Sunday, March 3, 2013

Southern New Mexico Tour

"Oh, I mean, I can read, of course. And I'm not suggesting you can't read out of doors." "I wish I read more, but there seems to be so many other things to do."

One of my most favorite lines from one of my most favorite books, Pride and Prejudice. Jane is all temperament and tact - two things I lack exceptionally.

However, New Mexico does not want for exceptionality. In fact it's quite the opposite and every trek I make reminds of it.

During a recent 3-day weekend I made it a point to visit White Sands National Monument in the southern part of the state. I'd never been this direction for leisure before so I was quite excited. There are two routes from Albuquerque to White Sands, each with enough side trips and roadside wonders to tempt anyone. I opted for the back roads and avoiding the Interstate on the outbound trip with an open plan for the return. Along the way we stopped as often as we could while still maintaining enough daylight to spend at White Sands. Sure, we had three days, but "there seems to be so many other things to do."

Our first stop was Three Rivers Petrogylph Park, hidden along NM Highway 54. There are adequate signs to point you in the correct direction but when I say hidden I mean that not many people visit the site. Visitors can see thousands of authentic petroglyphs all along a passable trail that winds gradually up a ridge. The trail is a little rough, but easy for even the most novice hiker. 

One of the best aspects of the park is the fact that you're ENCOURAGED to go off the trail, carefully, to see even more petroglyphs. This is amazing and unlike the more popular petrogylph parks in the area. This makes for a trip that feels more like discovery than a tour.
Petrogylph and Sierra Blanca Mountains

Sunshade at the end of the petroglyph trail.
However, the BEST part of Three Rivers is the short trail at the other end of the parking lot. There is a pueblo ruin on the other side of the road. Some of it is excavated but most is not. You can see some ruins enough to whet your fancy for this sort of thing.
But you don't go here to see the ruins exactly. Instead you go this route so you can see examples of Jornada Mogollon pueblo pottery. There is TONS of pottery strewn about.
But you certainly can look at it all and be amazed at how much there still is. You can almost feel the way people lived back then. Walking this trail feels like being an archaeologist for a day.
It's certainly worth the $5 entrance fee.
Plus, you can sit in the middle of the road like a rebel!

Me - being a rebel!

Our next stop was White Sands.
But it wasn't to be born... at least not without a few stops in between. First there was THE WORLD'S LARGEST PISTACHIO in Alamorosa (as everyone should know, I'm a sucker for "The World's Largest" roadside attractions).
McGinn's Pistachio Tree Ranch - WORLD'S LARGEST PISTACHIO

And then we found a frozen custard stand in Alamogordo which we had to try (it wasn't bad)! 
Caliche's - Frozen Custard

Finally, we were off to White Sands.
White Sands is a large area of sand dunes. Sounds boring? Well, it is just a bunch of sand after all - approximately 275 square miles of sand. But it's a different kind of sand, an unusual form. It's made from Gypsum. This is peculiar because gypsum is water-soluble and rain usually dissolves it and then it's carried out to the ocean. Well, guess what? This place is confined in a basin and nothing can get to the sea. If it rains in the area (it's a desert, remember), it just sits in the basin until it reenters the water cycle and the gypsum dries out to its crystalline form - selenite - which is then eroded away by wind and is then sand yet again! The wind whips up all the sand and forms dunes; dome dunes, transverse dunes, barchan dunes, and parabolic dunes. Dunes dunes dunes, everywhere you go. It looks like snow. It looks like you're on the moon. It also looks like you're about to be blown to bits by a nuclear test, which you might be as they often close the main access road due to missile tests! The very first nuclear bomb was tested at White Sands Missile Range and testing goes on at Holloman Air Force Base, both saddle the National Monument. Regardless of the past and present controversy over White Sands and its relation to military installations it is certainly a place that's out of this world.
Dune seekers

Favorite hike

Dunes and Sun


Catch the sun


Pretty impressive, don't you think?

Melanie Eclipse

We headed to Las Cruces from White Sands because we didn't see any place in Alamogordo we wanted to stay. Plus, there are some old ghost towns near Las Cruces we have been threatening to check out.
We got in late but found a good deal on a swanky hotel and got recommendations for a burger and a brew and generally had a good night. The next morning we set out on more adventures.
For longer adventures I love using because other people know really cool stuff. I found the next three stops via their mobile website. These are all in or around Las Cruces, NM.
There is an older Indian man (I should know which tribe he belongs to, but I don't - I'm sorry) who carves these amazing faces into ancient trees. Apparently he has carved a face like this in every one the United States. Wow. The detail is simply amazing. Wow.

