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Life In The Slow Lane With Eric & Laurel

~Because it’s all about the journey~

A Stroll Through The Petrified Forest

A Stroll Through The Petrified Forest

Posted by on Jun 23, 2016 in Arizona, Friends, Gallery, Hiking, Travel | 13 comments

Ifirst visited Petrified Forest National Park about 20 years ago, in mid-August, at mid-day. It was scorching hot, the sky hazy, and the petrified logs were uninspiring brown lumps. As you can imagine, I was in no great hurry to return.

But Eric had never been, and wanted to see for himself. “There’s not much to see,” I told him. But because we were passing by on our way from Lyman Lake to Flagstaff, we decided to make a quick stop. I was so wrong! Apparently time of year and time of day make all the difference here. This place is gorgeous—a couple of hours weren’t near enough, and Eric ended up having to drag me away.

In mid-May, with big billowy clouds sailing across the sky, the Petrified Forest was a wonderland of undulating dunes and colorful wood turned to stone by the magic of time and geologic processes. The names bestowed to the trails and historic structures enticed us deeper into the park: Rainbow Museum. Crystal Forest. Agate House. Jasper Forest. We walked several miles of trails, fascinated by the landscape and the spectacular rainbow colors of the petrified wood, remnants of the sub-tropical forest that stood here 200 million years ago.

With only a couple of hours in the park, we explored only a fraction of what we wanted to see. And sadly, we didn’t get to the Painted Desert, which is part of Petrified Forest National Park. Although there’s no camping within the park, just outside the entrance are two campgrounds associated with gift shops—Crystal Forest Campground is free, with no hookups; the other has electric hookups for $11. We’ll return, and we’ll stay in one of those campgrounds while we explore the rest of this unique and beautiful park. (I assure you, it will not be in August.)

Although we were headed for Flagstaff (another 120 miles away), a late spring snow storm in the mountains ahead deterred us, and we stopped instead at Homolovi State Park, halfway to our destination. It was no hardship—we love this little gem of a park. We first discovered Homolovi 10 years ago and have stayed here several times in our cross-country journeys.

Considered by the Hopi to be part of their ancestral homeland (Homol’ovi means “place of the little hills” in their language), the park—which includes seven sites with ruins—is a combined effort between the state and the Hopi people to protect this sacred place. The Hopi live on nearby mesas and regularly make pilgrimages to Homol’ovi for ceremonies and offerings.

Two of the ruin sites are open to visitors. Pathways wind among the adobe rubble of ancient villages, the only sound the gentle rustle of the wind through the grasslands and the harsh calls of the ravens. The most fascinating part of wandering these ancient villages is the abundance of potsherds left behind by the people who lived here between 1260 and 1400 AD. Painted, inscribed, coiled, and stamped—thousands of pieces of pottery are scattered throughout the ruins. Picking up and admiring the pottery is permissible—but of course, you can’t remove anything from the ruins.

After a peaceful night’s sleep and a morning of exploring the ruins, we continued another 85 miles to our campground just south of Flagstaff. (The snowstorm the day before had passed, and we arrived in perfect weather.) We’ve never found a private campground in Flagstaff that we like, so we always stay in one of the nearby Forest Service campgrounds, which are lovely, spacious, and peaceful. There’s one drawback—both Bonito Campground and Pine Grove Campground are almost 20 miles from town. But it’s an easy drive, and worth it for the tranquility and beauty.

It was a quick stopover for us in Flagstaff this time—just long enough for some truck maintenance and a couple of hikes, including part of the Arizona Trail in the campground, and the Fatman’s Loop in the hills above Flagstaff while we were waiting for our truck repairs to be completed. Lunch at Café Daily Fare was also on our short list of things to do—the food is creative and delicious, and we always make it a point to stop here when we’re in Flagstaff. (Do not bring your rig—the parking is atrocious!) To round out our stay, we had a surprise call and delightful meet-up for coffee with our hometown friends Brenda and Morey, who were heading to the Casita factory in Texas to pick up their new rig. So much fun to meet up with friends on the road!

About the campgrounds:

Homolovi State Park seems to be somewhat of a hidden gem. It’s conveniently located just a few miles off of I-40 near Winslow, Arizona. The campground is quiet and dark, with spacious sites and fabulous sunsets. It has an excellent visitor’s center and short but fascinating hiking trails. Although the campground seems to be getting more popular, we’ve never had a problem walking in and getting a site. Water and electric hookups, immaculate bathrooms and separate, private showers, good Verizon; $20 per night ($15 for non hookup sites).

Pine Grove Campground is a Forest Service campground 18 miles south of Flagstaff. Aptly named, the campground is situated in a beautiful forest of fragrant Ponderosa pines. If you choose a site on the exterior of the loops, your backyard will be an expansive view of pine forest and open meadows. Open from May through October, half of the sites are reservable. No hookups, but clean bathrooms, one coin-operated shower facility, dump station and water fill station, good Verizon. $22 per night, $11 with the Senior Pass.

