Hiking Dripping Springs Trail in the Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks National Monument

There’s a trail outside of Las Cruces, New Mexico that I’ve long wanted to hike. In the past, it’s either been too hot or my work schedule didn’t allow me the time to tackle the trail, but last month I had a free day and I decided it was high time to see what this Dripping Springs Trail was all about.

Dripping Springs Trail is located just outside of the city of Las Cruces in southern New Mexico in the Organ Mountains. This area of the Organ Mountains and Desert Peaks was established as a National Monument in 2014 and is now under the oversight of the Bureau of Land Management. Just over 496,000 acres, this area has several trails and points of interest- both geologic and historic.

If you’ve never experienced the Organ Mountains in southern New Mexico, they’re something to see. The jagged peaks protrude from the ground and while beautiful, they are also menacing. From the base of the mountains I wondered if I’d be able to hike into the sharp-edged mountainside. The warning sign visible at the head of the trail didn’t do much to bolster my confidence.

There are several trails in the area, but you’ll find the trail head for the Dripping Springs Trail just off to the left of the visitor center as you exit the building.  Heed the warning signs – stay on the trail and only hike where you’re physically able. Bring plenty of water as New Mexico can be subject to intense sun and high temperatures.  The best time of day to enjoy the trails is early morning.

The trail is a gravel one.  In some spots, I found the gravel to be almost too deep.  If you have physical limitations or have ankles that tend to roll, like mine, I’d recommend a pair of sturdy trail shoes.  Some people may feel more comfortable in hiking boots and you will see plenty of hikers with poles to help navigate the terrain.

The trail itself is an approximately 3-mile long loop and I’d categorize it as a moderate trail.  There is some gain in elevation as you wind your way up to the remains of the dripping springs.  If you’re from out of state, don’t expect a gushing waterfall; this is the desert after all.

The scenery in this part of the state is quite spectacular.  The trail exposes several views of the City of Las Cruces as well as of the Organ Mountains.  The trail is well known and you will almost certainly run into other hikers.  Hiking earlier in the day will be your best bet for cooler temperatures and fewer people on the trail.

The scenery is lovely and for me, that’s reason enough to hike. Though the sun was up, the mountains block the heavy glare in the early morning and there are some shady places to stop and sit along the trail.

I was pleasantly surprised as I made my way up, that there are historic sites that still remain on trail.  The path is clearly marked in most places and the Bureau of Land Management has added signage directing hikers to sights along the way.

The remnants of the Van Patten Mountain Camp, the Dripping Springs Reservoir and the Boyd Sanitarium are visible as you make your way up the Dripping Springs Trail.

The Van Patten Mountain Camp, built in the late 1800s by Eugene Van Patten, was a resort nestled into the Organ Mountains that provided elite guests respite from the heat and city life in the valley.

Remains of the Van Patten Hotel

Van Patten, a former Confederate soldier, settled with his wife in the area around 1872 and went on to build this notable escape out of native rock in a lovely setting.  The first guests were sure to have arrived by stagecoach (then later by automobile) and were said to have enjoyed delicious food and entertainment during their stay.

Remnants of the Van Patten resort

You can see the remains of many buildings, the livery buildings a bit lower down on the trail, the hotel and the dripping springs reservoir (for which the trail is named). The hotel, in its heyday, was said to be two stories with 14 rooms, a dining hall, and entertainment facilities including a bandstand.

The hotel hosted many notable guests in southern New Mexico, including Pat Garrett and Pancho Villa, until 1915, when Van Patten came into financial difficulties.  The hotel was sold and began a new life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 1917, Van Patten declared bankruptcy and sold the property and its buildings to Nathan Boyd. Boyd, a doctor, made his home with his wife on an adjacent plot of land to the Van Patten camp. The old Van Patten resort was converted into a tuberculosis sanitarium to treat patients suffering from the disease, including Boyd’s own wife.

The wooden buildings, added by Boyd, seem to date to the 1910s.  You can still see the caretaker’s cottage and the old dining hall.  Boyd, too, ran into financial problems when he was involved in a court case in the 1920s.  The case depleted his finances and he was forced to sell the property to Dr. TC Sexton of Las Cruces.  The old resort continued to operate on and off as a tuberculosis sanitarium until the 1940s  when it fell into abandonment. (The Bureau of Land Management took control of the site in 1988).

As with many abandoned buildings, there are lots of tales of the Boyd Sanitarium being haunted.   I personally didn’t run into any ghosts while exploring the trail and buildings, but a young buck and I nearly scared each other to death when I tread close to where he was bedded down.


Visitors can look upon and even read about the buildings that are found on the trail, but please note that for safety and preservation reasons, you may not enter any of the buildings or climb on the old reservoir.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To access the Dripping Springs Trail and surrounding area, take the University exit off of I-25 in Las Cruces and head toward the mountains. The road will dead-end at the monument. There is a $5.00 day use fee that can be paid inside the visitor’s center. If you are a National Parks Pass holder, you may use your pass in lieu of the fee. Restrooms are also located on-site.

Have I been abducted?!

You all know how I like to tell you about all the quirky places in the state of New Mexico?  Well, about the quirkiest place you can find is perhaps the city of Roswell.