Indian Wood Carving

 Another thing I love about roadside america is the fiberglass muffler men. I've got photos with them in at least 10 different states!
This one has lost his arms and is now a giant advertisement for Big Daddy's Flea Market. 
Muffler Man

 Finally, we found the grave of Pat Garrett. Of who?? Pat Garret - the man who killed Billy the Kid. Who knew this first stop would end up being the second in a serious, hard-core, multi-county trip of Wild West history!? (The first was in La Mesilla - an Old Town of sorts - in Las Cruces at La Posta. La Posta is now a restaurant but was once a hotel and a jail was across the street. Famous people such as Pancho Villa, Kit Carson, and Pat Garrett all stayed at the hotel. In fact, Pat Garrett had captured Billy the Kid near Las Cruces and was transporting him to Lincoln County for trial when Billy the Kid escaped).
La Posta

 Pat Garrett shot Billy the Kid in July of 1881 in nearby Lincoln County. Billy the Kid died and Garrett went on to collect the reward money placed on the Kid's head. But Garrett was a gambler and a drunk who soon lost most of his money. He bounced from New Mexico, Mexico, Texas, and back a few times all the while adding up gambling debts, taxes, and became unfavorable with the locals. There are different stories about his death, but this is the version that I like best. Garrett was riding horseback and nature called. He was near some land that he and a local had been quarreling about. He got off his horse, walked a short way to answer the call when someone shot him (presumably the land owner). No one cared to come help him. 
His burial site is in a cemetery in Las Cruces along with many of his family. 
Patrick Floyd Garrett

After seeing what Las Cruces had to offer, we headed back to Alamogordo because we had some kind of crazy notion of who knows what. Perhaps we had been bitten by Wild West fever and Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett had inspired us. 
So, off we went.

We stopped at the International Space Museum Hall of Fame which was fine for the price but we really just enjoyed the hiking trail out back and the grave of HAM - the first ever Astro-Chimp. The cool lady at the museum gave me a HUGE packet all about chimps in space. It was a bit overwhelming.
HAM - the Astrochimp

Hike behind the Space Museum + Hall of Fame

 We debated returning home a day early and decided to not be lame. We had found information about Lincoln county, a lava flow, and a real ghost town. The next day we headed through Alamogordo and towards Ruidoso, the Hondo Valley and ended up in Lincoln. Lincoln - home of "THE MOST DANGEROUS STREET IN THE UNITED STATES."

It turns out that the ENTIRE town of Lincoln is on the National Historic Register of Places and for a measly $6/person you can tour nearly every building there. Every building is either EXACTLY the same as it was in 1880 or has been restored to the same condition or left burned as reminders of what went down there.
There is an AMAZING museum with photos/drawings and complete life stories of EVERYONE involved in the events leading up to sheriffs being shot, merchants being murdered, and wives being made into widows. You also got a map with each and every building marked. With the life stories of everyone in town in 1880-1884 digesting, the 6 block walk with the accompanying map is actually thrilling and an amazing step back in time. This part really was one of my favorites of our entire weekend.
We saw the courthouse where Billy the Kid was being tried, stole some jerk's double barrel gun and shot two guards before he escaped. The courthouse is perfectly preserved, even down to the outhouses behind the building and the bullet hole in the wall. It was here that Billy the Kid killed Bob Olinger and James Bell. James Bell will make another appearance in our story.
This whole place was AWESOME.

Lincoln County Courthouse THEN and NOW - Lincoln, NM

On our way back and after our awesome stint in Lincoln we stopped at Valley of Fires. An amazing geological site.
Approximately 5,000 years ago, Little Black Peak erupted and flowed 44 miles into the Tularosa Basin, filling the basin with molten rock. The resulting lava flow is four to six miles wide, 160 feet thick and covers 125 square miles. The lava flow is considered to be one of the youngest lava flows in the continental United States. It was so cool! 
Lava flow

Then we made the 9 mile trek to White Oaks, a bona fide ghost town. There were once 2,500 homes and at least that many people. Now there are maybe 13 homes and other buildings still in use or even standing. We were running out of daylight and we had discovered that James Bell’s grave was in the VERY SAME town’s cemetery! What a way to end our Billy the Kid/Wild West auto tour!! 

James W. Bell

Cedarvale Cemetery - White Oaks, NM

Now, the only thing that's left is to drive off into the New Mexican sunset!

I can still see you in my rear view.

1 comment:

  1. Blown away by all the cool stuf! I'd love to see it all too :((((