, we wake up to a late season winter snow storm. Luckily the sun came out & melted the snow so we could move the RV to Balloon Fiesta Park for the FMCA Rally we were in town for. FMCA stands for Family Motor Coach Association and is only open to self drive RVs (ie no trailers allowed), & this is their big Rally for the year. We have attended one other RV Rally in MAR08, in Perry, GA, run by the Good Sam RV Club we also belong to. See our Perry BLOG entry for more on what these RV Rallies are all about.

Since the Rally didn’t start until Monday, on Sunday Corrie headed to “Old Town” to check out the shops & Dan headed out to photograph the eccentric sights of Albuquerque.

The first thing Dan discovered was a statue called - Madonna of the Trail. According to Wikipedia – “this is a series of 12 monuments dedicated to the spirit of pioneer women in the United States. The monuments were commissioned by the National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR). They were placed along the National Old Trails Road in each of the 12 states the road passed through and extended from Bethesda, Maryland, to Upland, California. Created by sculptor August Leimbach and funded by contributions, the Madonna of the Trail monuments were intended to provide a symbol of the courage and faith of the women whose strength and love aided so greatly in conquering the wilderness and establishing permanent homes. Dedicated in 1928 and 1929, with each of the 12 located in a different state, they became a source of local pride. Through the continuing efforts of local and national groups, all are currently in good condition and on display.” So now Dan has one more thing on his bucket list, drive the road & find all 12 statues!

Dan also drove over to the New Mexico University (Go Lobos!) to check out another site in the USA that claims it is the Center of the Universe. Although it was Sunday & the campus was empty of students, he could not find any free parking; every parking spot was roped off with yellow tape for no apparent reason? Turns out Dan had run into TV production of “The Odds” being filmed on the New Mexico University campus, a TV pilot about a buddy cop show set in Las Vegas. Dan was even asked by one of the crew to “walk through” the next scene as part of the background. But all they were offering was a free box lunch & the scene might take four hours to shoot! So Dan said “no” and headed to the supposed Center of the Universe – a non-descript concrete structure representing the X,Y,Z axis used in engineering & scientific graphing. Definitely not impressive! On the way back to the RV after a full afternoon of eccentric sights, Dan stopped at Bobs Burgers to get a Ranchero Burger. This is an excellent cheese burger with a very spicy yellow chili sauce. Dan saved half for Corrie, figuring that she would not like the spicy chili sauce. Wrong! She inhaled it!

Later Sunday afternoon we saw a truck from Shade Pro mobile RV awning service driving thru the Rally camp area, & decided to stop one and order windshield screens for the front of the RV. After placing our order we headed to the Sandia Casino where we got $40 each to gamble just for joining their Player Club; $20 bucks for the slot machines & $20 bucks for table games. But you have to play all $40 before you can collect anything. So Dan walked over to the nearest blackjack table, bet his $20, won, & walked away with $20 cash. Corrie bet $5 each time, won twice, lost twice, & walked away with $10.

Monday morning started three & 1/2 days of the FMCA RV Rally; as we said above, see our Perry, GA, BLOG to learn what these rallies are about. During the Rally Dan discovered a French railroad car from something called the Merci Train (aka Gratitude Train) in 1949. This is another of those small pieces of USA history that is extremely interesting but unheard of. The Merci Train was a French reply to the 1947 USA Friendship Train put together by Drew Pearson. We won’t bore you with the details, but encourage you to check it out on the internet.

Trivia – Why were the French RR cars called 40 & 8’s (think hommes & chevaux)?

Tuesday night Dan headed out to drive Central Ave (aka Route 66) & photograph neon signs. This is one of the original pieces of Route 66 that you can still drive for a long distance. Albuquerque has encouraged the renovation of the classic neon signs, & the installation of new neon signs. In fact, the city has installed neon signs on the bus stops, and a flashing neon sign under one overpass that continually changes color. Before heading back to the RV he got a chili dog & mustard dog at a local favorite - The Dog House. Corrie wasn’t a big fan of either hotdog.

We won’t go into detail about the Rally, but will say that this one was a big disappointment compared to the one we attended in Perry, GA, in 2008, already mentioned in this BLOG. The biggest problem we had was that the RV camp area was 15 miles from the exhibits. We found the FMCA busses inconvenient; & when we drove our Toad, we were often stuck in rush hour! The last thing we will mention is that the economic downturn appears to have significantly impacted the quality of the Rally. There were very few “free” activities as compared to Perry; there appeared to be fewer staff & volunteers to handle things; & many of the manufacturers were there with reduced staffs (and some long time vendors didn’t even show up).

Friday morning headed to another RV park to rest for a couple days & recover from the Rally before hitting the road on Sunday, 28MAR. But first we had two pieces of Rally business to finish. First we got our rig weighed at all four wheel positions by RVSEF. Turns out our left front tire is carrying too much weight & we need to address this issue. Second, remember the window screens we had ordered from Shade Pro five days ago? Well, we still hadn’t got them, even after tracking them down two days in-a-row! Finally, Corrie tracked down one of the owners & read him the riot act. So after being weighed, they sent over two of their best & installed our screens. Ours was the last one done before the technicians got to hit the road home to see their families.

Our decision to wait before hitting the road turned out to be even better than planned! By lunch time Friday the Albuquerque area was being blasted by high winds (60mph +) and wind blown sand that reduced visibility on the roads. So we rode it out in the RV, feeling sorry for all those RV’ers who were on the road.
Saturday morning we headed to the Petroglyph National Monument jointly run by the National Park Service & the City of Albuquerque. On the recommendation of the Ranger we decided hike the Rinconada Canyon to view the petroglyphs. It was a very enjoyable two hour hike, but we were glad we did it in the morning. That afternoon Dan & Gumbo took off in the Toad for the Volcanoes section of the National Monument for some offroading. This portion of the Monument used to be open for four wheel drive vehicles. Unfortunately, this is no longer allowed & you must hike the entire area. Even though Dan & Gumbo were disappointed; they know it is better for the environment & they did hike the first three mile section.

Trivia – Is it Alburquerque or Albuquerque? What’s the difference between a petroglyph & a pictograph? Why is Albuquerque (or is it Alburquerque?) called the Duke city?