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Entries about new mexico

Seven hundred to OVER NINE THOUSAND

Carlsbad caverns and the Coronado Trail

sunny 80 °F
View Roadtrop on mormolyke's travel map.

Friday was a fairly light day for us, with only one major stop: the Carlsbad Caverns. Good god, am I glad it was our only stop.

For as long as I can remember, I have been susceptible to a mild variety of Stendahl syndrome that manifests usually when I visit art museums and try to see too much of them in a single visit. I can go about three hours before I space out, and if I try for much longer than four hours, I start to freak out. The worst case I can remember was the time we tried to do NYC's MoMA in one day. About 3PM, I could feel a kind of hysteria, as though I were about to throw up or have some kind of panic attack. "NOW. WE HAVE TO LEAVE NOW. EXIT. NOW." I had a splitting headache and couldn't think for the rest of the afternoon/evening.

You can probably guess where this is going. The Carlsbad Caverns are like visiting an immense underground art gallery, with the added complications that you are 700 feet below the surface, so there's no easy exit, and it's about 13 degrees Celsius. (Aside: weird thing, I still think in Celsius below 20 degrees. Above that, I now think in Fahrenheit.)

The 9AM ranger-guided tour was full, so we opted to hike all the way into the caverns (a couple of miles) via the Natural Entrance. Approaching the entrance itself, it's very easy to understand how one might believe in concepts of mthological giants and their modern-day fantasy descendants, such as Balrogs. The earth opens into an enormous gaping mouth like a grouper fish, and cave swallows (seriously, cave swallows) dart in and out from their mud nests on the cave wall. Actually, they do more than dart; they dive and defecate. Matt has the white streak on his had to prove it.

The National Park Service has installed an extensive system of trails inside the caves, all nicely paved and provided with hand rails, and they've taken the trouble to artfully light all the interesting cave features. It's easy to forget that without the lights, the cave would be utterly dark. Matt and I were amazed by how silent the cave trail could become, despite the nearby presence of far too many indifferent and loudly chattering schoolchildren, just by rounding a few corners in the limestone passageways.

I think the pictures speak louder than anything I could possibly say to describe the caves, and they don't even do the caves justice. After a couple of hours of gazing with my mouth looking like the cave entrance, I was completely wiped out and unable to process anything I was seeing, but I still took photos. My left hand was bundled into my hoodie pouch, but I remember my camera hand being painfully cold.

FLICKR SET: Roadtrop: Carlsbad Caverns

Two days later ... uh, that's yesterday ... we were up in the mountains at the highest altitude either of us have ever driven. We drove from City of Rocks State Park up through Arizona via Route 191, formerly Route 666 (truth), aka the Coronado Trail, aka the Devil's Highway. OK, when I say "we," I mean Matt did the driving, because I come from a very flat country where I grew up driving in the city, and just looking at mountains scares me, never mind driving on them. The first accident I ever had was on a winding country road.

Good news: Holy crap, views. We went from dry desert to a fascinating yet disturbing vast copper and gold strip mine to the fire-ravaged Apache National Forest, with mountain vistas all around. Also, we survived hundreds of hair-raising white-knuckle switchbacks with no guardrails. My kingdom for a guardrail. Bad news: the GoPro gremlins didn't want to cooperate with us, so we won't have a time lapse of our Coronado Trail drive, which really sucks. But we do have pictures we took with our regular cameras along the way:

FLICKR SET: Roadtrop: Coronado Trail

N.B. More photos to come! Tough time finding good internet around here ...

I think we topped out at around 9200 feet elevation, but I snapped a picture at OVER NINE THOUSAND, because internet:


Posted by mormolyke 08:36 Archived in USA Tagged arizona caves new_mexico carlsbad carlsbad_caverns coronado_trail route_191 Comments (1)

New Mexico: City of Rocks State Park and White Sands

sunny 85 °F
View Roadtrop on mormolyke's travel map.

It is so horrifically easy to not-blog while on the road, especially when every day is as packed with mind-boggling sights as the last couple have been. Let me attempt to recap some of it in reverse chronological order.

Right now, I am sitting in the back of the Magnum in the configuration I call "the couch": hatch fully open so I can sit at the foot of the bed facing out. We're parked in campsite 29, named "Aries" (which happens to be my star sign), of City of Rocks State Park in Faywood, NM. Before I go any further, I have to give a public service announcement: If you live anywhere within driving distance of this park, or if you ever find yourself thus situated, GO. GO TO THIS PARK. It is quite possibly my favorite surprise slice of awesome so far, and I only wish we could stay here longer than a single night. As it is, I am thanking my lucky stars White Sands National Monument was making me feel hot and half-blind, so that we decided to make our way to this park a little earlier than originally planned.