57435692_10219405643591518_2248855377380638720_nDue to no fault of its own, really, Roswell’s claim to fame is space aliens. Yep, you heard that right.  In July of 1947, The Roswell Incident took place.  An Unidentified Flying Object, a UFO, crashed at a ranch outside of Roswell, NM (quite a ways from Roswell, actually). Or so the story goes.  58460891_10219405618470890_8143089261130809344_n

Once officials were notified, the military swooped in from Walker Air Base (the Air Force base was decommissioned in 1967), gathered up all of the evidence and the alien bodies, threatened folks to keep their mouths shut, issued a cover-up story about a weather balloon and….

Well, the mystery and stories about what really happened in Roswell have persevered. And, the city of Roswell itself has firmly grabbed hold of their alien connection and you can see it all over town. It’s a pretty spectacular example of taking the odd tidbit you’re known for and running with it.

Roswell is home to approximately 50,000 people, making it the fifth largest city in New Mexico.  And the city itself has a pretty rich history. It is the county seat of Chaves County and if you’re interested in aviation or rockets, Roswell has a lot of interesting people in its past, including Charles Lindbergh, Robert Goddard and more recently, Felix Baumgartner.  New Mexico Military Institute is in Roswell and there are lovely museums and restaurants and plenty of places to stay, but I’m here to talk about the aliens.

If you find yourself in Roswell, fuel up at Big D’s Downtown Dive and then throw yourself right into alien culture.  Aliens are literally all over the streets of this town and they will provide you with lots of fun photo taking opportunities.

19092707_10213769948902673_4456882170496300556_oThere’s perhaps no better place to start than the International UFO Museum and Research Center. Right on Main Street, the museum will provide you with a timeline of all of the action  along with UFO art, stories from abductees, and some life sized alien replicas.

This was the first time that I popped into the Research Center portion of the building. Let me just say: If you want to read all things about aliens, UFOs, and etc., this is your place.

Want to up your alien experience to the next level?  The City of Roswell hosts a UFO Festival every year in July.

Maybe I’ll see you there.

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If I haven’t convinced you already…

I’ve written about Carlsbad Caverns National Park and White Sands National Monument here in New Mexico before, so I’m not going to do another full write-up, but I will share these photos taken on my last visit in April 2019.

This is the first time I’ve experienced White Sands on a cloudy and rainy day and it made for a completely different kind of beautiful out there in the sand.  I ran into an Alamogordo native on the dunes who told me that it’s the first time in his life that he’d been out in the gypsum dunes when it wasn’t “sunny and hot as hell.”

Being out in the clouds and sprinkling rain was certainly nice, but when the thunder started, all I could hear was my mother’s voice telling me to get in the car.

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One of the great things about Carlsbad Caverns is that you don’t really have to worry too much about the outside conditions.  The caverns are always cool and damp.  You do; however, have to worry about time.  I arrived this time just as the last tickets were being sold for entrance.  This forced me to elevator down rather than taking my preferred path – the hike down into the natural entrance of the cave.

Elevator ride aside, there was still plenty of time to explore and I was among the last people out of the caverns at closing time, which was nice. It’s very quiet when there isn’t anyone down there.

Pictures don’t do this place justice. They just don’t.

Note to self: it’s time to renew your National Parks Pass.

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What exactly do they do out there?

I’ve driven by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRA) outside of Socorro many times.  The NRAO is home of the Very Large Array (VLA) or a set of giant satellites that in my mind were always aimed at space searching for alien life.  That’s not exactly true and probably came more from the movie Contact than it did from any actual research on the VLA.

Let me preface this entire blog post by saying I have a very limited understanding of anything more than mildly scientific.

54257461_10219173335063950_8692413439395495936_nI’ve driven by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRA) outside of Socorro many times.  The NRAO is home of the Very Large Array (VLA) or a set of giant radio telescopes that in my mind were always aimed at space searching for alien life.  That’s not exactly true and probably came more from the movie Contact than it did from any actual research on the VLA.

Anyway.  After having a presentation canceled, my co-worked and I decided to treat ourselves to an afternoon of not working.  Neither of us ever having actually been to see the VLA we headed down to check it out.

The VLA is about 50 miles outside of Socorro and it’s pretty much in the middle of a high desert with nothing else in sight.  Turns out that was an intentional decision when construction started on the very large array in 1973.  The giant satellites of the NRAO collect radio waves from space and these radio waves are very faint.  And, when you are trying to collect faint radio waves from space, you need to be in a quiet and open area…hello New Mexico. The flat area outside of Socorro is also surrounded by mountains which act as nature’s buffer to ambient sound.

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The sounds are so faint and the telescopes so sensitive that you’ll be asked to put all electronics in airplane mode and then power them off while you are here.  You are allowed to briefly power things on to take photos (while in airplane mode). 

The visitor center has several interesting displays that will help people without science minded brains (like me) to understand the basics of what goes on at the VLA.  In a very non-scientific nutshell: the VLA uses the giant radio telescopes to collect radio waves from space.  A giant supercomputer then compiles all of the data from all of the different 54423210_10219173337744017_2983587495607795712_ntelescopes into composite photos that allow us to see what space looks like.  It really is pretty amazing and the visitor center has several incredible photos that came from the data that’s been collected.  In addition to providing insight as to what space looks like, astronomers use this data to track asteroids, watch exploding stars and investigate black holes.