Next Up: A Week Of Adventures: Lake Powell, AZ

A Stroll Through The Petrified Forest

Entering Petrified Forest National Park

Rainbow Forest Visitor Center

A Blustery Day In The Petrified Forest

The Colors Are Amazing

On The Giant Logs Trail

In The Crystal Forest

Trail Through The Crystal Forest

Trees Millions Of Years Old

Wood Turned To Stone

So Vibrant

Trees Naturally Split Into Rounds

Campgrounds Just Outside The Park

Crystal Forest Campground

Nice Sites For Free

Campsite At Homolovi State Park

Trail To The Homolovi II Ruins

Ancient Hopi Dwellings

Searching For Pottery Sherds

Ancient Pottery Pieces

Collared Lizard

Pine Grove Forest Service Campground, Flagstaff

Our Backyard At Pine Grove Campground

On The Fatman Trail Above Flagstaff

Some Fun Rock Formations On The Trail

Cool Bark On The Alligator Juniper Trees

On The Arizona Trail

Blackberry Duck Tacos At Cafe Daily Fare

Brenda And Morey, Friends From Home

A Stroll Through The Petrified Forest
Entering Petrified Forest National Park
Rainbow Forest Visitor Center
A Blustery Day In The Petrified Forest
The Colors Are Amazing
On The Giant Logs Trail
In The Crystal Forest
Trail Through The Crystal Forest
Trees Millions Of Years Old
Wood Turned To Stone
So Vibrant
Trees Naturally Split Into Rounds
Campgrounds Just Outside The Park
Crystal Forest Campground
Nice Sites For Free
Campsite At Homolovi State Park
Trail To The Homolovi II Ruins
Ancient Hopi Dwellings
Searching For Pottery Sherds
Ancient Pottery Pieces
Collared Lizard
Pine Grove Forest Service Campground, Flagstaff
Our Backyard At Pine Grove Campground
On The Fatman Trail Above Flagstaff
Some Fun Rock Formations On The Trail
Cool Bark On The Alligator Juniper Trees
On The Arizona Trail
Blackberry Duck Tacos At Cafe Daily Fare
Brenda And Morey, Friends From Home
A Stroll Through The Petrified Forest thumbnail
Entering Petrified Forest National Park thumbnail
Rainbow Forest Visitor Center thumbnail
A Blustery Day In The Petrified Forest thumbnail
The Colors Are Amazing thumbnail
On The Giant Logs Trail thumbnail
In The Crystal Forest thumbnail
Trail Through The Crystal Forest thumbnail
Trees Millions Of Years Old thumbnail
Wood Turned To Stone thumbnail
So Vibrant thumbnail
Trees Naturally Split Into Rounds thumbnail
Campgrounds Just Outside The Park thumbnail
Crystal Forest Campground thumbnail
Nice Sites For Free thumbnail
Campsite At Homolovi State Park thumbnail
Trail To The Homolovi II Ruins thumbnail
Ancient Hopi Dwellings thumbnail
Searching For Pottery Sherds thumbnail
Ancient Pottery Pieces thumbnail
Collared Lizard thumbnail
Pine Grove Forest Service Campground, Flagstaff thumbnail
Our Backyard At Pine Grove Campground thumbnail
On The Fatman Trail Above Flagstaff thumbnail
Some Fun Rock Formations On The Trail thumbnail
Cool Bark On The Alligator Juniper Trees thumbnail
On The Arizona Trail thumbnail
Blackberry Duck Tacos At Cafe Daily Fare thumbnail
Brenda And Morey, Friends From Home thumbnail

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Delightful Lyman Lake State Park

Delightful Lyman Lake State Park

Posted by on Jun 16, 2016 in Arizona, Gallery, Hiking, Travel | 24 comments

Every so often, even with our new and improved plan of slowing our travels way down, we still end up with an overnight stay here and there. It’s just how things work out sometimes—and honestly, we don’t need to spend multiple days every place we go. But even when we’re landing somewhere for only a night, we try to find a location that offers something more than just a place to park our rig.

After a day of travel, it’s refreshing for body and spirit to have a beautiful view and a peaceful night’s sleep. A convenient hiking trail makes it all the better—otherwise, we’re walking circles around the campground trying to get in a bit of exercise after a day on the road. Lyman Lake State Park, in east central Arizona, was the perfect stop on our route north from Silver City, New Mexico.

At only 177 miles from Silver City, we had time for a last stroll through town (and were able to watch a few races of the Tour of the Gila) before heading out. We didn’t have high expectations for the campground—for some reason, a neighbor at our RV park in Silver City told us that Lyman Lake wasn’t anything special. Apparently his criteria are different than ours.

We arrived at Lyman Lake State Park to find a pretty little campground with spacious, immaculate sites, and gorgeous views of the lake. It was quiet, peaceful, and the night skies are wonderfully dark—with no big cities nearby, great swaths of stars are visible.

Best of all, there’s a wonderful hiking trail within walking distance of the campground. The trail wends along the lake and around picturesque rock formations, with hundreds of ancient petroglyphs pecked into the rocks. We’ve seen lots of petroglyphs in our travels, but it’s always a thrill to search for the rock art left behind by native peoples thousands of years ago, and to try to decipher the meaning of the ancient graffiti.

