Saturday, September 30, 2017

Carlsbad Caverns Tours

Posted from Benson, AZ
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Carlsbad Caverns (The Big Room and King's Palace)
Carlsbad Caverns (The Left Hand Turn Tour)

After leaving the Roswell, NM area we drove 74 miles south to stay in the SKP Co-Op named "The Ranch" (near Lakewood, NM) for the following week. Our goal was to make the 40-mile drive each way to visit the Carlsbad Caverns National Park.  There truly is not a whole lot near the SKP Co-Op, but it made for a good base of operations to catch up on a few needed activities in the rig, and to visit the National Park.

During this time of the year, the Carlsbad Cavern Cave Tours are limited to the King's Palace Tour and the Left Hand Turn Tour. We definitely wanted to do both, so we drove to the Visitor's Center on September 18th to take the King's Palace Tour, and again on September 20th for the Left Hand Turn Tour.  These tours are very reasonably priced at $8 and $7 p/p, respectively.  (Senior pass holders could get 50% off of these prices.)

We found out that after Labor Day, the number of visitors greatly decreases, and the NPS takes the opportunity to do routine maintenance on the elevator systems which normally would transport people from the surface down to the start of the tours (about 800 feet in elevation).

The only way to take the tours while we visited was to walk the Natural Entrance Trail (about 1.25 mile each way) and the aforementioned 800 foot drop. Going down isn't bad, but I'll be the first to admit that we took several breaks along the trail out.

If you visit the Caverns when the elevators are working, I would still recommend taking the Natural Entrance Trail at least one time. You get a true feeling for what it was like for the original explorer to drop deeper into the earth. Plus, the formations are amazing. Here's a view as we descend the trail.

The NPS has done a nice job of lighting the trail to direct the eye to formations that you might miss in the dim light.

The meeting place for the tours is just past the elevators, near the small cafe. After a short safety briefing (meaning keep your hands off of the formations and walls) our group was guided into the King's Palace. We were told that in the early 1900s, groups would descend up to 5 hours to have dinner parties in King's Palace. Then they would make the 5 hour ascent back to the entrance. The paved path leading down from the Natural Entrance to the start of the tours area was not put in place until the 1950s, and was again upgraded in the 1970s.

Some of the living formations in the King's Palace Tour included these paper thin valences.

After completing the King's Palace Tour (which is ranger-led), we set out to explore The Big Room Trail (which is self-guided). This trail is about 1.25 miles in length and takes about 1.5 hours to fully appreciate the formations. This formation was called The Lion's Tail.  I could see that.

Beautiful formations at every turn.

This was the type of ladder that Jim White, the 16 year old boy, constructed to enter the depths of the cave in 1898.

I'm really trying to limit the length of the blog by only showing a small number of pics we took while underground. Be sure and click on the links at the beginning of the blog to see more.

We returned on September 20th to take the second ranger-guided tour named Left Hand Turn. This tour is limited to 15 visits at one time. I believe we had 9 people.  This tour is a bit different in that it attempts to show a less traveled area (and the only light throughout is provided by the lanterns carried by the guests on the tour). This is the very beginning of the trail where lighting is still provided.

The trail is an out-and-back. During the first half, no photography is allowed to enhance the "exploring" feeling. This is a picture of our group on the way back out.

Here's a small pool along the trail. Notice the small black flecks in the water?  Bat guano.

At the halfway point, the Ranger had us all take a seat on the ground and blow out all of our lanterns to experience the cave. This is exactly what you could see of your hand directly in front of your face.

Both of the tours we took were excellent and the Rangers leading the tours were very knowledgeable. The number of visitors down in the caverns this time of the year were few. A perfect time to visit!

(Internet Photo)
Before leaving on the 20th we wanted to witness the Bat Flight Program. This time of the year from May until mid-October hundreds of thousands of Mexican and Brazilian Free Tail bats exit from the Natural Entrance each evening in search of food. They again return to the cave about 5:30 to 6:00 each morning. These bats will travel up to 100 miles each evening in the search for food. They have a huge appetite for mosquitoes. Unfortunately, while the bats are flying no electronic devices of any type are allowed to be used.