That’s where my understanding ends.  There is a documentary that plays in the visitor center as well as some on-demand videos in which some very science-y guys attempt to explain what goes on at the Observatory to people like me.  No one answered my two burning questions:  how much do these beasts cost?!  My guess is somewhere in the hundreds of millions of dollars. And, has anyone ever broken one?

54517386_10219173335543962_6153953244788817920_nThe best part of our visit was the walking tour.  (Guided tours are available – check the website). You will have an opportunity to get outdoors and get close to one of the VLA’s radio telescopes.  These 230 ton monsters can be moved on special loading trucks – provided that the winds are no more than 20 mph.  Employees use jacks to lift the dishes up off of the bases.  They are then lowered onto these specialized trucks that can move the radio telescopes along 40 miles of railroad tracks on the NRAO property.  The telescopes travel at no more than 5 mph on the tracks to their new location. This allows the VLA to adjust the arrangement of the satellites to suit their needs. You can check out the current configuration of the VLA here: https://public.nrao.edu/vla-configurations/.

 

Rock cities and white sands

What do most people think of when they think of New Mexico?  It’s always interesting to hear the opinions and, sometimes, misconceptions of the people I meet across the country.

I’ll admit, when we moved to New Mexico in 1982 I thought my mother had lost her mind and moved us to the surface of the moon.  New Mexico is….different.  I don’t mean that in a negative way.  While the state has its challenges, just like every other state, the fact that New Mexico is different is what makes it special and there is no other place to notice the different than in the land itself.

Most people don’t realize that New Mexico contains such a wide and varied landscape.  I suspect most people think of the desert when they think of New Mexico and we’ve got desert – plenty of high desert to be precise – but we also have prairies, buttes and mesas, red rocks, canyons, and mountains.  New Mexico mountains are the southern end of the Rockies, you know. The sunsets in this state will blow your mind…

We’ve also got sand and rocks.  Hear me out.

Last week in Southern New Mexico, I visited one National Monument where I’ve been many times before and one state park that I’d never visited. Sand and rocks.

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White Sands National Monument

Sand comes in the form of white gypsum at the stunning White Sands National Monument located just outside of Alamogordo.  As the website claims, there really is no other place like it on Earth.

White Sands is a gypsum dunefield.  Gypsum is a fine, white sand and that sand has been deposited in the Tularosa Basin over hundreds of years to form what is now the national monument.  I’m no geologist so if you’re interested in actual detail of the formation of these sand dunes, check out the White Sands National Monument website.

The dunes encompass some 275 square miles and the monument preserves the majority of those dunes.  You may have seen sand dunes before.  The Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado is beautiful, but it isn’t White Sands.  As the name indicates, part of what makes White Sands so stunningly beautiful is that the sands are white – duh.

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You need sunglasses while visiting – believe me.  The New Mexico sun bouncing off the bright white sand is akin to being out on a snow covered mountain in the sun.  You can’t squint enough so break out the giant shades before you start rolling into the park. (And water. Please take water with you.)

53333178_10219081172879953_143936822379020288_nYou can drive through the park and take in the beauty from the car, but if you really want to experience the monument you need to park the car, get out and climb a dune (yes, really!).  It’s the only way to experience the magnificence of this place and it’s a great quad workout. Stand a top a dune and take it all in.  Sit or lie down in the sand.  It’s like the best beach in the world (minus the water).  Bring a sled (or rent one at the visitor center) and hike up a dune and slide down.  I had fond memories of sledding here as a kid.  A friend and I visited White Sands a couple of years ago and we brought our sleds. You don’t go as fast once your butt has reached adult-sized proportions and it’s a little scary staring down the side of a dune, but we sledded any way and laughed our adult rumps off in the process.  On this visit I saw an older couple with sleds, sliding slowly down a shorter dune with huge grins on their faces.  That’s what it’s about.  Get the sled – you won’t regret it. (There is an entrance fee of $20 a car.  Or, do as I tell you and get a National Parks Pass already).

Sand.

 

Onto rocks.

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City of Rocks State Park

In the southwestern corner of the state, nestled between Deming and Bayard lies a little state park called The City of Rocks.

My colleague and I decided to stop on a whim after some meetings.  I had heard about this place from a friend of mine who has family in the area.  “Stop there,” she says.  “It’s really beautiful.”  Really? Rocks, beautiful?

She’s right.  As you drive into this park you see….nothing.  Nothing at all until you come to a small vista at the entrance of the park and then you’re pretty blown away.

The City of Rocks is just that.  An outcropping of volcanic rocks standing high in an otherwise flat portion of New Mexico land.  (Again, not a geologist so check out the website for in depth rock information).  There is a $5.00 day pass fee here or you can camp at the site for the incredibly reasonable amount of $14.00 a day.

We took a spin through the visitors’ center and then headed out to hike among the giant rocks.  You can’t really get lost as the rocks are all centered in a small area, but you can run into rattlesnakes in this area so be aware.  As most places in New Mexico, please take a hat, some sunglasses and water.  (I can’t tell you how many people I encounter hiking in the desert without water.  Get a backpack and take it with you. Every time).

Rocks. Beautiful rocks.