We hiked a couple of miles of trails in the late afternoon, and again in the morning before leaving. Should you be traveling this way, we highly recommend this sweet little campground and the hiking trails.

About the campground:

Lyman Lake State Park is situated on the shores of a 1500-acre reservoir at an elevation of 6,000 feet. The sites are lovely, each with an individual ramada for shade. Nice bathrooms and showers, terrible to nonexistent Verizon (no big deal for one night, right?). If you head to the day use area to hike the trail, you’ll have excellent Verizon coverage and all of your emails will arrive in one big deluge. Water/electric sites are $28, non-hookup sites are $20.

Next Up: A Stroll Through The Petrified Forest

Delightful Lyman Lake State Park

Path From The Campground To The Trails

Late Afternoon On The Trail

Gorgeous Rock Formations

Petroglyphs Hidden In The Rocks

Petroglyphs Beneath Our Feet

The Trail Overlooks Lyman Lake

King Of The Mountain

A Windy Afternoon On The Trail

Repeating The Hike The Next Morning

Up The Stone Stairway

Ancient Stories

Elk Or Deer

View Of The Campground From The Trail

Most Likely An Eagle

An Ancient Turtle Petroglyph

Trail Back To The Campground

Campsites At Lyman Lake State Park

Delightful Lyman Lake State Park
Path From The Campground To The Trails
Late Afternoon On The Trail
Gorgeous Rock Formations
Petroglyphs Hidden In The Rocks
Petroglyphs Beneath Our Feet
The Trail Overlooks Lyman Lake
King Of The Mountain
A Windy Afternoon On The Trail
Repeating The Hike The Next Morning
Up The Stone Stairway
Ancient Stories
Elk Or Deer
View Of The Campground From The Trail
Most Likely An Eagle
An Ancient Turtle Petroglyph
Trail Back To The Campground
Campsites At Lyman Lake State Park
Delightful Lyman Lake State Park thumbnail
Path From The Campground To The Trails thumbnail
Late Afternoon On The Trail thumbnail
Gorgeous Rock Formations thumbnail
Petroglyphs Hidden In The Rocks thumbnail
Petroglyphs Beneath Our Feet thumbnail
The Trail Overlooks Lyman Lake thumbnail
King Of The Mountain thumbnail
A Windy Afternoon On The Trail thumbnail
Repeating The Hike The Next Morning thumbnail
Up The Stone Stairway thumbnail
Ancient Stories thumbnail
Elk Or Deer thumbnail
View Of The Campground From The Trail thumbnail
Most Likely An Eagle thumbnail
An Ancient Turtle Petroglyph thumbnail
Trail Back To The Campground thumbnail
Campsites At Lyman Lake State Park thumbnail

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Colorful People & Places: Silver City, NM

Colorful People & Places: Silver City, NM

Posted by on Jun 11, 2016 in Art, Food, Gallery, Hiking, Hot Springs, New Mexico, Travel | 31 comments

As we started our hike up the trail overlooking Silver City, a man appeared on the path, seemingly out of nowhere. He wore a pair of slides reinforced with silver duct tape (incongruous footwear for the rocky trail), a white-and-black straw cowboy hat, and carried a guitar slung around his neck.

“First time here?” he inquired affably. We told him it was our third visit to Silver City, but our first time on the trails above town. “This is one of my favorite places,” he said. “I come here a few times a week to play my guitar in the hills and hunt for amethysts. I’ll show you, if you like.” As we studied the map, he started up the trail, strumming a lovely Spanish tune on his guitar. We followed behind, intrigued by the music and his tale of amethysts.

Sure enough, about a mile up the trail he veered off into the scrub, reached beneath a large sagebrush, and dragged out a heavy maul hidden there. With a few swift blows, he laid open several large rocks, exposing lavender amethyst crystals within. “Take whatever you like,” he offered. Obviously, traveling with a rock collection isn’t practical for our lifestyle, but we couldn’t resist picking up a couple of amethyst chunks.

Silver City is awash with colorful landscapes, art, buildings, and people. The sky is cobalt, the perfect backdrop for the sagebrush and mesquite-covered hills. Vividly painted doors and windows adorn adobe buildings (many in various stages of decrepitude). Home to a disproportionate number of artists and galleries, the town has also somehow become a mecca for foodies—which makes no sense at all, given that it’s a long way from any major or even minor metropolis.

Colorful locals (in addition to our amethyst benefactor) include Jake, the owner and chef at Café 1zero6, who sports full sleeve tattoos, decorates with Buddhist/Hindu/Bollywood flair, and cooks delicious creative fusion cuisine three times a week. We plan our visits to Silver City so that we can be sure to have a meal there (the small restaurant is open only on weekends).

Another evening, we had a most unique dinner at The Curious Kumquat, crafted of local wild foods from the nearby Gila Wilderness. Our six-course tasting menu included artfully presented and delicious offerings made with spring cattails, acorns, watercress, wild mushrooms, amaranth, nettles, and more, along with locally raised meats and vegetables.

