Saturday, July 09, 2011

Days 21-22
7-8 July 2011
Las Cruces, New Mexico

White Sands National Monument is an out of this world experience! That's where we went on Thursday. We had an ambitious agenda for the day. We'd head over the mountains, see the White Sands Missile Range and Missile Park, run on up to White Sands National Monument, and continue on up to Alamagordo to see the town and the Space Museum.

Well, the White Sands Missile Range Museum and Missile Park turned out to be quite an interesting place. We spent much more time there than we anticipated. That's okay. It was a fun tour, quite informative, and even evoked some old memories as we saw the manuals that used to be distributed on how to make a bomb shelter for protection against atomic bomb fallout, civil defense "barrels"  of supplies that used to be placed in public bomb shelters in anticipation of "THE Day"! I also saw radio equipment reminiscent of those I used to dream about from military surplus. There was also a great deal about the history of the area that became White Sands Proving Grounds and then White Sands Missile Range. Sitting outside the museum is a missile "park" with dozens of missiles sitting there to be viewed and to get a grasp of the U.S. efforts in building guided missiles. There was an original V-2 rocket brought over from Germany after WW II (they had to keep it it in a special building to protect it from the elements since it is now old and fragile; it is still an impressive rocket). The highlight of the park is the Redstone missile that was so instrumental in the early space program, but there are lots of interesting smaller missiles. I'd show you pictures, but we were given to understand that if we did take pictures, we'd be treated as spies and taken out in the desert and summarily shot (or some other similar horror). We did get to take a few (legally) by shooting "towards the mountains" only. I'll have to get them from Mary's camera and put them up.

That's one of our divisions of labor. I write the story, she takes the pictorial documentation. Unfortunately, that also means that we don't always get the two together for publishing this blog, thus the paucity of photographic material.

After the missile stop, we drove on to the White Sands National Monument. What an amazing place! In the words of their website:

 Like No Place Else on Earth
Rising from the heart of the Tularosa Basin is one of the world's great natural wonders - the glistening white sands of New Mexico. Here, dunes have engulfed 275 square miles of desert creating the world's largest gypsum dunefield.

 White. White extending for miles. White white. On a 100 degree day in the desert. Somehow or another we escaped serious sunburn (due to serious use of sun block). We consumed LOTS of water too.

The gypsum "sand" is amazingly fine. It reflected the heat and wasn't unbearably hot even though it was a blazing hot day. We saw lizards and skinks but NO rattlesnakes (fortunately).

We stayed long enough at White Sands that we didn't get to go on to Alamogordo. That's was unfortunate, but means we still have something to see when we come back to NM.

Friday was a slower day. I took the coach in for one more warranty item. Unfortunately the part didn't get in so it came home unfixed. It's not a big deal. The co-pilot's chair swivel mechanism lock is broken but since it's in lock position it's safe. We just can't use the recliner feature until it gets fixed. While we were waiting to hear about the coach, we went to the Las Cruces Railroad Museum. Small but fun. Then we went to Dripping Springs.

Dripping Springs is a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) site. It used to be a resort and a tuberculosis sanatorium. What it was for us was a delightful hike up to the mountains. Here in this part of NM, the mountains just kind of jump up out of the desert. You drive through the desert with a gradual rise and all of a sudden the rocks just sprout from the ground, rise to the heights and then drop back down again. That means that there are some steep mountain faces. In this case, the resort and sanatorium facilities were built right up against the point where the rocks spring from the desert.

The scenery here is so different from what we are used to that it is all awe inspiring.

Today (Saturday) we'll move on to the Albuquerque area.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Days 18-20
4-6 July 2011
4 July - Brantley Lake State Park, Carlsbad, NM
5-6 July - Siesta RV, Las Cruces, NM

I've been pretty quite the past few days. Some of it was resting time. Some of it was busy doing stuff.

We spent the 4th of July not doing much at all, just resting after a busy few days. It was a good holiday. For fireworks, we drove over to the overlook at Brantley Lake State Park and watched the fireworks in two nearby towns, Carlsbad and Artesia. We'd look south and ooh and aah, then we'd look north and do the same. We were too far away to have the noise of the fireworks (although my problem ear didn't mind that at all since LOUD noises hurt) and the visuals were small but we enjoyed it.