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A funky little stay in a funky little town

Truth or Consequences.

That’s the name of this funky little year-round resort town in Sierra County, New Mexico.

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Downtown Truth or Consequences

Famed for its hot springs, this town changed its original name, Hot Springs, to Truth or Consequences as part of a publicity campaign to advertise a game show.  The story goes that a popular game show, Truth or Consequences, was looking for a way to advertise its 10th year anniversary in 1949.  They decided that finding a town in America that would change its name to Truth or Consequences would be a flashy way to gain some publicity. The call went out to cities around the country and  Hot Springs, New Mexico applied and won.  In March of 1950 a special election was held to change the town’s name from Hot Springs to Truth or Consequences.  The name change passed 1294 in favor, 295 against and the host of the popular game show flew to the newly named town to broadcast an episode of the game show – on April Fools Day.  The publicity stunt worked and the name stuck.

IMG_20190226_115835898_2In 2019, Truth or Consequences is known more for Elephant Butte Lake, hot springs resorts, art galleries, and the newly arrived Spaceport America. Approximately 6,000 people still live in Truth or Consequences (we call it T or C for short) and there are a surprising number of things to enjoy in this little city with the big name.

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Private soaking tub at the Blackstone Hot Springs

There are a number of hotels in the area, but if you find yourself in T or C, you’d be wise to check out one of the many hot springs resort hotels in the area.  On this trip I stayed at the Blackstone Hot Springs lodge.  This gem of a hotel from the 1930s has been remodeled with quirky themed rooms.  I stayed with Spock in the Star Trek room  while my colleague stayed in the Jetsons room (PS: I prefer the Spanish name Los Supersónicos) and my boss in the Superman suite.

The rooms, though themed, are modern, clean and incredibly comfortable.  The property boasts a handful of hot springs tubs located in the common areas of the resort, but the best part of this hotel is that most rooms come with their own private hot springs tub.  That means you can soak to your little heart’s content, in whatever bathing attire you like, in privacy.

 

Rates are incredibly reasonable and the Blackstone has a lodge cat: Boris.

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Boris

Now I’m not sure what your thoughts are on him personally, but Ted Turner also has a resort hotel in T or C called the Sierra Grande.  While we didn’t stay here, we did eat at the restaurant which features a nice selection of New Mexico beer and wine.  The menu is varied and features everything from wild game to lighter fare.  I enjoyed a spa bowl (red quinoa, kale, sweet potatoes, chicken and a spicy peanut sauce) and a delicious slice of chocolate cake (ok, and a couple of glasses of wine – everything in moderation, right?)

There are lots of shops to explore and a surprising array of restaurants.  I’d recommend the Passion Pie Cafe for breakfast.  It’s small and crowded but the food is great.  And, if you’re up for something out of the ordinary, the Pacific Grill, which serves both Chinese and Mexican food alongside a salad bar, is surprisingly good.

T or C is also lake adjacent.  I have fond memories of camping and boating at Elephant Butte Lake.  Sadly the last several years of New Mexico’s drought have taken their toll.  Here’s hoping more water starts flowing again soon!

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Drought has devastated Elephant Butte Lake with water levels lower than they have been in years

I haven’t been yet, but Spaceport America is a stone’s throw from T or C.  New Mexico is probably a really great place for a Spaceport:

Great weather year-round – √

Lots of open space for rocket launching – √

A state with a rich history in aeronautics – √

Terrain that looks like another planet – √

In all honesty, it’s helping the local economy and building STEM innovation in New Mexico education. Check it out here: https://spaceportamerica.com/

 

Weeks on the roads of New Mexico: Updated

For those of you that have a hard time gauging the size of states, New Mexico is the 5th largest state in land mass.  The Land of Enchantment encompasses 121,365 miles.  On the flip side, New Mexico is the 36th largest state when it come to population with approximately 2 million people.  What that means is that there is lots of space in New Mexico and parts of the state are incredibly remote – I mean like nothing on the AM dial remote.

I’m the worst blog writer ever. Seriously. I never write. I thought about writing pretty much all of the summer and fall of 2018. Even jotted down some phrases, ideas, sentences that stuck out in my mind as pretty good and then…..insert crickets chirping here…nothing. I can’t even find the notes where I recorded my thoughts.

I spent most of the second half of 2018 figuring out my professional life, leaving one small company with a great group of coworkers to eventually return to the large company that I left three years ago. It has great coworkers too.

Business travel isn’t new to me and I knew there would come a year in my life where flying for work upwards of 4 times a week every week would get old (or I would get too old for it). It turns out that year was my 44th on the planet.

I’m still traveling but now I get to drive the great state of New Mexico more often than I’m on a plane. And that’s been nice. It also got me thinking that I rarely haul my nice (and expensive camera) out of the house. You know, the camera I bought myself as a treat several years ago with a promise that I’d indulge in (and improve) my photography habit.

My work territory is the state of New Mexico. The entire state. For those of you that have a hard time gauging the sizes of states, New Mexico is the 5th largest state in land mass. The Land of Enchantment encompasses 121,365 miles. On the flip side, New Mexico is the 36th largest state when it come to population with approximately 2 million people. What that means is that there is lots of space in New Mexico and parts of the state are incredibly remote – I mean like nothing on the AM dial remote.

