New Mexico

Carlsbad Caverns

We had a restful and quiet weekend – kind of! Being in a motor home in a high wind advisory is not quiet! In fact we had to pull in two of the slides Saturday night and we were rocking all night. It was not a particularly restful night to say the least.

Jerry had said that he wanted to get an early start to Carlsbad on Sunday morning so I got on up around 7:00. The wind was still blowing, the wind advisory was still in effect and we were still rocking. I was never afraid of turning over but I was worried about the toppers on our slides plus I didn’t know if the wind could knock our slides out of alignment. Jerry did not get up so I began to think he might have alternate plans. He did. When he finally got up he said that he just didn’t think it was safe to be on the road in an RV with 35+ mile winds. I had already told him that RVer’s often changed their plans due to wind. We decided to stay an extra day in Fort Davis. Jerry saw the owner of the park and paid for an extra night as had some others in the park.

In the meantime we decided it was a good time to wash the linens and do some cleaning in the coach. Also I began the process of trying to change our reservations at Brantley Lake State Park in Carlsbad, New Mexico. This is the first time that I have dealt with Reserve America and it will probably be my last. In fact, I’m about to the point of not making reservations anymore! I called the park and left a message. By early afternoon no one had returned my call so I called again. The gentleman who answered the phone said he was new and really didn’t know but he’d check it out and get back to me. He did and just told me that I had to go through Reserve America. I went on the web site and because it was the day of arrival my only choice was to cancel the reservation. I couldn’t change it and there were a couple of fees involved with my getting a total refund of $13. We finally decided to heck with it. We’d just lose the Sunday night reservation and get up early Monday and stay there Monday night. That meant changing our reservation in Amarillo and Caprock so finally I just said let’s get up real early, be on the road no later than 8:00 and get to Carlsbad, see the caverns, spend one night and be on our way so that is what we decided to do.

With that settled we spent the rest of day watching football and updating the blog. Around mid-afternoon the wind finally died down but it was too late to leave plus we had paid for the night. I took a short walk around the park just to get out a bit. Although it’s a small park I saw rigs from as far away as Alaska. I thought we were a long way from home!

We got up early Monday morning and were pulling out of the park by 7:55. Probably a record for us.

On the way we saw several oil rigs and noticed that there was a burn ban in effect. Everywhere we looked was brown grass and we saw a lot of irrigation systems. There were also more cows than we’ve seen anywhere else.

We stopped at a Stripes station outside of Pecos for gas. I have never been to a more congested station. Lots of big trucks, small trucks, a few cars, truck with trailers. We saw that we could get in easily so decided to try it. Probably should have done off route 3 miles to the Flying J as several empty cars indicated that you had to go inside the station – pretty much of a mess!

We got to Brantley Lake State Park around noon but had a little trouble finding our site. Since we were supposed to come in yesterday the park ranger did not have our information and I couldn’t get the confirmation e-mail to download. We finally got it straight and quickly set up, ate a sandwich then off to Carlsbad Caverns we went. Somewhere I heard that the caverns were 24 miles away but it was more like 40. Had I known that I probably would not have chosen to stay at the park but in riding to the caverns we both decided that I had probably made a good choice despite the distance involved.

img_1791What can I say about Carlsbad Caverns that hasn’t already been said thousands of times? Simply put they are spectacular. We took the self-guided tour which has its advantages and disadvantages. On a guided tour there are usually a lot of people and you have to move at a certain pace. On a self-guided tour you go at your own pace often alone but if you have a question there is no one to answer it so it’s a toss-up! We enjoyed the self-guided tour and took our time walking the mile through the Great Room which is the largest known natural limestone chamber in the Western Hemisphere. Floor space is estimated to be more than 600,000 square feet which is comparable to 14 football fields. It is so massive with stalactites, stalagmites, columns and other speleotherms, (a term that encompasses the stalactites, stalagmites and other cave deposits made chiefly of calcite), everywhere. During the very middle of the tour it turned to more massive borders and huge rocks rather than the stalactites and stalagmites but then reverted to them nearer the end.

ladderThere is an undeveloped section of the cavern called the Lower Cave consisting of more than one mile of surveyed passages. The Lower Cave and other undeveloped passages are being preserved in their natural state for scientific study. In fact, they are still discovering new passages and rooms! In 1924 there was a six month exploration and a cave guide built a wire ladder that descended 90 feet into the Lower Cave but explorers felt uneasy dangling in the dark pit on that ladder. Can you just imagine?

img_1805After the tour we stopped at a local group of stores at the entrance and just wandered around. Jerry got his picture taken with the aliens!

