Tag Archives: New Mexico

White Sands and Gila Cliff Dwellings

We left the Living Desert State Park in New Mexico on July 14, 1985 around noontime to travel to Alamogordo, also in New Mexico.  We drove through the Sacramento Mountains along our way.

The scenery was quite beautiful driving through the Sacramento Mountains.  We were suddenly seeing a lot of trees and grass, which we hadn’t seen in a long time.  We also came down a 7 degree grade for 16 miles which brought us through the Lincoln National Forest.  We did like driving through pretty scenery along the way, and we routed our traveling days to encompass the best scenery available.

The old motor home rolled down the steep grade quite well.  Laurie was in the passenger seat (remember she didn’t drive the motor home as she couldn’t reach the clutch), and she had white-knuckle syndrome the entire way down that windy, steep grade.

Upon arriving within the borders of the Lincoln National Forest, we started seeing cedar trees, apple orchards, beef cattle, alfalfa, and corn.  The National Forest travels through five life zones ranging from cacti in the lower elevations of around 4,000 feet to the sub-alpine zone as high as 11,500 feet elevation.

Lincoln National Forest

After leaving the Lincoln National Forest, we happened to drive through the area of White Sands National Monument which lies 15 miles southwest of Alamogordo, New Mexico.  White Sands National Monument is an area of 275 square miles of white sand dunes made up of gypsum crystals.  It’s an awesome sight!  Miles and miles of white sand out in the middle of nowhere!

White Sands National Monument

We arrived in Alamogordo around 3:30 that afternoon.  We mustered up some energy to go swimming, grabbed some groceries, ate dinner, and went to bed early.

We woke early the next morning to set out on our travels to Silver City, New Mexico.  Actually our destination had intended to be Apache Junction, Arizona, but the drive was too far to make in one day; so we decided to stop off in Silver City to spend the night, then continue on the next day to travel to Apache Junction and the Superstition Mountains.

We arrived in Silver City quite early (10:30 a.m.) so we decided to check out the scenery while we were there.  The lady who was working at the KOA campground became our tour information center.  She handed us brochure after brochure of the many wonders that Silver City had to offer.  Shucks!  We wish we had known there was so much to see within driving distance of this little town.  We had only allotted one night’s stay in this beautiful area.

We poured over the brochures of the area.  There were brochures on the Gila desert, the silver mining ghost town of Silver City, the Gila Cliff Dwellings, the City of Rocks, the ghost town of Pinos Altos, Bill Evans Lake – we could list a lot more, but well, just so you all know – there was a lot to see in this little place.

We decided to visit the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.  The cliff dwellings lie within a cave-like area that Mongolian people inhabited over 700 years ago.  They actually lived inside the cave-like area of the cliff.

Gila Cliff Dwellings

The National Monument is surrounded by Gila National Forest and lies at the edge of the Gila Wilderness Area.  This particular wilderness area has one very special feature:  it was the nation’s first designated wilderness area.

A trail wanders over to the dwellings which is about 2 miles in length.  It takes approximately 30 minutes to hike out to this beautifully preserved home in the cliff.

Another view of Gila Cliff Dwellings

After the invigorating hike, you step into the area of the cliff dwellings; and you are transformed back in time.  The dwellings are protected from the weather as they are set back into the cliff; therefore, they appear today very much as they did when they were built by the Mongolian tribe that lived there.  There was even a corn crib of sorts that still had corn in it from 700 years ago, or so they told us!

Bill inside Gila Cliff Dwellings

Notice the blackened roof of the cave.  That’s from the cooking fires inside the cave all those years ago – all of 700 years ago!

The Mongolian people who populated this area were farmers.  They grew squash, corn, beans, and probably amaranth and tobacco.  They supplemented their diet with animals that they hunted or snared.  The surrounding forest supplied them with an abundance of wild berries and nuts.

Laurie outside the Dwellings

The national monument holds seven natural caves, but only five contain the ruins of cliff dwellings with a total of 40 rooms.  We were amazed to be told that all the timbers in the dwellings were the originals.  Tree-ring dates obtained from these timbers range through the 1280’s.   Absolutely amazing!

Laurie at Gila

See the timbers in the above picture.  They are estimated to be 700 years old.  Now, the ladder in the picture before, we know wasn’t 700 years old.  We know that because it held Laurie’s weight.

“Bill, you stop that!  I didn’t weight *that* much back then!”

“Yes, my dear, Laurie!”

By the time we arrived back to our campground we were wore out from the hot sun, but it was a “good tired” as we went to bed early to start the next day on our mission to complete our miles to Apache Junction, Arizona.

Come back next time as we tell you what our days were filled with at Apache Junction which lies within the Superstition Mountain range.

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Carlsbad Caverns!

The last post we told you about leaving the Texan desert and entering New Mexico.  The scenery changed dramatically once we crossed the border.  New Mexico has an abundance of hills, flora that wasn’t present in the Texan desert, and fauna such as roadrunners skittering across the empty terrain.  There was still a large amount of cacti, and we saw a lot of cattle.  The strange part for us, being from the eastern seaboard, was the cattle were all free range or what they call “open range.”  The cattle roam without boundaries in the west.  No fences keep these beasts contained.  The human population doesn’t mingle with the bovine kind.  There were also many crops being grown in the area.

