Tuesday, December 6, 2016

New Mexico to the Plains

Unfortunately we do have a bit of a deadline to the first part of the road trip looming not too far away just around December 18th. If you’ve been following our path at all, we haven’t really gone in that direction whatsoever. The main reason for that is the fact that we’ve been trying to climb as much as we possibly can.

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We stopped in a library in Deming, New Mexico and that night we headed to what we hoped to be our next climbing destination in Truth or Consequences. We woke up in the morning to all the windows completely frozen and we looked at each other, raised our white flag and came to the conclusion that there won’t be much climbing for the rest of the trip, if any.

Switching perspectives to driving from climbing, we looked for classic stops along the roads including historical markers, National Parks and a lot of museums.

With that in mind we looked at the map and headed to White Sands National Monument. On our way
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we crossed through White Sands Missile Range where they had tested the first atomic bomb. When we arrived into the park we watched the informational video and drove out to the dunes. They’re so white, that if the sun is shining you can’t look directly at them. So we pulled out our sunglasses and walked all around the dunes. The sand was so fine you could easily walk around with no shoes. Joe was able to get some great photography even though there wasn’t much of a sunset. We just so happened to be there on a very quiet day, no wind and barely any people.

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That night we stayed near a lake that other people on the internet called “Poop Lake”. Not seeing where the name came from, we arrived to the lake completely still and the twilight on the horizon to be a magnificent orange and blue. That morning we had come to the conclusion that we wouldn’t be able to climb much more but our spirits were filled after a good day of a new place and great photography.

The Grave of HAM
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We headed to Alamogordo, New Mexico to the New Mexico Museum of Space History. We weren’t really sure what to expect but arrived to only a couple other cars in the parking lot and walked into the lobby to pay our entry fee. We quickly ended up paying for a day at the museum and a live show about the constellations in a planetarium. Not only was it completely worth it but it took us the entire day walking around the museum learning about the rockets themselves, seeing bits and pieces of the control panel that flew in Apollo 11, 13 and other missions and about HAM, the first successful monkey to fly into orbit and be safely returned (who happens to be buried on the sight as well).  Then to top off a very successful day, while leaving town we got our cheapest gas to date- $1.75!

Carlsbad Cavern National Park was our next destination. Neither Joe nor I had been there and hadn’t read much about it. We arrived at the visitors center and we were both thinking that we would have to pay for a tour to be able to go into the cave but were quickly informed that it’s a self-guided tour for about 90% of the cave. So we showed our park pass and walked out to the entrance of the cave. There was almost no one there, which was ideal as it kept the cave quiet enough to hear the dripping of the
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water in its immense size. We entered the mouth of the cave where you pass through a bunch of seats. In the summer you can watch the thousands of Brazilian Free Tailed Bats fly out of the cave at dusk, sadly they had gone south for the winter. It took our eyes a solid 20 minutes to fully adjust to the darkness of the cave. There is artificial lighting throughout so you can see all the features. When you enter the natural entrance you walk down for a mile until eventually you’re over 700ft underground, which then you enter a vast open space called the “Big Room”. 3,800 ft. long and 600ft wide it is one of the largest and oldest cave systems in the northern hemisphere. I personally have never seen anything like it, huge stalagmites and stalactites covered the cave floor and ceilings. Some joined to create vast columns and others formed fine draperies to create a world that is hard to imagine unless you are surrounded by it. Joe took some photos of the features and honestly you can’t really get an idea of how huge or delicate the cave itself is unless you are there to see it for yourself.

We left the cave just before dark and found an unfortunate camp spot on top of a hill where we were hammered by rain and wind for the entire night. We woke up to the weather relentlessly hammering the car so we quickly packed up and headed to our next museum.

White Sands National Monument
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New Mexico is well known for cactuses, deserts and aliens. So with that we headed north to Roswell. We arrived to the town where I expected to see more cheesy alien signs and memorabilia but was quickly disappointed with a pretty normal looking town. We arrived to the International UFO and Research Center to be greeted by a grumpy and unlikeable front desk woman. If you aren’t aware of the incident in Roswell, you can read it  HERE. Since there isn’t actual evidence of an alien crash itself the entire museum is mostly reading. Newspaper clippings, affidavits and descriptions of a few photos covered multiple cubicles of walls. We walked through and read the gist of the crash. We were slightly disappointed, both hoping for some cheesy tin foil hats when we entered the building and a real replica of a space ship you could walk around. I think we got our hopes a little high before we even entered the museum.

We were headed straight into the heart of the dustbowl next so Joe had downloaded “The Dust Bowl” by Ken Burns. We watched the first 2 hour part of the movie that night in a great camp spot. In the middle of the country there are plenty of towns trying to get travelers to spot through and one of the ways they do that is by building a park with bathrooms, free water and free RV hookups with outlets. Very convenient for movie watching!

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When we crossed over the border into Texas it marked the 18th state I’ve been to! We drove along open fields through the panhandle before we made a quick stop at a wildlife reserve to watch prairie dogs and rabbits run around freely with few fears. They were so fat from being on a wildlife reserve I am not sure a hawk could pick them up!

We drove to Amarillo, Texas where we arrived at the Cadillac Ranch just after the sun had set. We walked into a farmer’s field with a herd of cows just past all of the cars. The cars all smelled of fresh paint and after looking a little closer it looked as if there was inches of paint that had been layered on each car from years of creativity caked on.

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The next morning we drove to the panhandle of Oklahoma. Oklahoma would mark Joe’s 48th state. After getting a photo to commemorate we headed to Boise City, OK. Not to be mistaken with the Boise in Idaho- it’s pronounced like “voice” but with a B. Boise City is said to be the center of the dust bowl so we had to check it out after watching our Dust Bowl documentary. We stopped at the Cimarron Heritage Center that ended up being a museum of everything. It started in an old home that somewhat sort of looked like someone was living in it but then connected to a large room filled with items in a bunch of different exhibits. From local history, to WWII, dinosaurs, Native Americans, dentistry, fashion and cowboys. Sadly the Dust Bowl exhibit was the least put together as it was under construction. We moseyed our way outside to check out an old home from the Dust Bowl and a schoolhouse from the same time next door. We finished it with a giant garage filled with tractors restored to working order from the 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s.

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We drove east through the Oklahoma panhandle, and stopped at a few homes along the way that were abandoned and looked to be straight out of the dust bowl. The land around the homes was just as intriguing. I, coming from a place surrounded by mountains and loving to spend so much time there I have never seen a place so flat. For miles and miles we drove along an ocean of crops and grass. We quickly crossed the border into Kansas, marking my 20 th state! The old homes dwindled as we rolled into our next park for a place to camp.

This park didn’t have RV hookups or plug-ins but it did have every piece of playground equipment that has ever been deemed too dangerous for most playgrounds throughout the US. I would be lying if I said we didn’t play on teeter-totters, merry-go-rounds and other sorts of fun playground toys from when I was a kid. As the light fell over the horizon all around the park Christmas lights were lit and different Christmas scenes lit up to create a whole Christmas show. As we ate dinner cars drove
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through the loop slowly to enjoy the lights, as did Joe and I.

Another cold night and waking up to 20 degrees this morning has really secured the likely-hood of no more climbing, but as our trip takes a bit of a turn to more sightseeing than climbing it’s not necessarily a bad way to finally start making our way east. Staying off interstates and out of big cities were enjoying the museums and other quirky things along the way!

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