Our next stop was the local Walmart to pick up some groceries. We couldn’t decide what we wanted for dinner so we decided that we’d go out and get the pizza we tried to get on Saturday but first we had to take the groceries back to the RV. On the way back into the park Jerry suddenly slammed on brakes and there on the side of the road was a long horned cow contentedly grazing. There were two cows on the other side of the road as well. Jerry had seen them earlier and realized that there was no fence to be seen although there are a couple of cattle guards. Do the cows just roam free?

We got to the campground, put the groceries up and turned around and headed back to Carlsbad for pizza. On the way out we were going very slowly looking for cows! I thought we had passed the area where we had seen them but nope, suddenly again, there he was. We stopped so I could get a picture. The cow started to walk off and then he just turned around and looked at us. We made note of where he was so we could be more careful there when we returned. Of course we knew there was no guarantee that he’d still be in that area later. We’ve seen more animals here than anywhere else including Big Bend. The park is hopping with jackrabbits plus as we were leaving Carlsbad Caverns we saw a herd of deer. I thought they looked a bit different and realized that they are long eared deer, quite different from the deer we see in North Carolina.

We went to the Pizza Inn and got the buffet, nothing fancy or regional but good and filling. We drove very carefully on the way in to Brantley Lake but saw no cows! Whew! Now what to do? It’s 7:15 mountain time, 8:15 central time and 9:15 eastern time. We want to get up and be out of here by 8:00 mountain time but what time do we go to bed? Needless to say we’re confused!

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Texas

Fort Davis, Texas

We awoke to a forecast of rain and high winds so we knew if we were going to do anything outside we had to get moving quickly. Our first stop was Fort Davis. It wasn’t raining yet so we decided to go on in. There is a museum plus a video but we wisely decided that we needed to view the restored buildings at the fort first because the rain was surely coming.

The Fort has been wonderfully restored with several buildings full of memorabilia. From the National Park website “A key post in the defense system of western Texas, Fort Davis played a major role in the history of the Southwest. From 1854 until 1891, troops stationed at the post protected emigrants, freighters, mail coaches, and travelers on the San Antonio-El Paso Road hoping to reach the gold fields of California. Today, Fort Davis is considered one of the best remaining examples of a frontier military post in the American Southwest.”

Commisary
Commisary
We gamely trooped around from building to building in the drizzling cold rain. The first building we went to was the commissary. We got to read entries from a diary belonging to a young lady and it was filled with daily activities and shed quite a light on the times.

The building that housed the information regarding the health and welfare of the residents was grim reminder of how difficult life was during that time. Contrary to popular belief most deaths were caused by disease or illness rather than wounds from battle. One family lost seven children within two weeks from diphtheria. It was not unusual for children to die at a young age or for women to die in childbirth. The average age of a man was only 48.

In the museum
In the museum
Families sometimes filled the voids in their families by adopting other children. A former Hospital Steward adopted two Indian children who were found by the Rangers after a battle with the Apache. The buildings emphasized how very difficult life was during that time, not at all like it’s sometimes romanticized in Hollywood. We ended the tour with a video and a tour of the museum itself.

After touring the fort we headed for the town of Marfa. I wanted to see the town and we were hoping there might be a grocery store there. By the time we got there it was raining steadily so wandering around the town was out. We were able to get gas at $2.29 which was the cheapest we’ve seen it recently. Of course after we got it and rode another block we found it even cheaper!

Someone had recommended that we eat pizza at the Pizza Foundation so we made an effort to find it. They had also given us the phone number and said we would probably want to call ahead – we didn’t. We couldn’t find it so we instead looked for a grocery store and found one and were able to get most of the things on our list. Afterward we made another effort to find the pizza restaurant and we found it – in a renovated garage. Gee, what is it with us and renovated buildings? We went in and finally realized that we had to order at the counter. Jerry went up to order and then headed out calling me. It was going to take an hour to fix our pizza and there was hardly anyone there. Apparently a lot of people had already called in. We heard later that if you went in to order there might be 30-40 call-ins ahead of you! Must be some good pizza and I’m sorry that we didn’t get to try it.