The visit to Carlsbad Caverns National Park was one of the highlights of our summer visits. We thoroughly enjoyed our time down in the Caverns and hope to someday return to take some of the other tours available to the public.

Our next move, after a short one-night stopover in Deming, NM is to Benson, AZ where we'll visit Kartchner Caverns State Park.

Thanks for stopping by to take a look!

Monday, September 25, 2017

Do You Believe? and an Unexpected Surprise

Posted from Benson, AZ
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As always, if you'd like to see pictures not included in this blog, click on a link below:

Bottomless Lakes State Park, Roswell, NM
International UFO Museum and Research Center

After leaving Albuquerque, NM we traveled to the Roswell, NM area with the sole intention of visiting the UFO Museum in Roswell.  We looked at the area's campgrounds and decided upon New Mexico's first state park Bottomless Lakes.  We arrived on September 12 and booked for three nights. There are 5 FHU sites available for use. The remaining 26 sites have W/E (either 30 or 50 amp). The campground has very little shade, but is easy to navigate with a large rig.

The utilities worked well, but here's a caution about "hard water" in this area. We knew the water in this part of New Mexico contained a lot of deposits (mainly calcium carbonate), but we didn't know that the levels were this high.  Here's a chart we found in the Visitor's Center.  The bottom line is to either bring your own water, or definitely use a water softener.

So why the name Bottomless Lakes?  The park consists of eight lakes which are actually sinkholes ranging in depth from 17 to 90 feet. These were formed when circulating waters dissolved salt and gypsum to form subterranean caverns. Eventually, the roofs of the caverns collapsed due to their own weight. Sinkholes formed and were filled with water to create the eight lakes in the park.

The largest of the lakes in named Lea Lake. This is also the closest one to the campground. Many of the structures were created in the 1930s by the CCC. I would imagine that the swimming area is busy in the summertime, but not during our stay.

There is a small marina which during the busy season has kayak and paddle boat rentals.

Since we enjoying hiking, our real surprise was to find a trail named The Bluff Trail which takes you to all of the eight lakes in the park and to the Visitor's Center. After evaporation of surface water, evidence of salt deposits are readily found along the trail.

One of the most impressive lakes to me was Devil's Ink Well Lake. This lake was formed by a very large sinkhole and the highest point around the rim appears to be ready to break away at any moment today.

Mirror Lake was another impressive lake which was named for the glass-like surface.  Unfortunately, there was just a slight hint of a breeze today so the "mirror effect" wasn't as good as it could have been.

The entire hike from the campground to the Vistor's Center and back is approximately 4 miles, and is relatively flat. There is very little in the way of shade, so make sure and wear a hat and take water with you.

On the following day (September 14) we drove into Roswell to visit the International UFO Museum and Research Center. (Pretty impressive name, don't you think?)

Following along with the theme of UFOs, the street lights in this part of Roswell are shaped to look like the alien heads from the 1947 incident.

Let me start off by saying that "I want to believe" that there is the possibility of other creatures in the universe besides ourselves. With that being said, I was somewhat underwhelmed by the museum. I guess I expected more than figures which light up and have "smoke" rising from the top of their craft.

I never saw the 1994 movie entitled "Roswell", but might have to take a look after viewing some of the props from the same.

Summation on the museum: I wouldn't spend a lot of time diverting to Roswell just to see this. Fortunately, admission to the museum is only $5 per adult, but we used a Groupon deal to get in for $5 for the both of us. I guess that I already knew most of what was on display in the museum by watching television shows on the 1947 incident.

All in all, we were glad that we spent a few days in the Roswell area. The Bottomless Lakes SP was very nice and the UFO Museum was "ok".