In an attempt to balance our eating adventures, we hiked the lovely nearby 3-mile Dragonfly Loop Trail, the trails on Boston Hill above the town, and made a day trip through the Mimbres Valley to the Gila Wilderness to hike to the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument and to Lightfeather Hot Springs (a three-mile round trip easy hike on the Gila River that involves two river crossings).

It was a relaxing and fun week in Silver City, filled with all kinds of colorful adventures. We’ll be back—there’s always more to explore, and there’s no telling what kinds of unexpected treasures await us on the trail (and in the restaurants).

About the RV Park:

This visit, we stayed at Manzano’s RV Park, just a few miles outside of town. It’s a small, family run park, with large sites and attractive desert landscaping. Full-hookups, excellent free Internet, good Verizon; $30 per night. It’s very “homey,” with a house on the property that serves as the clubhouse/laundry/bathhouse.

Next Up: A Delightful Visit To Lyman Lake State Park 

Colorful Yankie Street In Silver City, NM

A Colorful Silver City Local

Following The Music

Finding Treasures On The Trail

Cracking Open The Rocks Reveals Amethysts

Our Trail Friend Moves On

View From The Trails Above Silver City

Visitor Center In Silver City

On The Corner Of Yankie Street Arts District

Murals On The Street

Downtown Silver City

El Sol Theatre, Circa 1934

One Of Our Favorite Silver City Restaurants

Cafe One Zero Six

Dinner At The Curious Kumquat

Pickled Cattail Appetizer

Our Favorite Coffee Shop

Tour Of The Gila Bike Race

Speeding By

Cheering On The Cyclists

Wonderful Collection Of Mimbres Pottery Here

On The Dragonfly Trail

I Think I See A Cairn

The Dragonfly Petroglyph

On The Trail Of The Mountain Spirits

First Glimpse Of Gila Cliff Dwellings

Artistic Warning

Painted Redstart With A Bug

Climbing Up Into The Dwellings

Exploring The Cliff Dwellings

Hiking The Middle Fork Of The Gila River

Another River Crossing

Pretty Trail Along The Middle Fork Of The Gila

Natural Hot Pools Along The River

But Only Knee Deep

Enormous Site At Manzanos RV Park

Colorful Yankie Street In Silver City, NM
A Colorful Silver City Local
Following The Music
Finding Treasures On The Trail
Cracking Open The Rocks Reveals Amethysts
Our Trail Friend Moves On
View From The Trails Above Silver City
Visitor Center In Silver City
On The Corner Of Yankie Street Arts District
Murals On The Street
Downtown Silver City
El Sol Theatre, Circa 1934
One Of Our Favorite Silver City Restaurants
Cafe One Zero Six
Dinner At The Curious Kumquat
Pickled Cattail Appetizer
Our Favorite Coffee Shop
Tour Of The Gila Bike Race
Speeding By
Cheering On The Cyclists
Wonderful Collection Of Mimbres Pottery Here
On The Dragonfly Trail
I Think I See A Cairn
The Dragonfly Petroglyph
On The Trail Of The Mountain Spirits
First Glimpse Of Gila Cliff Dwellings
Artistic Warning
Painted Redstart With A Bug
Climbing Up Into The Dwellings
Exploring The Cliff Dwellings
Hiking The Middle Fork Of The Gila River
Another River Crossing
Pretty Trail Along The Middle Fork Of The Gila
Natural Hot Pools Along The River
But Only Knee Deep
Enormous Site At Manzanos RV Park
Colorful Yankie Street In Silver City, NM thumbnail
A Colorful Silver City Local thumbnail
Following The Music thumbnail
Finding Treasures On The Trail thumbnail
Cracking Open The Rocks Reveals Amethysts thumbnail
Our Trail Friend Moves On thumbnail
View From The Trails Above Silver City thumbnail
Visitor Center In Silver City thumbnail
On The Corner Of Yankie Street Arts District thumbnail
Murals On The Street thumbnail
Downtown Silver City thumbnail
El Sol Theatre, Circa 1934 thumbnail
One Of Our Favorite Silver City Restaurants thumbnail
Cafe One Zero Six thumbnail
Dinner At The Curious Kumquat thumbnail
Pickled Cattail Appetizer thumbnail
Our Favorite Coffee Shop thumbnail
Tour Of The Gila Bike Race thumbnail
Speeding By thumbnail
Cheering On The Cyclists thumbnail
Wonderful Collection Of Mimbres Pottery Here thumbnail
On The Dragonfly Trail thumbnail
I Think I See A Cairn thumbnail
The Dragonfly Petroglyph thumbnail
On The Trail Of The Mountain Spirits thumbnail
First Glimpse Of Gila Cliff Dwellings thumbnail
Artistic Warning thumbnail
Painted Redstart With A Bug thumbnail
Climbing Up Into The Dwellings thumbnail
Exploring The Cliff Dwellings thumbnail
Hiking The Middle Fork Of The Gila River thumbnail
Another River Crossing thumbnail
Pretty Trail Along The Middle Fork Of The Gila thumbnail
Natural Hot Pools Along The River thumbnail
But Only Knee Deep thumbnail
Enormous Site At Manzanos RV Park thumbnail