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Southwestern New Mexico

Because our population is so small as compared to our land mass, the population in New Mexico is mostly concentrated along the Interstates. Albuquerque is by far the largest city followed by Las Cruces, Santa Fe and a handful of other cities. After that, the population drops off sharply and you’re left with a series of towns and villages.

In the fall of 2018, I visited all 89 of the school districts in the state (these are my customers). It took several weeks but I finally finished crisscrossing the state.

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Abo Ruins

The highways of New Mexico are littered with abandoned and run down homes, farms, and towns, remnants of days gone by. Scattered along the interstates, highways and state roads are also hundreds of roadside markers. Now, I know a lot of you just go blowing by those markers, but there’s some really interesting history to be found there. I highly recommend this book: Roadside New Mexico: A Guide to Historic Markers. It was recommended to me by the park ranger at the Abo Ruins (worth a stop) and it gives the extended history of all the roadside markers (past and present) in New Mexico. Talk to the park rangers at your National Parks and Monuments…they know a lot of cool stuff.

Those of you that know me well know I’m fascinated with ghost towns, abandoned buildings and the like and there are plenty to see in New Mexico. In some cases, towns were left to die after I-40 overtook Route 66. Others, like Cedarvale, were farming meccas where drought eventually came, ruined the crops and drove the population out.

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WPA School in Cedarvale

(Cedarvale was once home to the country’s largest pinto bean producer. All that’s left now are the remnants of a WPA school). Others stopped flourishing after the railroads came and went or the mines were exhausted.

What is even more amazing are the changes in these towns or the quirky ways they are keeping themselves on the map and what one can find in these little towns if you just look a little bit more deeply.

Let’s take the Village of of Mosquero. Mosquero, in Harding County, lies way, way, way out in the middle of….well, nothing. Depending on which census you look at, there are somewhere between 90 and 120 residents in this little village. Sitting so far off the beaten path, not much would bring your average traveler to Mosquero, but it’s a quaint little village where the residents have transformed the sides of almost all of their buildings on the main street into beautiful murals. I’m voting Mosquero the friendliest town in all of New Mexico. I think every resident of the village waved to me as I was exploring the streets and several stopped to chat with me, asking where I was from and could they help me find something – or someone.

In fact, I am starting to miss the friendliness and politeness that is present in most small towns and that sometimes feels largely absent in our bigger cities. I guess you get used the absence of niceties when you live in a larger city (and Albuquerque isn’t really that big…it’s the biggest small town you’ll ever encounter). I mean, sure, you have a handful of people in cities that are friendly and polite, but it just seems that in the smaller towns you see niceness on display in larger and more frequent ways. More kids hold school doors open for me in small towns. More kids call me ma’am in the smaller towns. (Note to small town kids: I don’t really love being called ma’am. I get it’s polite, but could we shoot for “miss” instead?) Maybe as cities grow and grow, we lose the desire to be nicer because we don’t really know our neighbors any more…

The whole point of going down that rabbit hole is to tell you that heading off the beaten path to a small town or village sometimes really pays off. And, perhaps I’m just less vigilant than some of my acquaintances, but I’ve seen some really incredible stuff in parts of my state that other people tend to avoid. “You could get killed out there.” “I never go way out there.” “That’s a weird town.” I think these are all just ways to say that the people in this town aren’t exactly like me and therefore I’m going to react with fear.

Now, I’m not advocating that you go out and behave like an idiot or intentionally put yourself in a situation that looks/smells/seems/feels dangerous, but I am saying: maybe don’t judge a book by its cover.

In addition to the friendliest village ever (Hey Mosquero, hey!), I might have missed all the following if I hadn’t ventured out a bit:

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Shiprock

Shiprock and the graffiti art of the Navajo Nation. A lot of people I know are hesitant to visit Shiprock and/or the far Northwestern part of our state. Don’t be! If you do you will miss out on one of the world’s most interesting geologic sights and some incredible art. Shiprock is the erosional remnant of a volcano and it’s incredible. (As a side note, one of my customers told me that New Mexico has more volcanoes than anywhere else in the country. Thank goodness they’re all not actively spewing lava.) You can visit and photograph Shiprock a million times and get a stunning and totally different looking picture each time. If you’re brave and you have a high-clearance, 4WD vehicle, you can drive out to the Shiprock. (Don’t go climbing it. It’s a sacred site to the Navajo people.)
My other favorite thing in Shiprock (the town) is the incredible graffiti art left on some the buildings in town. I got out of my car on this past trip and really spent some time taking a good look. There’s a lot of talent on these walls.

Art is scattered around the state in some of the most unlikely places you can think of: the painted highway barriers on the Mescalero Apache land, a stilt walker in Albuquerqe, a sculpture of St. Michael that looks almost like animation in Pecos, the Basket Array in Grants, the cowboy sculpture in Jal, murals in Mosquero and Corona and on the walls of Ft. Selden, the painted burros in Carrizozo.

Also scattered across the state, merely a stone’s throw from wherever you are….old churches. Mostly Catholic (occasionally another denomination sneaks in) the old churches here in New Mexico are some of my favorite things to photograph. Many have been in use for centuries and lots of them make you feel like you’re somewhere deep in Central or South America. Whether you’re Catholic or not, religious at all or not, these little churches are always worth stopping for.

