Posts Tagged With: NM

Dark and Stormy Night

Oh My! It was the kind of storm that Jackie said “runs cars off the road in flash floods … like us.” Pitch black until the lightning hits all around you in multiple flashes, rain blasting in sheets on the windshield, with wipers on high and no effect. Gusts of wind rocking the car back and forth. And then we didn’t recognize the road we were on. How did this happen you ask? Let me back up a bit first.

Pop Quiz: Where is this place?

Pop Quiz: Where is this place?  Answer at the bottom of page.

We left Albuquerque in the rain on Wednesday and climbed the mountains and down the eastern plains headed toward Roswell. Finally out ran the rain, but as we were just north of Roswell we saw white stuff in the shoulders and median. Snow?? Yep, you guessed it. The temperature was around 42, but there had been snow before we got there and good traces of it lined the road. Doo, doo, doo, doo (Twilight Zone music). Something is weird in Roswell – well we already knew that. Green aliens adorn everything in town. We drove right through, hoping to see a cool spot to eat, like the Alien Café or something, but it looked pretty much like any small town.

Outside the cave, ready for bat flight.

Outside the cave, ready for bat flight.

Onward to Carlsbad and we spotted a small herd of Pronghorn near the road. Finally, some wildlife.

We are staying at a very nice KOA north of Carlsbad about 15 miles. Seriously nice, clean, level, wide spots – perfect for campers like ours. So we set up camp and were told that the bat flight was at 5:45. Hmm… can we make it down to Carlsbad in time to see it? Sure, no problem. Feed the pets, walk the dog, grab some gear and head to the park. Let’s see, that is 15 miles to Carlsbad, a long slow drive through town, and 28 miles (yes, 28) to the park. Ok, and here we are at the entrance. Driving in along a beautiful winding road a few and then a sign “No Passing Next 5 Miles.” What? How far IS it?

Carlsbad (40)
Park the car, walk to the amphitheater of stone seats surrounding the cave entrance and we wait, while watching a wonderful display of cave swallows circling and swooping down into the cave for the night. Rumbling to the south, but hey, we are miles away from that. As the ranger finishes up his cautions about no photography, the bats start to swell out of the cave in a circling tornado that grows ever larger. Out they come and off they go. The trail off over the hillside looks like a swarm of insects that just keeps coming out of the cave. We are told that it can sometimes last up to 3 hours. Rumble, rumble again. Hmm, maybe after 30 minutes we should consider heading back to the car. We do and start to make our way back to camp. Flash, flash. We ARE in a desert, right?

That takes us to the start of this story. About the time we reach Carlsbad it is getting dark. Mind you, there is basically one long straight road from camp down to and through Carlsbad, so this should not be a problem. But as we are just about to leave town, the storm hits and I veer right instead of left. Dark, rainy, windy, lightning … where the heck are we? Jackie pulls out her phone, uses Google maps and guides me back onto the main road, but it is a storm like no other. She counted down the miles (12 more to camp) while gripping the phone and seat very tightly and we finally pulled in. Cat and dog were safe, but rattled nonetheless. Rained all night. The leak over the dash will have to be fixed sometime soon.

Natural Entrance to Cavern

Natural Entrance to Cavern

Natural Entrance, looking back out.

Natural Entrance, looking back out.

Morning is beautiful, sunny, blue skies. Back to Carlsbad we go and on to the National Park. Jackie spotted some Bighorn Sheep on the way in, so we got some good pictures on the hillside. Time to go underground now. If you have ever been to Carlsbad, you know what we were going to see. If not, you need to visit sometime, as this is a cave like no other. We walked in through the natural entrance, which started where we watched the bats make their exit. Cool descent past the bat cave and down to the interior. We thought the formations and passages were amazing, but it wasn’t until we hit the Big Room that it became spectacular. Up the elevator (75 floors) for lunch in the gift shop, then back down for a ranger tour of the King’s Palace.

Carlsbad B (18)

Carlsbad B (16)

Carlsbad B (7)

Carlsbad B (4)

Carlsbad (36)

Carlsbad (27)

Carlsbad B (5)

Carlsbad B (25)
What an amazing sight. The formations in the rooms of that tour were wild – and the rooms were filled with them. Stalactites and curtains hung from the ceiling too numerous to count, the stalagmites and popcorn formations on the floors just incredible. Well worth the small cost to take the tour.

As we were halfway around our self-guided tour of the Big Room (and it is huge, plus over a mile of walkways) we could hear the noise of children’s voices coming our way… and yes, a class trip of 7th graders caught up and passed us. Ahh, the reminders of what we left behind (the boys were smacking each other’s miner’s helmets and “hey guys, wait up” sort of stuff). We thoroughly enjoyed the caves.