On the 5th of July we drove from the Carlsbad area through El Paso, TX, to Las Cruces, NM. And I got my first experience of driving in the western mountains courtesy of the Guadalupe Mountains. Let me tell you, that Terra's Ford V-10 works hard when it's climbing and is LOUD. And when descending and the engine break cuts in since I'm in "Tow/haul" mode, it gets even LOUDER! It's not speed demon but it works. (I wonder how the Chevy 8.1 L Vortec in the Fiesta would have handled those grades? I know it didn't have the engine braking mode and I had to be careful to downshift early but it sure did have power!)

We are now camped at the Siesta RV Park in Las Cruces very near to the Old Mesilla area and even nearer to the Sunland RV dealership whose service department has agreed to take time to work on some of the warranty issues we have already experienced (I spared all of you my rant over the problems with Fleetwood's Quality Control in the manufacturing process but let's just say I have some issues with Fleetwood RV, Inc., BUT they are addressing them.)

Today, the 6th, we took the coach to Sunland where they did great work on many of the issues, solving several major issues, and only had to order one part. So I guess we'll be in Las Cruces through Friday at least.

While the coach was being worked on, we took the car (that's why we've towed it all this way!) and went to Old Mesilla, the site of the territorial courthouse where Billy the Kid was convicted and sentenced to death. The building still exists, but today it is a store. We walked around the old town looking at southwestern architecture and reading about local history and checking out local art galleries. Lunch was at La Posta de Mesilla, an historic restaurant with good New Mexican food. Mary had a couple of Compas (tostados) and I had rolled tacos. Both plates were good. Even better was the cold water to drink since the day is another scorcher, hitting 99 degrees (and even at 7 pm MDT it is still 95 degrees). That's why I'm glad we have two working air conditioners in the coach.

Tomorrow, we'll head over to White Sands and Alamagordo to check out that part of the area.

Speaking of the coach, let me give you some pictures (courtesy of Fleetwood) that show our new abode on wheels:

Floorplan of the Terra 34E
(By the way, we have all the options listed)

Driver's "cockpit"

Kitchen Area

Upper Woodwork and Storage in the Living Area Slide

Bedroom Closet and Storage
(we have a TV mounted in the area over the shelf)

Another View of the Drawers and Storage in the Bedroom

Queen-sized Bed and Slide Out

Dinette Area and Adjacent Couch
(note the storage drawer under the dinette/couch area on the left)

Front of Coach with Overhead Queen-size Bed Lowered

Front Area of Coach with Bed Raised and Recliner Out

Living Area

Co-Pilot's Recliner

Bathroom Shower and Vanity Area
As I said, these photographs are courtesy of Fleetwood's promotional material. Our coach looks much like this with some very minor differences: a different lamp shade and a tv in the bedroom.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Day 16-17
2-3 July 2011
Brantley Lake State Park,
near Carlsbad, NM

What an interesting and fantastic two days! The reliability of my internet connection comes and goes, so I hope I get to finish and publish this posting.

I'm using my Samsung Mesmerize cell phone as a tethered hot spot (legally too! I pay U S Cellular for the privilege of using my 5 Gb of data each month for computer connections. It often works but every once in a while (usually when I'm data roaming), it objects and will not connect to the internet even though the computer and and cell phone hot spot will connect.

Yesterday, Friday, 2 July, Mary and I went to Carlsbad Cavern National Park. When we left home, we weren't sure we'd get to see the cavern since one of New Mexico's several forest fires was located there. And was it ever there! Burned vegetation was visible right to the edge of the parking lot at the visitors' center. Literally. We walked over to the edge of the parking lot and looked out over a whole canyon of burned desolation and could reach out and touch the burned vegetation without leaving the pavement. 

However, this fire is out and people can see Carlsbad Cavern. All the guided tours were booked (they say reservations in the summer can be very hard to come by) so we took two self-guided tours assisted by the recorded narration (which is really quite well done). We walked down the Natural Entrance trail (a one hour continuous descent) and then toured the BIG Room (that was an hour and a half walk around the perimeter of the room).

I grew up in cave-rich Tennessee and lived in Kentucky, home of Mammoth Cave, so I am no stranger to caves. I've even crawled around in a few on my hands and knees exploring dark, narrow, wet passages. Carlsbad is a beautiful cavern. The tour route is well planned and the stories of this and other caves in the area are well told. The formations are amazing and beautiful and the cave itself is HUGE! 

Mary, on the other hand, had NEVER been in a cave! (There are very few caves in Wisconsin where she grew up.) She was constantly in awe of the amazing sights before her. She doesn't like edges that look out over deep holes, but the rails along the trail enabled her to go to the edge and take in the wonderful vistas before us.