As always, thanks for stopping by to take a look!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Time Flew By in Albuquerque

Posted from Lakewood, NM
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New Mexico State Fair
Petroglyph National Monument
Sandia Peak Tramway

We lifted the jacks in Santa, Fe and moved on to Albuquerque on September 5th. We only reserved a week at High Desert RV Park on the west side of Albuquerque, but we certainly could have spent more time there. We only scratched the surface with a few things that we wanted to do and see, but hey, we're FTers, we can always return.

I haven't talked about Pickleball in awhile and that's because we haven't played in a bit. By checking the USAPA site, you can use their locator to search for areas to play. We found that the Albuquerque Pickleball Club seemed to have some very nice courts and we could play at several outdoor locations across the city. The City of Albuquerque had recently installed 18 beautiful, permanent courts at the Manzano Mesa Center. If you are a pickleballer in the Albuquerque area, we sure and check these courts out. Karen and I were able to play with about 20-25 players each morning between 0830-1130.  We had a great time.  The folks at this club were most welcoming.

Randy asked us if we were going to attend the New Mexico State Fair while in Albuquerque. By doing a bit of internet research we found out that the New Mexico State Fair was being held this week in Albuquerque. We hadn't been to a fair in awhile, so on Friday evening September 8th we made the drive downtown. I'm not sure how many of our readers are familiar with Groupon, but we've used them several times to obtain some pretty nice discounts to events through the years. Their site is free to join and you just never know when they might have some discounted tickets for an event you'd like to attend. We used them to purchase a day ticket to the State Fair. The regular adult daily price was $10, but Groupon had tickets for $7. Many times, we've used 2-for-1 offers.

This State Fair was very well run and the grounds were kept very clean. There were a lot of vendors from many different groups selling some very nice items. Karen limited her urges to buy by using great self restraint.

Of course no fair would be a true fair without animals. This show featured several different types of sea lions. The owners did a nice job of educating the crowd about sea lions, rather than just showing us what "tricks" they could perform.

The "standard" animals were also on display.

We didn't see a lot of horses and cows, but we believe it was because their judging wasn't until later in the week.  Goats are always cute, though.

On September 9th we decided to do a bit of hiking in the Petroglyph National Monument.  This park is on the northwest side of Albuquerque and is a bit different than most we've gone to.

The area is not all centrally located, but requires a bit of driving to access the trails. There are no real trails which proceed from the Visitor's Center. The first area we went to was Boca Negra Canyon where there were 3 short hikes. The first ascends an area atop the remains of a long-ago volcano.

Notice how near it is to modern development in the background.

For those who enjoy petroglyphs, this is definitely a must see park. They are literally hundreds scattered throughout the hiking trails.

We moved on to another part of the park named Piedras Marcadas Canyon. This area is even stranger as the trailhead begins behind a Jiffy Lube and the first 1/4 mile winds through a residential area.

The entire hike was only about 1 3/4 miles (with absolutely no shade), but the petroglyphs were everywhere.

I'm intentionally only showing a couple of the petroglyphs as a teaser to hopefully get you to take a look at the link at the beginning of the blog to see more.

Our last "big adventure" in Albuquerque was to visit the Sandia Peak Tramway  on September 11. (Thank you again Randy!)  The tramway transports riders from the base terminal (at 6559 feet) to the summit (at 10378 feet).

There are only two towers between the top and bottom terminals. The tramway is 2.7 miles in diagonal length and is the third longest single span aerial tramway in the world. Here's a view looking down as we approach the first tower.

Just about ready to dock at the top terminal.

Once you reach the top, you can hike some trails, just enjoy the views, eat at the restaurant (when completed), or ski down the back side of the mountain during the winter.

The temperature was about 20 degrees cooler at the top. On the day we visited, there was absolutely no wind at the summit.

Definitely a "must do" if you are ever in the Albuquerque area. The views from the summit are beautiful.

Well, that wraps up our week in Albuquerque.  As I said initially, too little time spent here. There are many things we will return to the area to participate in.

