Our next leg of this trip is centred around New Mexico. The highlights were White Sands, Carlsbad Caverns Roswell and up to Colorado to visit Manitou Springs.
After spending the night in La Cruces New Mexico we headed to White Sands National Park. On the way we stopped off at Dripping Springs Natural Area. there is a small visitors centre where the many walks are shown on detailed maps. We were limited in time so did the smallest and closest walk. We visited a cave occupied in the 1800s by a priest with healing powers known as The Hermit. An interesting story in the plagues below.
Continuing onto White Sands National Park, a natural landscape of brilliant tiny particles that reflect the sun, making the crystals shine “white” to the human eye. It covers an area of 275 sq miles (590 km) and is situated in the southeastern part of the state. The wave-like mounds are made predominantly of gypsum crystals, making this the world’s largest gypsum dune field. There is an easy drive about 15 km into the centre of the area. There are some parts of the drive where you feel like you are in another world. Surrounded only by white with the occasional drop of colour spotted on humans experimenting with the landscape. Other areas present more texture and colour with small shrubs and plants protruding. You can walk up and over the dunes or ride a sled down the embankments. We ventured onto the Interdune Boardwalk which is approx 600 metres of easy walking. We were lucky enough to see a couple of lizards along the way and I have to say with no overhead coverage the walk was quite hot. As you can imagine August, even though near the end of summer in the US it is still very hot in this type of environment. In slightly cooler weather you could spend more time simply wandering around, gazing at this natural wonder.
Time for some astronomy of course. It would not be a Wallace trip without visits to the local observatories. Located within the Lincoln National Forest, south of Cloudcroft, is Sunspot. Here you will find the National Solar Observatory on Sacramento Peak. It is at an elevation of 9200 feet (2800 m). I have included a link here to explain its purpose https://sunspot.solar/about I think this will give you more insight than I could give. Unfortunately, we are unable to enter the actual observatories but there were viewing windows showing you the very interesting inner workings of the site. At least the surrounding grounds were quite pleasant to wander through and presented some stunning views of the countryside.
We move on now to Whites City where we stayed for a couple of days to visit Carlsbad Caverns. There are two ways of entering the monstrous limestone mountain. One was the traditional way which is to walk the natural entrance trail down into the massive main cavern. The second was to ride via a lift down 750 feet to reach the underground gift centre and then explore from there. Certainly not the same as the many stairs on offer in the Jenolan Caves system here in NSW Australia. On the first day we chose the lift as it was different. It is quite surprising alighting from the steel interior of the lift, expecting to see a dark and damp space, you are confronted with a huge open cavern with a large brightly lit gift shop with refreshments. It is just not what you expect at all. From here you can do either a quided tour or a self quided tour. As we have been in quite a few caving systems in our time we chose the self-quided. What I remember most was the size of the vast caverns and the ease to access them. The lighting was superb and walkways wound in and out showing all aspects of the limestone. Hopefully this sprinkling of photo’s will give you an idea of the size and beauty. The second day Ken decided to do the walk into the cave. Having scaled many a cave wall in Australian caves over the years this was more natural to him. A very tired but happy person returned relating the experience as being spectacular with another ridiculous amount of photo’s added to the camera.
The next town we visited is one which had come up in conversations many times. Being involved in Astronomy the subject of UFO’s is often broached. Roswell was a town well known for a supposed flying saucer crash in 1947 (it was actually a US Army Air Force balloon). We had to stop out of sheer curiosity. The entire town is decked out in a UFO theme. Everything is greatly embellished, sometimes to the point of ugly. The museum exists of models of aliens, flying saucers, a multitude of newspaper articles and other various things relating to the “visit”. Even the street lights are of an alien nature. I am not sure what we expected but this town is certainly worth a look.
We move a little north now to Santa Fe, still in New Mexico. This town was founded as a Spanish colony in 1610. It is known for its Pueblo style architecture. The town has a main plaza dotted with many grand buildings and churches. The buildings are predominantly made from adobe (sun dried mud) with massive heavy timber doors and dark ceiling beams. There are many churches dotting the horizon in Santa Fe. I believe the main church in the plaza is the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi more commonly known as St Frances Cathedral. Another very interesting piece of architecture is The Loretto Chapel, where the Miraculous Spiral Staircase can be found. The history of its origins can easily be researched on the internet along with much advertising for weddings etc. The surrounding narrow streets with all the nooks and crannies, markets, galleries and eating places are quite a treat to wander through. I found this town to be one of the prettier in New Mexico that we experienced. Not far out of Santa Fe we stopped at the Rio Grande Gorge bridge, locally known as the “High Bridge”, being a steel deck arch bridge across the Rio Grande Gorge 10 miles (16 km) northwest of Taos, New Mexico, US. The gorge depth is 800 feet (240 m) over the Rio Grande river. More importantly this is the bridge featured in the movie “Natural Born Killers” where Mickey and Mallory Knox marry. We then moved onto Taos Pueblo, a Unesco World Heritage Site. It is a living village and considered a sacred place where life continues from the earliest of human existence. There are approx. 150 people living within the Taos village. You can wander around the grounds and into the buildings. We noticed people living and working around their homes, of which many were artists selling handmade goods. We found them forthcoming with conversation and interesting people.