And, if you’re like me and you geek out over abandoned buildings of any kind, we’ve got those too, including several grist mills. The one in Cleveland, NM has been turned into a pretty great museum.

This year I visited two interesting (and funky) ghost towns…well, semi ghost towns. Both Loma Parda and Mogollon have a handful of eccentric, year-round residents. If you want to see the really good stuff, make friends with the locals, trust me. It turns out that the main streets in these abandoned towns are just the surface of what’s actually out there to see.

Loma Parda has a pretty seedy history. Located not too terribly far from Fort Union, it was the place that military officers most often found the men that had deserted the fort and they found them drinking and spending time in the company of “women with loose morals.” Today you can wander the streets with a herd of bison.

Mogollon is a placed I’d long wanted to visit. The road to get here is perhaps the scariest, one lane, mountain climbing roads I’ve ever driven. Watch out for the UPS driver flying up the road from the opposite direction. Mogollon was a mining town and much remains…see if you can pick out the actual abandoned buildings from those built for movie sets. The Silver Creek Inn is being worked on and you can actually stay in Mogollon in the summer months. (If anyone has stayed, let me know!)

Don’t be afraid to take the dirt road and venture out a little bit. You almost always find something worth seeing, someone worth talking to and some food worth eating.

An Albuquerque October: Perfect Weather, Balloon Fiesta

Along with chile and Breaking Bad, hot air balloons is kinda our claim to fame.

Let me start by saying that I have been meaning to get a post up for weeks (maybe even months)!  Autumn started off with a bang and there has been a lot going on around here.  I resigned from a job that was not a good fit for me in September, spent a few weeks as an unemployed person (which wasn’t so bad really, except for that whole lack of money coming in thing), and happily landed a job this month that is a much better fit for me (whew!).  Pepper all of that with some family illness/surgery/childbirth and you can see why writing hasn’t been at the top of the priority list.

As a side effect of all that’s been going on, my two upcoming vacation trips to Cuba and The Baltics have been postponed.  We’ll get there…sometimes the timing just isn’t right.  So, let’s not sit around and pout; let’s talk about the awesome things to do in October and get you planning your trip to Albuquerque for  2018!

Balloon Fiesta 2October in Albuquerque is a glorious time of year.  The weather is (mostly) picture perfect and October is the time of year when our biggest and best festival arrives.  If you haven’t been to the International Balloon Fiesta here in Albuquerque, please add it to your bucket list. It’s magical.  Now I know, many of you have seen hot air balloons before, but how many of you have seen hundreds of them at a time or had the opportunity to get up close to a balloon as it’s inflated or to go for a ride in a balloon?! You can experience all of this and you should.  It never, ever gets old.

Albuquerque’s Balloon Fiesta has been around since 1972 when it started with a mere 13 balloons in a mall parking lot.  In the last 45 years, the number of balloons has grown and the Balloon Fiesta has become the most photographed event – in the world.  The Fiesta now has its own park complete with a museum. Hundreds of balloons from all balloon fiesta 7over the world descend upon Albuquerque in early October. Ballooning is big here in New Mexico because we have the weather for it….little precipitation, the right temperatures, and the right winds. Along with chile and Breaking Bad, hot air balloons is kinda our claim to fame.

The Fiesta runs every year during the first week of October.  Festivities begin on the first full weekend in October, run for the full week in between, and then wrap up the second weekend in October.  Weekends tend to be the busier times, but there are events during the week as well.  In addition to the balloons themselves, Balloon Park is filled with events, and shops, and food.

So, here are a few things to know if you’re now convinced to plan a trip to Albuquerque next year for Balloon Fiesta:

  1. Hotels do book up fairly quickly, so plan to make your hotel reservations in advance. Albuquerque is a decent sized city (we’re about a million people), but lots and lots of people come to stay during this time.
  2. Parking at Balloon Fiesta Park is a nightmare.  Unless you like spending hours in your car with your tired family and friends, plan to take the Park & Ride.  (This option allows you to purchase a ticket that includes your bus ride to the park and your entrance fee to the Fiesta.  You catch a bus at designated parking lots around the city.)
  3. You will be getting up early.  Morning events get started early and you’ll want to be there to catch the whole spectacle.
  4. You’ll need to dress for about three seasons – in one outfit.  Our Octobers are typically mild.  Early mornings though, can range from cool to downright cold, depending upon the year, and we occasionally get rain or snow. The 10 minutes before sunrise are always freezing; however, after the sun comes out, you may find yourself warm.
  5. Weather can and does affect the balloon events.
  6. There is some special vocabulary associated with our Fiesta.  You can learn more about all of these events on the official event page (www.balloonfiesta.com):
    1. Mass Ascension – Sounds religious doesn’t it?  This is the early morning event in which all of the balloons take off in waves over the field.  It’s truly, truly spectacular.  You’ll be able to get up close to the balloons to watch the inflation process and to watch them launch into the air.  I have been going to the Fiesta since 1982 and this part of it hasn’t changed and I love that.
    2. Dawn Patrol – the small group of brave balloon pilots that go up in the air before Mass Ascension to test out the weather conditions and winds.  They help determine whether or not the rest of the balloons get to fly.
    3. Zebra – nope, not a zoo animal (though we do have a great zoo here in town!).  Think of the zebra as a kind of Balloon Fiesta referee.  Zebras help the balloonists navigate the big crowds during take-off and are dressed in, you guessed it, black and white stripes.
    4. The Albuquerque Box – these are the magical winds in our town in which balloons take off, float for a bit in one direction, then catch an up-draft that sends them floating back in the opposite direction.  When the box is in effect, you can expect to have hundreds of balloons hanging over you in the sky.
    5. Special Shapes – these are the balloons that are not your typical hot air balloon shape. They’re quite incredible and come in a variety of shapes: armadillos, bee, motorcycle, pig, frog, bird, stagecoach….
    6. Balloon Glow – an evening event in which balloons stay tethered. Pilots use their propane burners to make the balloons “glow.” And, the very popular, Special Shapes Glodeo…a balloon glow with just the special shapes.

