New Mexico and Arizona

2nd - 7th March 2011

The clocks moving forward did wonders for our touring schedule.    Not only had we taken a four mile hike down a canyon in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas before breakfast time, we were over the state line into New Mexico and deep down in Carlsbad Caverns before lunch.     

Before our visit we had no concept of the size of the caverns.   Sure, we'd visited caverns and even a "Mammoth Cave" in the past.    This visit, however, required a two mile hike down into the bowels of the earth.    The epic scale of the various "rooms" in the caverns was hard to comprehend.   After two hours of hiking (all downhill, luckily, after all we'd already done four miles before breakfast) we'd seen more stunning rock formations than we could count.   In fact two hours in, we were beginning to feel the onset of "rock fatigue", it was time to find the elevator and surface for some lunch.    In one respect, it was lucky that we'd picked the early spring for our visit, the caves were very peaceful and there were no long queues to ascend to the surface in the elevator.     We did pass three young, brave souls who were doing the caverns in reverse, elevator down and hike back up to the surface.    Our only disappointment was that the timing of our visit was too early for the return of the cavern's resident bat community from their winter migration to Mexico.

Phil heads down into the mouth of Carlsbad Caverns

Weird rock formations, resembling and named after a Baleen Whale's mouth

After visiting Carlsbad, we took a turn northwards.   This was a deviation from our west bound route across the States but Phil was "bored of desert" and secretly hoping for fishing opportunities further north.   Christine wanted to head to Roswell to check out the aliens, so everybody was happy.   We headed a couple of hundred miles north, spending the night in one of New Mexico's very reasonable and good state parks.    

The "Bottomless Lakes" State Park, close to Roswell was not our first choice.    We'd stopped at another park, about 50 miles further south at Brantley Lake but decided to push on further north when we found that the Lake was unpromising for fishing.    Around twenty five miles into our onward journey, having passed twenty five miles of absolutely nothing on back roads, we began to wonder if we'd made the right decision.    The area seemed deserted.    It was easy to imagine that aliens could land here and nobody would ever notice!  It turned out that we'd taken the back route into the park and after passing nobody at all for a very long time, were delighted to find the campsite did actually inhabited.

Early next morning we were off to Roswell to check out the "International UFO Museum and Research Center".   The town's fame was rooted in an alleged alien crash landing in July 1947.    After our visit we were really none the wiser whether the alien landing had occurred or not, whether there was a government cover-up or not, but it was fascinating nonetheless.   Between its opening in 1992 and 2001 the museum had welcomed a million visitors, so there was obviously still plenty of interest in the alien intrigue!

Friendly Alien on Display

Hope we don't meet a weather balloon on a dark night!

From Roswell we continued north for another 32 empty miles along route 285, before making a turn for another 46 deserted miles on route 20 to Fort Sumner.    In these parts we really had to be careful about the level of fuel in our tank.  During our journey we both sat anxiously, hoping that Harvey wouldn't pick this isolated spot to break down or have a puncture!    Around mile 38 there was excitement in the cab, we passed a tree!    The landscape was really that bleak!     After passing through the small town of Fort Sumner, we headed out another 10 deserted miles to the Sumner Lake State Park and were eagerly greeted by the park's welcoming Ranger.    Our friendly Campground Hosts stopped by now and again for a chat too.   It seemed that company was prized in these parts.    

We spent a couple of days at the park, which was truly peaceful until the wind started to howl.    Fortunately after a noisy night in a windy canyon, we'd learned to point Harvey nose to the wind, just as Anju also likes.    This way we didn't have to enjoy the sound of the hatch cowls filling with wind and lifting, flexing Harvey-the-RV's's aluminium roof all night.     Harvey was so small compared to the size of our beautiful campsite that we were able to turn him into the wind, no matter what its direction!   We pitied our neighbours, a family spending a noisy and wet night in tents.

On a less breezy afternoon we decided to take a bike ride around the nearby "village" of holiday homes and to check out the lake's dam.    As we rode along the quiet roads, we were harassed by loose dogs from local properties and, too late, remembered the advice of our New Hampshire cyclist friends' Pan and Lowri, to carry pepper spray on the bikes for just such occasions.    

After cycling down to the base of the dam and nearly killing our unfit selves on the steep return trip, we were ready to head for home but still had to negotiate our way past the crazy dogs.    We tried in vain to find an alternative route, pushing our bikes on dead-end gravel trails through the park, startling the resident deer in the process.    Finally armed with a handful of small rocks each, we decided to run the canine gauntlet.    

By now the wind was howling again, slowing our progress to a crawl and we were mightily relieved to find the dogs locked in!


Scaring the Deer at Sumner Lake

After so much deserted wilderness it was time for a spot of city life.    We headed north from Lake Sumner to join east-west interstate 40 and made a stop in Albuquerque.    On our way we were somewhat alarmed to see cold white stuff lining the sides of the road, it looked scarily like snow.    We checked into the lovely and very economical High Desert RV Park on the outskirts of the city.     

New Mexico was famed as being the nuclear test ground of America and we felt we couldn't pass through without finding out more at the city's impressive National Museum of Nuclear Science and History.   We learned about the Manhattan Project, to create the world's first atomic bomb, which was tested at the nearby Trinity site in 1945.   

"Fat Man" and "Little Boy" Atomic Bombs dropped in Japan in WWII.

Effect of atomic bomb testing at Trinity Site - Desert Sand converted in the blast to solid green rock called trinitite.

The museum wasn't all doom and gloom and we also learned about the uses of radioactivity in medicine and power generation! 

After our northerly diversion, it was time to head west again and we pressed on along I-40 into Arizona until we reached Flagstaff.    We had planned to spend the night there but changed our minds on seeing the mounds of snow still piled by the side of the road.    With another storm system forecast, we didn't want to risk being snowbound, particularly as the over-priced campsite in the town did not provide bathrooms in the winter, or anything else much really.    

Despite having covered three hundred miles already, we continued.   Now we were headed due south and finally landed in a small town called Camp Verde for the night.   As this town was the location of the Montezuma Castle Cave Dwelling National Historic Landmark, we decided we'd better check it out.

Montezuma's Castle

Don't like the look of that white stuff - let's head back to the desert!

Built by Sinagua farmers early in the 1100s, this impressive five storey, 20 room cliff dwelling had stood the test of time and weather remarkably well.    The neighbouring 45 room dwelling had not fared nearly as well and was barely visible.    

Next we approached Phoenix, described in our guidebook as "The Blob which is taking over Arizona".    Here we managed a little retail therapy, kitting Phil out for future hiking expeditions.     As we drove around the new ring road, Phoenix seemed remarkably un-blob-like but certainly the urban sprawl spread for tens of miles.     

One more night in Arizona was spent in yet another windy spot in Tonopah, where we were handily located to press on westwards into California the next day....

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