As always, thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Exploring Santa Fe, NM

Posted from near Roswell, NM
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New Mexico State Capitol
New Mexico History Museum
Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument


We really enjoyed our 2-week stay in the Santa Fe, NM area. There are a variety of things to see and do while in the area. If you like to shop (and have lots of money) head down to the central Plaza area. There are literally shops everywhere. We can only hold so many items in our MH, so we tend to do less shopping and more "learning" when in an area.

We always enjoy visiting state capitol buildings, so we made this our first stop on August 30. Here's a tip if you'd like to visit the Capitol Building or the plaza for that matter. Since pay parking (either via meters or parking garages) is the norm in Santa Fe, I decided to see if a "cheaper" way to visit was possible. I found that you can park in the multi-story parking garage on the west side of the Capitol for free.  We used this while touring the Capitol Building and while walking down to the Plaza area.

We entered the Capitol on the Don Gaspar Avenue (west) side. We've never been to any state capitol where there was so little security. We just walked right past the guard at the desk and continued in.

The New Mexico State Capitol building is the only state capitol building which is round in shape. When viewed from above, it would resemble the state seal.

The House and the Senate Chambers are on opposite sides of the building, but are very similar in design. This is the Senate Chamber. No legislators were in session during our visit.

Aside from the shape of the building, one of the features within the capitol which really stood out was the inclusion of artwork throughout the building.

Although some of the displays rotate from time to time, many of the "Capitol Collection" are on permanent display.

IMHO the New Mexico Capitol Building is not as elegant, nor as instilling as a central point of power, as most state capitols we've visited. It did have the greatest display of artwork, however, and this definitely seems to be a theme of Santa Fe in general. For me, nice, but not quite what I expect in a state capitol.

We left the State Capitol and walked north on the Old Santa Fe Trail (Street) to Santa Fe Plaza. This is only about 0.40 mile and an easy walk. Our next stop on the itinerary today was to visit the New Mexico History Museum. The museum is located on the north side of the Plaza, just behind the Palace of the Governors.

We enjoy museums in general, and this one was very well done. Adult admission is $12. Exhibits begin in the early days of pre-Spanish occupation and continue into the mid-20th century.

There are many exhibits and artifacts which address the arrive of the railroad and western exploration in this area.

I was not familiar with Harvey Houses, but learned that during the early 1900s, Fred Harvey opened a chain of very nice restaurants and hotels along the railroad lines in the western part of the United States.

We felt that the museum was certainly worth the admission and gave us a lot of incite into the evolution of the State of New Mexico from early Native American times to "modern" times. It seemed to pull together many of the things we've learned in the past few years about the West in general, and about New Mexico in particular.

Okay, enough serious cultural exploring for today.  It was time to get outside and do some hiking! Thanks to a recommendation from Pam we decided to visit the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument on August 31. The Monument area is located approximately 50 minutes from Santa Fe Skies RV Park. The area is managed by the BLM.

There are basically two hiking trails in the park.  Neither are that long, so we did both.

The "tent rocks" are the star of the show in this area. (The section below if from the BLM website).
The cone-shaped tent rock formations are the products of volcanic eruptions that occurred 6 to 7 million years ago and left pumice, ash, and tuff deposits over 1,000 feet thick.
Precariously perched on many of the tapering hoodoos are boulder caps that protect the softer pumice and tuff below. Some tents have lost their hard, resistant caprocks, and are disintegrating. While fairly uniform in shape, the tent rock formations vary in height from a few feet up to 90 feet.

We hiked the Slot Canyon first. We are still amazed at the beauty of these geographic formations.

The striations present in the walls of the canyon were amazing.

After climbing through the slot canyon and up to the crest of the wall we were able to view a large formation of the "tent rocks".

The hike to the top was definitely worth it. Thanks again Pam for steering us to this area.

Our 2 weeks visiting the Santa Fe area seemed to go by way too fast. There are many other things we'd like to see and do in this area. I'm sure that a return trip is in order in the future. Next stop Albuquerque!

Thanks for stopping by to take a look!