Our first stop after Las Cruces was White Sands National Monument as we wanted to do the Alkali Flats trail that we missed in April due to the sand/dust storm. White Sands covers 275 square miles and is the largest gypsum dunefield in the world. The Alkali Flat trail is an 8 km loop and listed as very strenuous due to the up and downhill climbs in the sand. The loop proceeds out to the end of the dunes and then loops back. They have bright orange trail markers so you can do the loop but there were several spots where it was difficult to see the next trail marker so we were glad the wind wasn’t blowing so we could see footprint trails in order to find the markers. Even though the sand was a bit cold eventually I took my sandals off to walk in my bare feet as that seemed easier. At one point Sharon made a sand angel and just after that we saw a Coyote go by us in the dunes! It was very cool to see how the plants built up mounds to survive. It took us just over two hours to complete the loop and after lunch Sharon tried her tobogganing skills using an insulation sheet we had. When we drove to the Alamogordo KOA to stay for the night we saw lots of fighter jet action coming out of the Holland Air Force Base flying overhead but hard to get any photos.
The next day we headed towards Three Rivers Petroglyph Site but had a “calling” to stop at the Tularosa Vineyard for wine tasting. Of course we made a few purchases since they had some very good dry red wines. Three Rivers Petroglyphs are an example of prehistoric Jornada Mogollon rock art. The ridge contains over 21,000 petroglyphs including masks, sunbursts, wildlife, hand prints and geometric designs. The petroglyphs are made by scratching the patina off the rock; some were made by pecking through the patina by hitting one rock with another. There were 11 marked locations on the trail but you could wander off the trail and find Petroglyphs on lots of the rocks. We’ve included a couple of collage photos of some of the petroglyphs we saw along the trail. The ranger also said we could proceed past the rest area and eventually find a marking saying “End of Trail” but we never found that marking. We went to the farthest rock overlook we could reach and then eventually turned back as the sun was starting to set. We did see a few bunny rabbits as we walked the trail. After we finished the Petroglyph trail we did the short trail near our campsite that showed some of the prehistoric building sites that were in the village that was in this area over 1000 years ago. What an amazing area to see and it was so secluded as there was only one other camper van in the campground!
Luckily the Park Ranger told us to check out the night sky because the Geminids Meteor Shower was reaching its’ peak that night. We went out several times (even though it was freezing cold) and we saw over two dozen Meteors, some with huge travel tails through the sky! Truly amazing dark sky sites but unfortunately no pictures that turned out;-(
The next day we left Three Rivers and did a side excursion to the old mining town of White Oaks before heading to the Valley of Fires SP for the night. In White Oaks we saw the historic markers, the “No Scum Allowed” Saloon which was originally the newspaper office (unfortunately only open weekends), the old School grounds and the local Museum. The town boomed when gold was being mined starting in 1879. The town also had some fame when Pat Garret and Billy the Kid visited the area in the early 1880’s. However the greedy town leaders tried to draw more money out of the railroad company who refused, so the town was bypassed in favour or Corona and Carrizozo for the railroad and went in to total decline.
We looped back from White Oaks and went to Valley of Fires SP for the night where we got a great spot with a view of the lava flow. Earlier in the day we had an issue where we blew some circuits because we had our electric space heater going with our coffee maker so I spent a few hours researching the problem (reading the manuals and looking online) and eventually I figured out that we had tripped a small breaker on the inverter box in one of the outside compartments and it was stopping our house batteries from being charged. Once I found the breaker and reset it we were back to normal. However it also impacted the fuse for our macerator so later I unplugged that fuse and reinserted it to get the macerator to work. The challenges of living in an RV;-)
Before the sun set we did the Malpais Nature Trail to see the lava flow in the valley. This lava came from volcanic vents 5,000 years ago instead of a volcano. It is one of the youngest and best preserved flows in the US. The flow came from Little Black Peak several miles north of where we were but you could see that peak. The flow is rock called olivine basalt similar to lava flows in Hawaii and is 71 KMS long and from 3 to 8 KMS wide. The coolest thing was how much plant life was surviving in the lava! The desert areas around seemed extremely sparse in comparison to what we saw in the Valley of Fires. Along the trail we also saw a walking stick bug and a 400 year old Juniper tree as well as the amazing lava flow formations. After the nature trail we went up to the overlook above the campground. This was a really amazing place to visit!