 

In addition to our biggest tourist draw, Albuquerque has a few other interesting happenings in the month of October.

This year was our first year as a site for the Chinese Lantern Festival (running early October through mid-November).  I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this until I headed to our local fairgrounds (Albuquerque is home of the New Mexico State Fair) to check it out.  Gorgeous, colorful, large lanterns were scattered around the grounds and it was beautiful.  This festival overlaps with Balloon Fiesta, so you could squeeze it in.  If you go, be sure to check out the show that goes on in conjunction with the lanterns.  Some incredible dancers, acrobats, and contortionists are featured.

If you choose to hang out with us through the month of October, I want to alert you to one other fantastic festival happening in our city.  It’s a smaller neighborhood festival that takes place in our South Valley neighborhood: The Burning of El Kookooee.  El Kookooee is a Mexican tradition in which attendees write their fears and worries down on pieces of paper.  Those fears and worries are stuffed into the Kookooee (a monster or boogeyman) and are burned, allowing everyone in attendance to celebrate their fears going up in smoke.  You might have heard about the burning of Zozobra or Old Man Gloom in Santa Fe (an annual tradition that happens every September) and you’d be correct in noting some similarities.  We really like to burn up negativity here in New Mexico.

kookooee2Each year, neighborhood children craft their version of the Kookooee and one of those monsters is chosen to become the large effigy that is burned on the field (except for 2016 when the effigy was our current President seated on a toilet throne.  You can interpret that however you’d like; this is not a political blog). There are food vendors at the park, so enjoy a refresco while you people watch, check out costumes, enjoy the fire dancers, and await the lighting of the monster.

The Burning of El Kookooee happens on the evening of the last Sunday in the month of October in the field behind the South Valley Library. The park opens at 5:00 PM and the burning of El Kookooee begins at dusk.

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(If you’re planning a visit out for the Balloon Fiesta, feel free to comment and I’ll do my best to answer your questions. )

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taos

Have you ever been to Taos, NM?  The official website describes it this way: Taos is an art colony, a world-class ski resort, an ancient community and land of Earthships.  I describe it this way: Taos is weird and wacky and kind of wonderful.

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Have you ever been to Taos, NM?  The official website describes it this way: Taos is an art colony, a world-class ski resort, an ancient community and land of Earthships.  I describe it this way: Taos is weird and wacky and kind of wonderful.

The friend that I call Porkchop recently texted and wondered if I’d like to meet up in Taos to see a concert (The Mavericks and Dwight Yoakum…both fab if you’re inclined to this kind of music) and hang out.  Yes, please!  I am inclined to this kind of music and a weekend getaway was just the thing I needed.

Having waited too long to book a room in Taos (let me be an example to you), I ended up staying about 45 miles from Taos at the Buffalo Thunder Resort  outside of Santa Fe.  That turned out to be ok because it’s a Hilton property and it has this pool (a casino, too, if that’s your thing).  See my happy toes hanging out in the New Mexico sun?

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Pool at Buffalo Thunder Resort

The drive from Santa Fe to Taos is relatively short, but speeds can be slow and roads are a little trickier than a straightaway. As mentioned, Taos is a little wacky (in a great kind of way), so go with an open mindset and you won’t be disappointed.

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San Geronimo Chapel at Taos Pueblo

You really should visit the Pueblo of Taos if you’re up this way.  This was actually the first time I’d successfully made it into the Pueblo.  The Pueblo is normally open to visitors, but may close unexpectedly at the discretion of the tribe.  Don’t be like the creeps on TripAdvisor…be respectful. Things come up and the tribe has every right to ask us not to come traipsing around if there’s been a death, etc. On this day, we followed a tour bus in, so I thought chances were good we’d get to make a visit.

The Taos Pueblo is a living community and there are rules to follow. (Please follow them!)  This tribe allows photography in most places and some people are open to having their photograph taken. Always ask first.  As you can see, it is

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Taos Pueblo

quite a lovely place.  I’m always in awe of the contrast between the brown adobe (mud, to you non New Mexicans) and the blue sky.  Enjoy time wandering around here to see the traditional homes and shop.  And for the love of all that is good, get some frybread before you leave!