Map of Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Image via Wikipedia

We arrived at the campground, got a good dinner in our bellies, went to bed early to arise to the adventures of Carlsbad Caverns National Park.  Carlsbad Caverns is one of the most famous caves in the Americas, and is known throughout the world for its glorious underground sights.

In the late 1800’s Carlsbad Caverns had become a National Monument.  But by 1930 it was honored with the status of National Park. The park encompasses more than the cave system that winds beneath the surface.  When one enters the park at the White Sands entrance, the drive takes you approximately 7 miles before reaching the entrance of the cave.  The drive has pull outs that one can park at, in order to take advantage of the many hiking trails along the way.

The hiking trails led us into some of the finer above-ground areas of the park to enjoy the beautiful plant life which grows in the Chihuahuan Desert.  Carlsbad lies not only within the boundaries of the Chihuahuan Desert, but it also lies on the edge of the Guadalupe Mountain Range.

We woke up early on July 13, 1985, ate a hearty breakfast, and then hopped on the motorcycle for our ride into the park.  We stopped along the way to enjoy the hiking trails.

Flora Outside Carlsbad Caverns

After the invigorating hike, we hopped on the motorcycle once again to gain entrance to the cave.  The cave entrance doesn’t look like much for being one of the most famous cave systems in the world, but if you happen to look up onto the roof of the cave upon entering, you may be fortunate enough to spy a few sleeping bats.  The bats sleep during the day within the cave, and a few of them perch on the roof near the entrance.

Entrance to Carlsbad Caverns

The cave is open to the public down to the 800 foot level.  We were very surprised to find a small restaurant and bathroom accommodations at the 750 foot mark.  Yes, toilets are provided way down there in the deep, dark earth.  These bathrooms actually push the waste up to the surface to be handled at the top, and disposed of into the parks sewage system.  Of course, we had to use the bathrooms, and we had to flush!  It had a hollow, echoing reverberation when you flushed upward!

There is an elevator at the 750 foot level to utilize in your return to the top at the cave entrance.  When we visited the park back in 1985 one had the choice of either taking the elevator back up to the top or walking back up out of the cave.  Today, the only option for one visiting the cave is to take the elevator back up to the top.

Upon entering the cave we were in awe of the many formation types, and the beautiful sights beneath the surface that this beautiful park has to offer, such as these oddly shaped “Cave Coral.”

Cave Coral

“Draperies” are a calcite-rich formation that is formed from the leakage of water from the roof of the cave that drips and forms these beautiful curtains within the cave.

"Drapery" Hanging from the Cave Ceiling

Yes, there’s a ladder in the back of the above picture.  They were placed throughout the cave in different locations to enable the rangers to repair lighting.  Bill had wanted to climb that ladder to explore a little more of the cave than the attendants would have allowed, but Laurie *did* convince him that it would probably end their tour immediately!

Strolling along at a leisurely pace, we came across another smaller drapery deeper within the cave.

Smaller "drapery" Hanging

Flowstone formations are seen throughout the cave, and some of these peculiar formations can become rather large.

Flowstone Formations

“Soda Straw” formations are hollow, thin formations that look just like their name, and yes, they are hollow.  They are the beginning stages of what are called stalactites.  Caves are known to have stalactites, which hang tight to the ceiling of the cave.  Get it?  StalacTITES hang TIGHT to the ceiling; whereas stalagMITES MIGHT reach the ceiling. Those are two important terms that one should always remember while visiting a cave.  The cave verbiage we learned from all our spelunking,  can become a language all of its own!

"Soda Straws" Hanging from the Cave Ceiling

Within the Green Lake Room of the cave there lies a little green malachite-colored pool in the corner of the room.  In the 1940’s the military tested the feasibility of Carlsbad Caverns as a nuclear fallout shelter by watching the little green pool within the Green Lake Room during a nuclear bomb test.  Scientist watched for ripples to appear in the pond when the bomb test took place.  Interestingly, none appeared!

Small Pool of Water

Columns appear when stalactites merge with stalagmites.  You might want to remember the terminology as we might have a pop quiz at the end of this post! Of course, we’re just kidding!

"Roman Columns" Formation

The Big Room or The Hall of the Giants is the largest chamber (covers over 8 acres) in Carlsbad Caverns.  This room is the 3rd largest cave chamber in the Americas and the 7th largest room in the world.  Some very interesting formations lie within The Big Room.

More Formations

And more formations within the cave.

And More Formations

Here’s another view of some of the formations that lie within The Big Room.

Beautiful Formation

Here’s another interesting formation that was coming up from the floor of the cave.

Formation Coming Up from the Cave Floor

Upon exiting the cave, we took a picture of the surrounding area from the parking lot!  It was definitely a good feeling to leave the bowels of the earth and to be back up on the surface!

View from Parking Lot at Carlsbad Caverns

We hope you enjoyed the tour of Carlsbad Caverns.  It is one of the most interesting caves that we visited throughout our travels.

Join us next time as we tell you about the grand happening at the cave entrance every evening at dusk, and our visit to the Living Desert State Park.

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