Sorry for the delay folks… We’ve been having too much fun!
Unfortunately, we couldn’t get out of Texas quite as fast as we wanted. We ended up spending nearly two days in Alpine, Texas area trying to get our Big Bend video up. While we finished the video, we didn’t get it online until a bit later after I had a chance to talk to Larry “Coyote” Smith about using his music. After Alpine, we hit Prada Marfa, Davis Mountains State Park and Fort Davis in Texas. Nothing spectacular to report here except some decent views and interesting history, although Teresa found the restoration of adobe buildings interesting.
During our time in Texas, we spent the nights at some interesting places. Although Texas has plenty of open space, most of it is private ranch land. Thankfully, they allow overnight stays in their rest areas so free camping is still an option. The first rest area we stayed in was the Marfa Lights rest area, where people have seen “unexplained” lights; these lights have supposedly been reported in the area before electricity or cars existed. It was recently explained here, although many people still believe they are something special. We experienced nothing other than headlights on a far-away road and some intense wind. Another rest area was 10-20 miles south of Alpine, TX. About 10pm or so, a cop comes blazing into the rest area and shines his high-beam headlights on our camper. I would have felt better if he had at least said something to us, but after he saw some movement in our camper, he just returned to the highway and left. I guess he just wanted to make sure our vehicle wasn’t abandoned. Finally, we had parked at another roadside park just outside of Davis Mountains State Park. It was a pretty nice pull off, with some picnic benches wedged into some rocks, but it was totally trashed. Tons of broken glass, beer bottles, etc.. Turns out, we ended up camping at some locals’ favorite party spot. At about 10pm, three trucks pull in and apparently have a conversation across their open windows. They left blowing their horns, apparently pissed we had decided to sleep there for the night. It’s nice to now be in New Mexico and Arizona, where there is plenty of open BLM or National Forest land for free camping, or so I thought (see our Southern Arizona entry). 🙂
Finally, we meandered our way up into Carlsbad area of New Mexico and Northwest Texas which includes Guadalupe Mountains National Park and Carlsbad Caverns. The day after we arrived, we had more intense wind. The wind was so intense, we decided to go into the caverns to get out of the wind. When we got up to the top of the ridge where the Carlsbad Caverns visitor center sits we had to fight 60 mph gusts from our car to the visitors center. (Turns out that Guadalupe Mountains was reporting 80mph gusts at Guadalupe Pass, and that’s at the base of their mountains!) The wind was so strong, a piece of weather stripping blew out from under my Thule faring on my roof rack. Yikes! We had a nice walk in the cave, and I got some good photos thanks to a tripod I lugged around. (The flash will not reach most formations!)
The following days were spent doing some fun hikes in Guadalupe Mountains National Park, including a hike up to the “top of Texas”, Guadalupe Peak at 8749 ft with an elevation gain (and loss) of 3100 ft over 8.4 miles of hiking; we decimated a Chinese buffet in Carlsbad after that one! We also walked out to the Devil’s Hall, which is pretty cool box canyon with very high walls on either side of the trail. On the way to the hall, you pass by a “staircase” formation in the rock. Pretty neat stuff.
We headed a little further west and North to spend some time at Three Rivers Petroglyphs. This was another serendipitous discovery, recommended by number of folks we met on the road. While touring the southwest, you can experience a bit of overload on prehistoric dwellings and drawings, but I have to admit, this site should not be missed if you have even a passing interest in petroglyphs. The area has over 20,000 documented Jordana Mogollon petroglyphs scattered over 1-2 miles of terrain. There is still much debate on what they mean. Some theorize that they have deep spiritual meaning, while others think they are simply ancient graffiti.
Heading back south, we stopped for a very brief overnight backpack in White Sands National Monument. Basically, the monument is a huge pile of white sand. It is formed by gypsum mineral deposits that wash into the Tularosa basin, eventually evaporating and crystallizing on the shores of Lake Lucerne. Over time, the gypsum material literally blows apart (remember the aforementioned 60mph winds?), eventually forming sand and blowing into the huge sand pile now known as White Sands National Monument. It’s an incredible place for photography early in the morning or late evening when the shadows play on the dunes and the surrounding mountains. Although we had been to White Sands before on other trips, we had never spent the night among the dunes. As opposed to our Big Bend backpack, this time, we smartened up and did not carry a stove. We just ate dinner before we left and breakfast after we got back to the truck. Camping in this manner, we didn’t have to carry pots, pans, stove, or too much water (to re-hydrate meals). It was a full moon, but unfortunately, the clouds blocked our view much of the night. Still, we got some great photos in the morning at sunrise.
The next stop was Gila Cliff Dwellings and the Gila Wilderness. I have always been “enchanted” by the Gila area, and it is not because New Mexico is the “Land of Enchantment“. The Gila is one of the nation’s first Wilderness areas, created in 1924 thanks to Aldo Leopold‘s bold moves to save this area from development and nearby mining abuse. This time, we hit the area on my birthday. Teresa and I celebrated with a trip to Silver City Brewing. Surprisingly, the place had some outstanding brews! We even ordered a growler (0.5 gal jug filled with draught beer) of IPA to go, and devoured a pizza with delicious roasted green chilies (which threw Teresa’s taste buds into a 3 alarm fire). Unfortunately, we couldn’t hang out as long as we wanted because I had made a reservation at the Grey Feathers Lodge. I should have learned from my good friend Gautam… If you are going to enjoy a brewpub, best to stay within stumbling distance. Anyhow, we had to drive for an hour up a very curvy New Mexico Highway 15. But the lodge in the mountains was nice, and Teresa and I thoroughly enjoyed the hot showers and queen sized bed. After relaxing for a day camped by the Gila River, we did a quick 3 mile hike in the Gila, but left enough time for us to catch a guided tour of cliff dwellings where we could learn more about its former Mogollon inhabitants.
Teresa and I planned to explore the Gila more thoroughly by driving in between Gila and Aldo Leopold wilderness areas on FS-150 (forest service road). I built our first campfire with the plentiful downed wood in the area and we enjoyed a nice evening out in the mountains. In the morning, we woke to 20 degree temperatures and a beautiful half inch of snow on our vehicle. Unfortunately, as we started up the truck to head further up the road towards the wilderness areas, I watched in horror as my gas gauge, in as little as a minute, dropped down to below empty, and then bounced back up. With a finicky gas gauge, we decided to abort our trip and head for a Toyota dealer just to make sure everything was functioning (and it was). Unfortunately, we also decided to abort the rest of our Gila plans and head for Arizona as we are already running late on our itinerary. We definitely would like to return, perhaps next winter, and spend a week or two in Gila/Aldo Leopold, enjoying some of its hot springs and beautiful wild country. For now, we are Arizona bound, but do expect a podcast of Carlsbad and Guadalupe very soon.