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Back To Hiking: Oliver Lee Memorial SP

Back To Hiking: Oliver Lee Memorial SP

Posted by on Jun 5, 2016 in Gallery, Hiking, New Mexico, Travel | 32 comments

The last “real” hiking we did was back in the fall as we were making our way cross-country to Florida for the winter. We spent the winter and spring doing a lot of biking, kayaking, and what passes for hiking in the flatlands of the South. But none of this keeps us in shape for steep mountain hiking. Consequently, I’m always a bit apprehensive when we return to the West, and are suddenly confronted with the big, rugged, beautiful mountains that we love to hike.

At a mere 155 miles from our last stop near Carlsbad Caverns, we arrived at Oliver Lee Memorial State Park in southern New Mexico, settled into our spacious site at the base of the Sacramento Mountains, and looked up at the mountain right outside our door. Oh yes, it definitely beckoned to us—even though we could see from our site just how rocky and relentlessly steep the trail was.

Early the next morning, we packed our lunches, filled four water bottles, stashed some dark chocolate in our packs, and set off on the Dog Canyon Trail located immediately behind the Visitor Center. Our warm-up for the trail was walking the few hundred yards from our campsite to the start of the trail, and then it was no-holds-barred, straight up a series of abrupt, rocky switchbacks. Small wonder there was no one else on the trail. (The rest of the campers were undoubtedly relaxing with a cup of coffee, enjoying the view of the mountains from their spacious sites.)

It was challenging, no question about it. But it was worth it. Because the trail heads straight up, there are fabulous panoramic views right away. The scenery is stunning, both within the canyon and looking out across the Tularosa Basin, with White Sands National Monument shimmering in the distance. As we hiked, we crossed a variety of landscapes, from typical Chihuahuan Desert to surprisingly green meadows in the midst of an otherwise earth-toned terrain.

Fortunately, the trail is not all relentlessly uphill. There are two relatively flat plateaus known as “benches,” the first of which appears at just over a half-mile of steady, steep ascent and opens into a landscape of yuccas and blooming cacti. The trail then wends along a series of ledges, followed by another tough uphill stretch to the second bench. This one is a surprise of large boulders, a cholla forest, and rock walls of lush greenery with the songs of Canyon Wrens echoing throughout the canyon.

The entire Dog Canyon trail goes for 5.5 miles one-way, but a good turn-around point is 3 miles in, at the bottom of a shady canyon. That was our destination, and it was there that we had lunch and headed back home. For those interested in the details, we started at an elevation of 4,400 feet and gained almost 1800 feet in three miles—the remaining 2.5 miles requires a more grueling climb of another 2,000 feet. We’ll save that one for next time. Or not.

There are few other things to do at Oliver Lee Memorial State Park. It’s a nice place to relax for a couple of days in the middle of nowhere. There’s a sweet half-mile Riparian Nature Trail that makes for a nice stroll—no steep uphill required. And the park is close to White Sands National Monument, a place that is still on our must-see list (but with high winds forecast, we decided to save it for another visit).

About the campground: Oliver Lee Memorial State Park is remote and peaceful, with dark night skies and sweeping views all around. This also means that the campground is highly subject to winds—we endured a night of 45-mile per hour gusts in early May.

Electric and water hookups are $14 per night; non-hookup sites are $10; the park has decent bathrooms and shower facilities. Excellent Verizon. Although there is plenty of space between sites, many of the sites are small and require significant leveling. The sites in the upper loop tend to be larger and more level. A handful are reservable; there are many more that are first-come, first-served.