We did not try to take any pictures IN the cave. Caves do not lend themselves to good pictures, particularly those with big rooms that stretch out beyond the reach of a weak flash on a camera. Besides, there were other picture takers constantly messing with my dark vision through the flashes of their cameras and I decided that I didn't need to do that to others or myself. So the pictures of Carlsbad will live forever in my mind.

We spent over 2-1/2 hours down in the cave. We could have spent another 1-1/2 hours walking out but we decided we were both hungry and so we rode the elevator 754 vertical feet in under a minute! That thing travels.

After the cave exploration, we toured the grounds of the National Park. Normally there are excellent hiking trails to be walked. However, the fire has curtailed that. We did walk out through one area to an overlook where the trail ran through a totally burned out section of the park. Cooked cactii are not very pretty! And there were plenty of rocks that clearly had "exploded" (at least at their surface level) due to the extreme heat of the fire.  There are still fires in New Mexico. Fortunately the one near Los Alamos is being controlled which means that in another week it MAY be possible for us to visit LANL (Los Alamos National Laboratory). There is another fire in Cloudcroft which lies between us and our next destination of Las Cruces. We may have to go through El Paso to get there instead of taking the mountain road that is much prettier (and, I will admit, much hairy-er to drive in a Motor Home).

Later that afternoon, we went to the Living Desert and Zoo State Park in Carlsbad. That was a lot of fun. They have exhibits of the flora of a desert. The Chihuahuan Desert of NM is a "living desert" and has the greatest bio-diversity of any desert in North America (there are four of them; did you know that?). They also had representative samples of the wildlife to be found in the desert, birds, hooved animals, BIG cats, bear, elk, and others, including huge tarantulas, scorpions, and nasty looking rattlessnakes (all of which were WELL caged, mind you!).

Today, Saturday, July 3, we drove back up the road to Roswell, home of the "incident" in 1947 that has fueled the fantasies and speculations of generations of UFO-believers. The first weekend in July is the Annual Roswell UFO Festival so there was a lot going on. I didn't realize that I shared my natal month and year with such an historic moment! Do you remember hearing the story? A "flying saucer" supposedly crashed in the New Mexico desert outside Roswell and there were even dead bodies (and perhaps a living one) of true aliens. Aliens from outer space, not from across the border. 

There wasn't as much silliness as I expected although there was some, including the alien walking around for people to get their picture taken with it. We went and toured the International UFO Museum where several (presumably important) authors were hawking signed copies of their books about UFOs and other related phenomena. The many displays tell ALL about the incident at Roswell, the "cover-up" carried out by the U.S. government and had lots of "testimony" from people who purportedly saw something and how some of them were even threatened with dire consequences by military representatives if they didn't keep their mouths shut. I will admit to being a skeptic but something happened in early July, 1947, and it is clear that there is a lot of speculation about what we do or do not know. And probably will never know since the U.S. government has kept classified lots of things that might explain what this was all about. Was it a weather balloon? Was it a crashed alien space ship? Or was it a Russian experiment into space travel gone tragically awry (as suggested in a recent book claiming to review the story and to bring forth some new evidence from an interview with one who was there)? Or was it something else? 

I wish all of you a good, happy, and memorable Fourth of July! We'll celebrate ours at one of the local communities (either Carlsbad or Artesia, I suppose).

We also walked around the downtown taking in the sights of the festival, including the belly dancing troupe putting on an exhibition in one of the plazas (although I'm not sure what that had to do with UFOs). We also had our first New Mexico meal at El Toro Bravo near by to the International UFO Museum.
Day 15 (part 2)
1 July 2011
Brantley Lake State Park
near Carlsbad, New Mexico

We have arrived in New Mexico. Brantley Lake State Park is in southeastern NM, not too far from the Carlsbad Caverns where we hope to visit tomorrow. We'll be here until July 5 visiting sights around this area. Then we'll head for Las Cruces (where I hope a local Fleetwood service center can repair the shower drain that was installed wrong at the factory.

Some odds and ends from our journey here:

How about the Jesus Christ as Lord Service Center? It's a gas station, service center for trucks, and convenience store.

I can only apologize for the quality of the picture. Mary had to take the shot while we were passing it on the interstate and the RV window has a screen in it, thus the picture.

Long horn cattle from the Palo Duro Canyon State Park, TX:
I started this post two days ago, but my lack of a reliable internet connection interrupted me. So today, when my connection is working, I'm sending it on.