We take off early passing via the palisades sill marker. Spectacular cliffs and palisades (fine-grained porphyritic dacite sill) in the Cimarron River canyon in Northern New Mexico. It is a beautiful drive on our way to the Capulin Volcano. The volcano is a cinder cone Volcano and this one is considered a perfect example of the larger ones in USA. From the top of the volcano, four different states can be viewed. The drive up is pleasant and takes only 10-15 minutes to reach the car park. We then took one of the trails to explore more closely. The Crater Rim Trail is a steep paved one mile loop around the rim with fantastic views. The thing I remember most was the lady bugs. Thousands of bright orange and black ladybugs hugging the tree trunks and rocks as you reach higher on the volcano. To see so many in one place is quite spectacular. I believe the bugs feed all summer and then hibernate throughout the winter so we were lucky to be there just at the right time. I had no expectations about this visit and ended up enjoying my time there immensely.
We are finally close to Manitou Springs in Colorado. The part of the trip which I have been looking forward to. The countryside is beautiful everywhere you look. The town is a picturesque tourist town with a variety of old and new shops, eating houses, parks, river walks. We are staying at a motel in the middle of town for a couple of days. The first place on our agenda was Pikes Peak. Part of the Rocky Mountain Range, Pikes Peak stands 14,115 ft above sea level. The road continuously winds through stunning tall pine trees, rocky outcrops with snowy edges and wide open mountainous hills. The road is 19 miles long, has 156 turns and climbs 6,715 ft from the entrance of the highway. Driving is a little scary with steep climbs, sharp turns and death drops on both sides. Very few guard rails and quite a bit of fast moving traffic. It is a long breath holding hour up the mountainside, but once the top is reached the fear is quickly replaced with awe. The air is clean and thin but very chilly and you need a minute or two to adjust for the altitude. Everything is picturesque. For me personally it was overwhelming, I found myself mesmerised by its beauty with a few tears wetting my cheeks. I have seen many beautiful views from very high mountains previously but the contrasting colours of the green trees, the bright blue lakes, the white snow, red rocks and blue and white skies was breathtaking. Maybe it was the combination of the scary drive and the sharp air filling my lungs I really cannot say but it is not a view I will forget easily. We spent some time walking the summit with Ken photographing from every angle. For the feint hearted or time poor there is a cog railway train that will take you to the peak. It does not stop for long but enough to take in the view and of course visit the gift shop. It happened to arrive while we were there so we were able to get a few photo’s and watch it take off on the return trip. We spent some time in the gift shop and cafe before departing for the return trip. What we found interesting just over half way down the mountain there is a compulsory pit stop where every car has to have their brakes checked for overheating. If the brakes were hot you were made to pull over and wait in the car park until they return to normal before continuing the journey. My husband expressed concern quite a few times at other drivers excessive use of their brakes on the way down so it was a very necessary safety stop and there were many cars patiently waiting.
The Manitou cliff dwelling museum was our next stop. I know we have seen quite a few dwellings up till now and the thought of another was not exciting us a lot. These dwellings were original near Mesa Verde but were moved to Manitou in 1907 with the purpose of saving the 40 room structure from vandalism. They were reconstructed with concrete mortar as opposed to the original mud clay to allow human traffic to explore the ruins for many years to come. They have constructed a huge 3 level museum of interesting facts, many stories and some exquisite pieces of art along with the normal touristy gift ideas and restaurant.
The last stop for this leg of the trip is Garden of the Gods. This was unplanned for in our itinerary. We arrived here mid to late afternoon driving through and marvelling at our surrounds. You are able to park in varying places and wander off on side trails stopping for views or to climb some rocks, We were so surprised at the ease of the walking trails and the beauty surrounding us. The park can be navigated in many ways, eg; by car, foot, segway, jeep or even horseback. Most of the pathways are paved and easy walking. There is a trading post with maps, gifts, coffee and snacks. Garden of the Gods is an area gifted to Colorado Springs by Charles Elliott Perkins and his family on the condition that the whole area be free to all visitors forever after his death. He absolutely cherished the place and his legacy was for as many people as possible to see and enjoy what he loved and treasured. Once you have seen it you will agree with his sentiments. We decided to come back the following morning to see the sun shine and highlight the true nature of the many large rock formations. Both red and white boulders jut out from the ground commanding attention. We also walked a lot further this time and Ken climbed one of the taller rock formations. What a peaceful and tranquil way to finish our stay in Colorado.
Hopefully I have not bored anyone too much as I know holidays are really only special to those who are experiencing them. I have to say here, by doing this blog I am certainly reliving our adventure and highly recommend the process. We are not yet finished as we head to The Rocky Mountains National Park, Crazy Horse Memorial, Mt Rushmore and The Badlands in South Dakota. I invite you to like and follow my blog. Bye for now.