Next Up: A Week In Colorful Silver City, NM

Back To Hiking: Oliver Lee State Park

On The Riparian Nature Trail

Beautiful Cholla Blooms

Late Afternoon Walk On The Nature Trail

Setting Out On Dog Canyon Trail

Lots Of Elevation Gain Right Away

View Of The Campground From The Trail

Entering Lincoln National Forest

Reaching The First Plateau

Landscape Of Yucca And Cacti

Octotillo In Bloom

Beginning The Next Climb

A Few Helpful Steps Along The Way

A Bit Of Color On The Trail

Strawberry Hedgehog Cactus

Such A Beautiful Day On The Trail

The Second Plateau

Surprisingly Green

Our Turnaround Point

The Long Journey Down

Stark Desert Mountain Beauty

Distant View Of White Sands National Monument

The Final Stretch

Looking Down At Our Campsite

Our Site From Ground Level

Yucca About To Bloom

Back To Hiking: Oliver Lee State Park
On The Riparian Nature Trail
Beautiful Cholla Blooms
Late Afternoon Walk On The Nature Trail
Setting Out On Dog Canyon Trail
Lots Of Elevation Gain Right Away
View Of The Campground From The Trail
Entering Lincoln National Forest
Reaching The First Plateau
Landscape Of Yucca And Cacti
Octotillo In Bloom
Beginning The Next Climb
A Few Helpful Steps Along The Way
A Bit Of Color On The Trail
Strawberry Hedgehog Cactus
Such A Beautiful Day On The Trail
The Second Plateau
Surprisingly Green
Our Turnaround Point
The Long Journey Down
Stark Desert Mountain Beauty
Distant View Of White Sands National Monument
The Final Stretch
Looking Down At Our Campsite
Our Site From Ground Level
Yucca About To Bloom
Back To Hiking: Oliver Lee State Park thumbnail
On The Riparian Nature Trail thumbnail
Beautiful Cholla Blooms thumbnail
Late Afternoon Walk On The Nature Trail thumbnail
Setting Out On Dog Canyon Trail thumbnail
Lots Of Elevation Gain Right Away thumbnail
View Of The Campground From The Trail thumbnail
Entering Lincoln National Forest thumbnail
Reaching The First Plateau thumbnail
Landscape Of Yucca And Cacti thumbnail
Octotillo In Bloom thumbnail
Beginning The Next Climb thumbnail
A Few Helpful Steps Along The Way thumbnail
A Bit Of Color On The Trail thumbnail
Strawberry Hedgehog Cactus thumbnail
Such A Beautiful Day On The Trail thumbnail
The Second Plateau thumbnail
Surprisingly Green thumbnail
Our Turnaround Point thumbnail
The Long Journey Down thumbnail
Stark Desert Mountain Beauty thumbnail
Distant View Of White Sands National Monument thumbnail
The Final Stretch thumbnail
Looking Down At Our Campsite thumbnail
Our Site From Ground Level thumbnail
Yucca About To Bloom thumbnail

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It’s A Long Way Down: Carlsbad Caverns

It’s A Long Way Down: Carlsbad Caverns

Posted by on May 29, 2016 in Gallery, Hiking, National Parks, New Mexico, Travel | 32 comments

While perusing the website for Carlsbad Caverns National Park, we decided to make reservations for a guided tour. We knew we wanted to visit the Big Room, the main cavern that’s open for self-guided wandering. But—what the heck! Let’s do it all!

I was in charge of making the reservations, and considered signing up for one of the tours that requires ropes and ladders and belly crawling (what in the world was I thinking??). Fortunately, the only tour available was for the King’s Palace, a 1.5-hour exploration that descends into the deepest part of the caverns, but doesn’t involve anything challenging—other than the ability to stay calm in a pitch-black maze 830 feet below the surface of the earth.

Just to be clear about this adventure—neither Eric nor I is enamored with caves, caverns, mines, or anything subterranean. We much prefer our adventures above ground, in the sunshine and fresh air. But Carlsbad Caverns was on our trajectory north, it’s a National Park, and it seemed like we should go see it. We actually got pretty excited about our expedition.

To add to the adventure, the elevator that normally transports visitors from the surface to the Big Room was undergoing repairs. We had already planned to hike down into the caverns from the Natural Entrance, a 1.25-mile steep winding trail that drops 750 feet down into the caves. No elevator meant that we would also be hiking back out that same trail—which is totally fine, unless you start thinking about how far beneath the surface you are, and how dark it is, and what if the lights go out, and what if you freak out…. and the only way out is up that long, steep trail. There were a few moments when I had to have a reassuring talk with myself.

Our tour of the King’s Palace was great, except for our guide’s penchant for hanging out in the dark. We were told that we would have the “opportunity” to experience total darkness for a few moments during the tour, but she left us in an abyss of darkness for a good 15 minutes while she talked about how wonderful it was. As much as I appreciate dark nights, I also like a teeny bit of light to orient myself—a few stars, crescent moon, something.

We took a break after our tour to eat our picnic lunch in the darkness of the underground café, huddled in a dank corner like a pair of pack rats. “We’re already here,” said Eric. “I think we should go ahead and do the Big Room.” And so we did, walking the mile-and-a-quarter loop, taking in the beauty of the various formations created drip by drip over centuries. Five hours after our descent into the caverns, we hiked out the 1.25 mile trail on which we had entered the caverns. We emerged, blinking, into the glorious sunlight. Are we happy we did it? Absolutely. Would we do it again? No, once was enough. (The Caverns at Sonora in West Texas, however, are still on our list—glittering formations of crystals—we’re definitely up for that.)

As far as above ground adventures, we walked the short trails at Brantley Lake State Park, and spent part of a day exploring the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park near Carlsbad (about 10 miles from our campground). This small and lovely park is focused on the flora and fauna of the Chihuahuan Desert. We happened to arrive in the reptile house at feeding time, and the snakes were going berserk. It was fascinating—and unnerving—to be surrounded by a symphony of rattlers rattling in anticipation of their meal.

One day plunged into an abyss, the next in the company of rattlesnakes. Our stay in Carlsbad was kind of like an immersion camp for overcoming phobias.