I might be spoiling the surprise somewhat here, since part of the thrill was arriving without really knowing what to expect. Faywood is in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by desert plains and ringed by craggy looking dark brown mountains. I initially only put City of Rocks down as a stop because it was conveniently located, but rounding the corner of a completely deserted road flanked by yucca soaptrees and seeing the park for the first time was a "Oh my holy crap" experience. It really is a City of Rocks. There is no better description. A collection of fascinatingly weathered massive vertical rocks that look as though they were stacked side-by-side by the same ancient aliens that no doubt threw together Stone Henge, Macchu Picchu, and the statues of Easter Island. And it comes out of nowhere. There is nothing else like it in the vicinity, at least not that we passed as we drove through west Texas and east New Mexico.

FLICKR SET: Roadtrop: City of Rocks State Park, NM

So freaking cool. The rock formations remind me very much of odd Australian geological features like the Olgas, and the view out from the rocks, cliched as it may be to say it, is breathtaking. Miles of plains and mountains give way to blue skies, vivid Southwestern sunsets and the kind of bejewelled night skies you would expect to see in a desert park in the middle of nowhere. Better still, the facilities are perfect for us, with primitive but developed campsites (running water and bathrooms close by, a grill and picnic table at each site, and room for parking) available for only $10. Ten dollars! This is what camping is supposed to be like. There are also hookups for RV's; I think those sites are a whopping $14.

The campsites are actually integrated into the rock formations; if we wanted to brave the 52 degree fahrenheit low temp, we could sleep nestled in between the rocks themselves. There are plenty of hollows that look perfect for a sleeping bag or small tent, though we'll probably stick to the car. We cooked noodles for dinner, with French bread dipped in Colavita olive oil for starters and chai tea for dessert.

OK, so working backwards: this morning, we were at White Sands National Monument, after dropping in briefly on the White Sands Missile Range where a humorless soldier at the gate informed us that the museum was not open (it was 7:30AM) but we could look at the "Missile Park," although photography outside of the park was strictly prohibited. Somehow he made it sound like looking at the Missile Park wasn't a request, so we dutifully parked our car and walked between outdoor exhibits of a couple dozen rockets, missiles, launchers, and aircraft. Most chilling to me was the Fat Man bomb casing:

FLICKR SET: Roadtrop: White Sands

The National Monument itself was just as beautiful as I had been led to believe, though as I said, it was a touch hot. Although the air temperature was only 80 degrees or so, anything left in the sun was soon fried, such as my brain. The light reflecting off the sands was so bright that I was squinting even while wearing my darkest sunglasses. Still, I tried really hard, because it's a gorgeous place. Funny, if you put White Sands and the City of Rocks together, the result would remind me of the White Desert in Egypt that we visited a few years ago. Bah, my internet is crawling so slowly at the moment, I can't even search my Flickr for the photos, but you could if you were interested. The White Desert remains probably the most beautiful place I've visited on the entire planet.

Most surreal experiences of the day: being pulled off the highway twice for mandatory inspections by Border Patrol. Here is the script for this security theater farce:

[Melissa and Matt exit the highway as directed and pull their car into a large open checkpoint structure, rolling down their window to talk to a border patrol officer.]
Border Patrol Officer: Hello, how are you today?
Matt: Fine, how are you?
Border Patrol Officer: Good. Are you a US citizen?
Matt: Yes.
Border Patrol Officer: [To Melissa] US citizen?
Melissa: Yes.
Border Patrol Officer: OK, have a nice day now.
[He waves the car on. Melissa and Matt pull back onto the highway while Melissa laughs raucously in incredulity and despair.]


Afterward, we discussed hilarious alternative responses to the question "Are you a US citizen?" such as "Si, senor! I mean, yes! Yes, sir!" or "A citizen? I am now!"

Yesterday the main order of the day was the Carlsbad Caverns. I don't think I can do justice to them at all without pictures, and besides, the sun is completely gone now and the telescope is beckoning, so I'll post this and hopefully find some moments tomorrow to retrace Wednesday through Friday.

Posted by mormolyke 21:28 Archived in USA Tagged new_mexico white_sands city_of_rocks border_patrol faywood Comments (0)

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