The next day we stopped at the Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge (on Ed’s recommendation) on the way to Elephant Butte SP. We talked to one of the volunteers at the visitor center and looked at the exhibits, including the Sandhill Crane Puppet and videos before heading around the North Loop gravel road in the park. Along the road we saw dabbling and diving ducks, a really large flock of snow geese, and as we went along the east and north edges of the loop we started to see huge numbers of the Sandhill Cranes. The cranes stand about 4’ tall and have a wing span of 6’. The park uses the Rio Grande river to flood some of the lands to create the wetlands needed for the bird life and they also grow enough corn crops that they can harvest it to feed the cranes so they still come to this area. The sound of the cranes in the fields and seeing them fly overhead was really cool. Not sure the photos will really do this area justice!
When we arrived at Elephant Butte SP we were lucky to get a site right at the end of the non-reservation area that had an amazing view. The first photo shows the sunset over the lake. The next day we got the mountain bikes out and did a ride around the park and went down to the beach area to ride along the shore. They have a huge amount of primitive camp areas along the shore and eventually we got to the little island that we could see from our campsite. I rode out and around the island and could see the volcanic plug across the lake that we had learned about. We found the ride back up the hill to the campsite quite challenging and realized the 6500’ elevation was impacting us! Later the Gambel’s Quails came by our campsite as they did each night (we stayed here two nights).
On Sunday morning it was raining but we had booked in to Riverbend Hot Springs in the town of Truth or Consequences (which wasn’t far away from Elephant Butte) but you couldn’t check in until 3 pm so we did some Walmart shopping and then walked around downtown Truth or Consequences. We saw the Longhorn Cattle statue, learned why this area was famous for its bath houses from the hot springs, saw the post office and museum grounds, learned how the town changed it’s named from Hot Springs to Truth or Consequences in 1950 to get the publicity from a radio show hosted by Ralph Edwards and saw the old country store and movie theatre.
We were only checked in to the Riverbend Hot Springs for about 10 minutes before we changed and started to soak in the hot springs. We started in the Sierra pool (100-102 F), then the Kiva Pools (103-105 and 104-106F), then the Luna pool (104-106 F), the Zia pool (105-107 F) before finishing off in the Minnow Pool (named after the cat) which was 106-108 F. We were in the pools for over an hour and then went back to the RV (across the street) for dinner and then returned to the pools for another 1.5 hours before closing. They had tons of LED lights at night and they shone over the pool areas and all the way across the Rio Grande river to the trees on the far side. It was very special to be there at night! The next morning we had breakfast and did another hour in the pools and pet Minnow the cat before having a nice shower and checking out. What an amazing place to go and only $50 for the night of camping and full access to the hot springs!
Our original plan was to head for the Gila Cliff Dwellings on the Monday but then we found out part of the road was closed due to snow overnight so we decided to just go 30 KMS down the road to Caballo Lake SP for a night and then see if the road conditions improved (update, road still unsafe so we’ll have to skip Gila this time). We found the views at Caballo Lake SP even better than at Elephant Butte SP. However we were also finding that these SP’s had very little in the way of trails to do for hiking or Mountain Biking. That’s part of the reason we were only spending 1 night in each place. For example at Caballo we had completed all of the marked trails as well as a huge non marked area in about 1.5 hours. We’re really too goal oriented! We can’t sit still and relax, we need things to do;-) Anyway, here are some shots of Caballo Lake SP.