About the campground:

Brantley Lake State Park isn’t exactly close to Carlsbad Caverns, but from what we surmised, it’s the nicest place to stay. It’s a beautiful park, with spacious sites, many on the lake, and each with a covered picnic table. Water and 30/50 amp electric hookups, peaceful, dark night skies (but not too dark), nice bathrooms and showers, good Verizon. And lots of birdlife, which we love. It’s a bargain at $14 per night. The park is 12 miles north of Carlsbad, and 38 miles from the caverns.

Next Up: Back To Hiking: Oliver Lee State Park, NM

Heading Down Into The Caverns

It's Dark Down Here

The Trail Around The Big Room

Everything You Need To Know About Cave Decor

Some Of The Most Beautiful Formations

Relic From Early Cave Explorations

Mirror Lake

Richly Decorated Passages

Café Dismal

Happy To Be Above Ground

At The Living Desert Zoo And Gardens

Wonderful Displays On Desert Environments

Blooming Ocotillo In The Desert Uplands

Brilliant Prickly Pear Blooms

Snoozing Bobcat

Salad Bar For The Prairie Dog Family

Cool Snake Mural In The Reptile House

With His New Bat Buddy

Pond Habitat In The Desert

Campsite At Brantley Lake State Park

Bullock's Oriole On Ocotillo

Say's Phoebes Learning To Fly

Desert Bird Of Paradise

Black-Tailed Jack Rabbit

Heading Down Into The Caverns
It's Dark Down Here
The Trail Around The Big Room
Everything You Need To Know About Cave Decor
Some Of The Most Beautiful Formations
Relic From Early Cave Explorations
Mirror Lake
Richly Decorated Passages
Café Dismal
Happy To Be Above Ground
At The Living Desert Zoo And Gardens
Wonderful Displays On Desert Environments
Blooming Ocotillo In The Desert Uplands
Brilliant Prickly Pear Blooms
Snoozing Bobcat
Salad Bar For The Prairie Dog Family
Cool Snake Mural In The Reptile House
With His New Bat Buddy
Pond Habitat In The Desert
Campsite At Brantley Lake State Park
Bullock's Oriole On Ocotillo
Say's Phoebes Learning To Fly
Desert Bird Of Paradise
Black-Tailed Jack Rabbit
Heading Down Into The Caverns thumbnail
It's Dark Down Here thumbnail
The Trail Around The Big Room thumbnail
Everything You Need To Know About Cave Decor thumbnail
Some Of The Most Beautiful Formations thumbnail
Relic From Early Cave Explorations thumbnail
Mirror Lake thumbnail
Richly Decorated Passages thumbnail
Café Dismal thumbnail
Happy To Be Above Ground thumbnail
At The Living Desert Zoo And Gardens thumbnail
Wonderful Displays On Desert Environments thumbnail
Blooming Ocotillo In The Desert Uplands thumbnail
Brilliant Prickly Pear Blooms thumbnail
Snoozing Bobcat thumbnail
Salad Bar For The Prairie Dog Family thumbnail
Cool Snake Mural In The Reptile House thumbnail
With His New Bat Buddy thumbnail
Pond Habitat In The Desert thumbnail
Campsite At Brantley Lake State Park thumbnail
Bullock's Oriole On Ocotillo thumbnail
Say's Phoebes Learning To Fly thumbnail
Desert Bird Of Paradise thumbnail
Black-Tailed Jack Rabbit thumbnail

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Wending Our Way Across West Texas

Wending Our Way Across West Texas

Posted by on May 20, 2016 in Art, Gallery, Texas, Travel | 28 comments

One of the best things about road trips is discovering out-of-the-way gems that we would never otherwise visit. When we’re traveling across the vast expanse of Texas, there are always plenty of opportunities for new adventures, often in the most unlikely of places.

Leaving Austin, we headed to Carlsbad Caverns in southeastern New Mexico. In between is almost 500 miles of West Texas—a drive that can seem interminable. But our journey took us through the beautiful Hill Country at the peak of wildflower season, to interesting and art-centric San Angelo (in the middle of nowhere) and to sledding in the sand dunes at Monahans Sandhills State Park (in the middle of another nowhere). Should you find yourself traveling through this area of Texas, we highly recommend both.

San Angelo State Park: San Angelo, TX

This was our second visit to San Angelo State Park, so we knew we had something to look forward to at the end of our 200-mile drive from Austin. We settled into our lovely, spacious site beneath the shade trees, and spent a couple of days enjoying the peace and quiet. Our only expedition was a drive into San Angelo, 15 miles away—in part for a laundry extravaganza and truck washing, but mostly to enjoy a walk along the Concho River and to see if anything was blooming in the water lily garden.

The River Walk in San Angelo is one of the prettiest we’ve seen anywhere. It meanders for four miles downtown along the Concho River, named for the freshwater mussels that contain beautifully colored freshwater pearls (concho means “shell” in Spanish). Along the banks of the river many other treasures can be found—interesting mosaics, sculptures, fountains, and a few slightly bizarre sheep statues, each one decorated by a local artist to honor San Angelo’s heritage as a wool marketing center. (Lots more sheep as well as a plethora of murals can be found in the historic downtown.)