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Necklaces for sale

Now, there are lots of things to buy, but I want to tell you about my favorite purchase – soap!  We wandered into Native American Soaps which smelled wonderful for good reason.  Hand crafted soaps fill this shop and the shop owner is FUN!  After smelling around for a few minutes I settled on two soaps: The Real Rugged Real Beautiful Woman Soap which boasts a fabulous title and description and the Love Medicine soap.  When I started to smell the Love Medicine soap, the shop owner sharply cautioned me: “That one is powerful!  Get ready, men will be showing up from everywhere.”  (I told the man in my life about this and he didn’t seem to believe it. Snort.)

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Soaps from Native American Soaps

My second recommendation when visiting Taos is to head up to the village of Arroyo Seco. You’ll find this fun little town easily on the way to the ski resort. Arroyo Seco is an artist community and it is wonderful. You can shop here, too. (Note, you should probably take some money to Taos. You’re going to want to buy stuff).

On this trip, we got a special treat.  Porkchop has taken ceramics classes where she’s had a rough time throwing clay.  We wandered into an artist co-op, and one

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Arroyo Seco

of the artists was there.  With very little persuading, he sat down and showed us his process for crafting a ceramic bowl.  He made it look so easy.

There are also lots of shops in Taos proper. Some of them are your run-of-the-mill junky tourist shops, but there are some unique places that warrant you at least sticking your head in. Places are filled with trinkets and art, including some more risqué art (like these from artist Anais Rumfelt – more interesting to some people than soap).

Kit Carson Park, site of the concert, is lovely.  Kit Carson did actually live here in Taos and you can visit his home and a nice little museum. A quick drive to the Rio Grande Gorge is also worth it.   If you didn’t get enough of the wacky side of Taos, take some time to visit the Earthship homes…that will give you your fill.

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

Weekends are for hiking.

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Ah, weekends.  Weekends are for being outdoors and for hiking (unless it’s too hot, then I’m all for watching crap tv).  Last Saturday, we finally had a break in our string of triple-digit heat, so a run up to a monument I hadn’t yet visited was in order.

19399785_10213869218704356_7295497229630357940_nKasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is about 45 minutes north of Albuquerque outside of the Pueblo of Cochiti. The monument, well known in New Mexico, is so close that I never could figure out why it took me so long to get here. Get your Parks Passes ready…you’ll use them here as well as this monument is operated by the Bureau of Land Management.  (Really people, these passes pay for themselves if you make an effort to get out at all!)

The aptly named Tent Rocks Monument gets its name 19248086_10213869220024389_1696953187713309397_nfrom the cone- (or tent-) shaped rocks formed here by volcanic eruptions that happened 6-7 million years ago.  (I have a hard time wrapping my brain around just how long ago that was… exactly).  There are lots of interesting rock formations to see here.Pay your fee or hand over your interagency pass, then make the short drive up the road to the parking lot for the first trailhead.  Parking is plentiful, but will fill up as the day goes on. I suggest an early arrival, not only for parking, but also to beat the heat.  (No swanky indoor restrooms, but there are several port-a-potties and outhouses).

19420402_10213869219704381_6885571503379838962_nUpon arriving at the first trailhead, you have two loops to choose from.  (If you’re moderately active, you can easily do both trails in half a day).  The Cave Loop sets you steadily uphill until you reach….a cave!  According to the sign, the cave was made by humans at some point.  Not a lot of information, but it was amusing to watch the many middle aged people who thought they could climb up into the cave  (they couldn’t and you shouldn’t).  There is a decent amount of incline headed up to the cave and one path is much worse than the other in that respect.  If you’re avoiding steep incline, opt for the more popular trailhead rather than the return route.

We spend most of our time hiking the second trailhead into the slot canyon here.  If19429640_10213869218424349_423079624541916997_n you’ve been to Antelope Canyon in Arizona, you’re familiar with a slot canyon.  Slot canyons are deep and not very wide.  An area where wind and water have rushed through sandstone and/or limestone, slot canyons feature a lot of interesting, erosion-formed rock formations and some challenging (in a good way!) hiking.

The Slot Canyon trailhead increases about 630 feet in elevation in about a mile and a half.  Not wheelchair accessible, this trail is narrow and is complicated by a sandy hiking surface, narrow passages (you may have to wait for hikers coming from the other direction before you can pass), and several rocks – of varying sizes – that’ll you need to billy goat climb over (coming down over these rocks is always somehow more difficult to me).  The views are stunning.  I wanted to stop and look at things from every angle. Plan to spend a couple of hours here and make sure you’ve got a hat and some water; while our hiking day was fairly cool, it can get very hot and sunny here.

19429892_10213869220264395_3465022848691106998_nAfter hiking here, you can opt to drive about 4 more miles up an unpaved road to arrive at a second spot that features a memorial park and overlook.  There is a short trail here as well, but it isn’t long (and we didn’t hike it).  The overlook is worth stopping for as you get a great view of the surrounding geography.  On a clear day, you can see for a very long way.  We’re currently battling 10 forest fires in our state (if you can summon up rain, please send some our way!)  The view was a bit hazy, but still impressive.

 

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You might get hungry after all this hiking.  We neglected to bring a lunch and I was tempted to swipe a sandwich and some chips away from a family having a picnic nearby. Nothing to eat on-site here, so pack your lunch or plan to drive a bit further on to the Town of Cochiti Lake to find sustenance.