We decided to return to the coach to eat lunch and have a lazy afternoon. The weather was awful, rainy, cold plus a wind advisory so a good afternoon to catch a nap.

Later in the afternoon we realized that it was not only raining but also sleeting and snowing, not much but enough to see it falling. The wind was terrible and the coach was rocking so badly that we pulled in two of the slides. Looks like it’s going to be a rocky night!

Texas

Star Gazing at MacDonald Observatory

We hated to see our Big Bend experience come to an end but it was time to move on so we broke camp and headed 106 miles to Fort Davis. Actually part of the drive we’d already seen as we had to go back to Alpine to get to Fort Davis. It was a pleasant easy drive although the wind picked up as we neared Fort Davis. (There was a high wind advisory)and we arrived at noon. The office at MacMillian RV Park was closed but there was a phone number posted on the door so I called. The man who answered said the lady who kept the office was sick and he was out on the road. He told me just to pick a spot and we’d settle up later. We picked a spot and began to to set up first taking the car off of the dolly. It was so very windy but we finally got everything done. As we were eating lunch the wind was buffeting us around and blowing the sides so that we decided to bring the living room slide in before we left. That seemed to be the one out affected.

We rode out to MacDonald’s Observatory just to check things out. We knew they had a starlight program on Friday nights and reservations were necessary. It took us about 20 minutes to get there and upon arrival we found out that there were three separate programs. One at 2:00 for an hour and a half, the Twilight Tour at 5 for an hour and a half and the Star Party at 7:00. We realized that if we wanted to see all three we would not have time to return to the RV so we just spent the afternoon there.

img_3455The first program was more interesting to Jerry than to me as it was very technical but after a talk of about 45 minutes we took the shuttle up to see two of the microscopes. That was awesome. The first microscope was the Harlan J. Smith and it is enclosed in a building with a top that opens when the microscope is in use. The second microscope, the Hobby-Eberly Telescope is so very difficult to operate that there are only four astronomers and their four assistants who are allowed to use it. If someone wants to use it for a research project they send the relevant information to MacDonald, the research is done there and then downloaded back to the originator of the project.

I thoroughly enjoyed the second session. Our speaker, Kelly explained the various zodiacal constellations and their positions to each other. He had a very unique way of demonstrating it. It would be a great day to introduce it to children. He talked about the various planets, explained why Pluto was no longer considered a planet and showed everything in relation to the sun. I thought it was interesting that out of 3700+ members of International Astronomical Union only 400 voted to designate Pluto as a dwarf planet. Guess a quorum was not necessary.

We got a quick bite to eat in the cafeteria and then we were ready for the star gazing – except we really weren’t. It was all outside and it was 39 degrees. I had worn my down coat but had on tennis shoes and golf socks and the thinnest pants I own. Jerry had on a heavy shirt and his State pullover. We were definitely not dressed to be outside for any length of time. Oh, did I mention that the wind was blowing? :). The first part of the program is held in an amphitheater and boy were those seats cold. We saw people who had brought blankets to sit on and wrap up in. Obviously they knew more than we did. The speaker had a laser pointer that could actually point out the various stars and constellations. That in itself was amazing. He pointed out the North Star, the Morning Star and numerous constellations plus the Milky Way galaxy. Afterward we went to various stations to look at the sky through telescopes. Unfortunately we only stopped at two stations as we were so terribly cold. Upon leaving we were directed to turn right out of the parking lot away from the Visitor’s Center so that our headlights would not shine toward the center and destroy the dark skies and any adjustment one’s eyes had made. An interesting point that was made was that from here east there is nowhere that the dark skies can really be observed due to the prevalent lighting of our cities. Also encroaching on this area are fracking companies which put off a lot of light. In fact we could see the glow of one of the companies. There is some sort of ordinance for seven surrounding counties regarding lights after dark. One corporate store opened and despite corporate instructions they turn the lights off every night.

We came back to the campground and settled in for the night.