On the way out of the park we saw another herd of Bighorn Sheep. Nice. And the ride back to camp was blue skies and sunny. We actually got to see the landscape this time.

Bighorn Ram

Bighorn Ram

ANSWER to pop quiz.  No, it isn’t the hills of Austria from “Sound of Music” … it is the rounded limestone hills of Carlsbad Caverns National Park.  Didn’t look like the desert Southwest to me.

Ok, onward to San Antonio. From this point on we don’t have reservations, just a vague plan of how far we can go in a day. Let you know where we end up.
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Painted and Petrified

Painted Desert

Painted Desert

We said goodbye to the Grand Canyon and set off out of the park to get as close to the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert as we could. A KOA at Holbrook, AZ seemed to be the spot. We got there about 1:00 and were setting up in our pull-through spot when another, much larger motorhome pulls up to the spot at our front door. Now in KOAs you kind of expect less room around you, but this campground was maybe a quarter filled and we get a neighbor right in front of us?  Well, whadda ya gonna do?

We finished hooking up water and electric, leveling the RV and rolling the car off the tow dolly and Jackie pulled the car up close to park it. As we walked around the picnic table, out came the neighbors living room slide… getting closer, and closer and stopped. Honestly, if we had cranked out our awning, it probably would have hit their motorhome. Not that we planned to spend much time lounging outside our camper, but it just seemed a little “in your face, Winnebago.” So we left the porch light on all night.  Back at ya!

Painted Desert

Painted Desert

Painted Desert

Painted Desert

Back to the sightseeing. Since we were only in Holbrook overnight, we hopped in the car and headed for the Petrified Forest National Park. This was about 2pm. The park is a combination of Painted Desert at the north and Petrified Forest at the south. You exit I-40 and make one big drive through the park – 28 miles. Now the park was already about 21 miles from camp, so this was going to be a quick one if we were going to make it all the way through, north to south, and back another 20 miles to camp. Here is how to do the Petrified Forest on a time crunch: Jump out at the first overlook, “ooh, aah” snap the shot of the painted desert, jump back into car and drive to the next. For some overlooks the car stayed running… but we got the shot.

Tumble of logs in Crystal Forest

Tumble of logs in Crystal Forest

The best spot was the Crystal Forest, an easy mile hike around through lots of logs. These were really quite something. When you glanced at them, you saw bark, maybe what looked like scorch marks, sap and growth rings. Looking closer and touching them of course you find out they are rock – fairly smooth, polished and shiny rock. But all the characteristics of wood are there. Crazy cool. Have a look at some of these and tell me they don’t look like real wood.

Seriously, this is rock.

Seriously, this is rock.

Bark and rings of stone.

Bark and rings of stone.

Petrified Forest 6

Amazing colors of the minerals

Petrified Forest 5

Petrified Forest 4

Petrified Forest 3

In addition to the wild wood, the sandstone formations had a different tint than we have been seeing. White, gray and bluish tints that were nicely striped. Again, something that looks like it belongs on another planet.

Petrified Forest 2

Petrified Forest 1

Petrified Forest

The Tepees

Ok, get back in the car, drive to the next, snap the shot, move on. We got back to camp by 6 and crashed. Overnight we had a little rain, but we got up and outta there early, since Albuquerque was a long drive and our next stop. The drive wasn’t too bad, although I-40 in Arizona is pretty beat, frankly. Lots of rattling and thumping over uneven pavement. You pass through more of the Navajo Nation and a few other native lands, each with casinos and some bypassed trading posts (mostly tacky). Historic Route 66 was in the same corridor as current I-40, so it mostly isn’t there. But there were signs for some bridges, motels and such that were along this storied roadway.

A glance in the mirror showed really dark clouds behind us and we pretty much outran a series of storms until we got to Albuquerque. We had time enough to set up camp before the rain hit, but it rained all night. The mobile home and RV park was pretty much in the heart of town, just a block from the Balloon Festival Park, where they had their big event a week or so earlier. But this was mostly a mobile home park with a few spots for RV’s. We had a nice level pull-through spot, so I can’t complain, but there were waaaay too many speed bumps in and out (oh my, did the camper rock about from those).

Storms approaching!

Storms approaching!

Jackie did laundry just before the storms hit, but ran out of quarters for the dryer, so we had wet laundry hanging everywhere in the camper. Not our best day. We got local news and learned that hail had hit the areas we just left and parts of Albuquerque, but we didn’t get any, thank goodness. Small leak over the windshield, tho, and we have to keep an eye on the drips on the dash.

There were about 6 or 8 microbreweries listed within blocks of our spot, but we really didn’t want to unhook the car to check them out, so we can’t really report on the brewpub scene in Albuquerque (darn). Hey, this unhooking and re-hooking of the car on the tow dolly is getting old, tho.

In the morning we pull out and head to Carlsbad.

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