Close by is the International Water Lily Garden, certainly not something one expects to find in West Texas. When we were there a couple of years ago in the fall, there were hundreds of various water lilies in bloom. This time, in late April, just a few were blooming. But even one water lily in bloom is a beautiful thing to behold.

About the campground:

There are two camping sections at San Angelo State Park. Although it’s further from town, we prefer the north (Bald Eagle) section, which has large shade trees—a good thing in West Texas. Water and electric hookups, good Verizon, $20/night plus $4 per person daily fee if you don’t have the Texas State Parks Pass. (We always buy the annual pass—it’s $70 per year, and worth it if you stay more than seven nights in Texas parks because of all of the assorted discounts.)

Monahans Sandhills State Park: Monahans, TX

Another reasonable drive of 170 miles brought us to Monahans Sandhills State Park, in the midst of a truly barren part of Texas. This place has a stark beauty and makes a fun stopover for a couple of days (as long as no high winds are forecast).

The rangers at the Visitor Center loaned us a couple of neon orange discs for sledding and we took to the dunes the afternoon we arrived and again early in the morning. Each night, the slate is wiped clean and the sand dunes are again pristine. We discovered that early morning is the best time for sledding—when the sand is cool, there’s no friction to slow you down. We had a blast—and it’s a good workout sledding down and climbing back up the dunes.

It’s a windy place, and I was curious as to why the dunes haven’t completely blown away. Displays at the interesting little Visitor Center explained why: The wind changes directions from season to season, and although the dune tops change continually, they end up in just about the same position over the course of a year. It’s described as “a constantly shifting yet balanced state of dynamic equilibrium.” Sounds almost spiritual, doesn’t it?

About the campground:

The park has 26 campsites at the edge of the dunes with water, electric, and a covered picnic table. Quiet, dark night skies, and magical when the moon rises over the dunes. Good Verizon. $15 per night (plus $4 per person daily fee if you don’t have the Texas State Parks Pass).

Next Up: It’s A Long Way Down: Carlsbad Caverns

Wending Our Way Across West Texas

In The Former Town Of Bugscuffle

Wildflower Season In Texas

Stopping For Photos Along The Way

In A Field Of Firewheels

Firewheels And Bluebonnets

Huge Peaceful Site At San Angelo State Park

San Angelo Water Lily Gardens

First Water Lilies Of The Season

A Lovely Yellow Water Lily

Riverwalk Along The Concho River

Mosaic Sculptures On The Riverwalk

Mosaic Covered VW Bug

One Of Many Art Sheep In San Angelo

Fancy Entrance To Monahans Sandhills State Park

Fair Warning

Visitor Center Monahans Sandhills circa 1957

Simple But Sweet Visitor Center

Campsite At Monahans Sandhills State Park

Afternoon Sledding In The Dunes

More Dune Sledding In The Early Morning

Finding The Steepest Dunes

Patterns In The Sand

Javelina Tracks Across The Dunes

Whiptail Lizard Tracks

Wending Our Way Across West Texas
In The Former Town Of Bugscuffle
Wildflower Season In Texas
Stopping For Photos Along The Way
In A Field Of Firewheels
Firewheels And Bluebonnets
Huge Peaceful Site At San Angelo State Park
San Angelo Water Lily Gardens
First Water Lilies Of The Season
A Lovely Yellow Water Lily
Riverwalk Along The Concho River
Mosaic Sculptures On The Riverwalk
Mosaic Covered VW Bug
One Of Many Art Sheep In San Angelo
Fancy Entrance To Monahans Sandhills State Park
Fair Warning
Visitor Center Monahans Sandhills circa 1957
Simple But Sweet Visitor Center
Campsite At Monahans Sandhills State Park
Afternoon Sledding In The Dunes
More Dune Sledding In The Early Morning
Finding The Steepest Dunes
Patterns In The Sand
Javelina Tracks Across The Dunes
Whiptail Lizard Tracks
Wending Our Way Across West Texas thumbnail
In The Former Town Of Bugscuffle thumbnail
Wildflower Season In Texas thumbnail
Stopping For Photos Along The Way thumbnail
In A Field Of Firewheels thumbnail
Firewheels And Bluebonnets thumbnail
Huge Peaceful Site At San Angelo State Park thumbnail
San Angelo Water Lily Gardens thumbnail
First Water Lilies Of The Season thumbnail
A Lovely Yellow Water Lily thumbnail
Riverwalk Along The Concho River thumbnail
Mosaic Sculptures On The Riverwalk thumbnail
Mosaic Covered VW Bug thumbnail
One Of Many Art Sheep In San Angelo thumbnail
Fancy Entrance To Monahans Sandhills State Park thumbnail
Fair Warning thumbnail
Visitor Center Monahans Sandhills circa 1957 thumbnail
Simple But Sweet Visitor Center thumbnail
Campsite At Monahans Sandhills State Park thumbnail
Afternoon Sledding In The Dunes thumbnail
More Dune Sledding In The Early Morning thumbnail
Finding The Steepest Dunes thumbnail
Patterns In The Sand thumbnail
Javelina Tracks Across The Dunes thumbnail
Whiptail Lizard Tracks thumbnail

Read More