Thursday, April 30, 2009

Rallying in Albuquerque

Each year, thousands of RVers come together for what is billed as the "World's Largest" gathering, known as "The Rally". Sponsored by the Affinity Group, which includes Camping World, Motorhome and Trailer Life Magazines, and the Good Sam Club, this year's rally was held in Albuquerque. It was too big for one location, so this year the RV parking area and entertainment tent were located at the Balloon Festival grounds, and the exhibits and seminars were across town at the Expo New Mexico grounds. Coming over the hill into the Balloon Fest grounds, the view was a sea of RV rooftops - the final count was over 3100! Because of the lack of hookups and what we thought would be excessive crowding, we chose to stay at one of our favorite parks on the West side of town, American RV Park. We're glad we did; the chore of grabbing a shuttle bus between the two rally sites turned into a nightmare when rain and highway construction increased the shuttle times to as much as three hours, and in any case, we always enjoy our stay at American. The first day of the rally was greeted by unusual weather, rain and even a few snow flurries. It was cool and damp, but was worth it when the next day the sky cleared and we were greeted by a view of the snow-touched Sandia Mountains. The next three days were perfect; 70s and sunshine, and we spent most of the day at the rally attending various seminars, such as Driving the Alaska Highway and Exploring the Pacific Northwest, and browsing the hundreds of exhibitors, both inside and outdoors. On the first night, we attended a concert by Neil Sedaka - what a great show! It's hard to believe he's 70; he danced around the stage and sang like the teenager we all remembered. Looking around the audience, it looked like a AARP convention - there weren't many people in attendance who didn't qualify for Social Security, but hey, at least we were there. Overall, we enjoyed the rally, and accumulated enough brightly colored trinkets from the vendors to last for quite a while. We agreed that it's not something we want to attend for a few more years. You can view videos of the rally here.
On the way to the rally, we spent two nights at Isleta Pueblo Casino Campground, a very nice park with the exception of a trains running 24 hours a day right at the entrance area. We visited the pueblo, an area of mostly moderized adobe homes crammed together, and came across this beautiful church. The Church of Saint Augustine, estabished in 1613 and rebuilt using the original walls in 1716, is one of the oldest mission churches in the United States and is still in use today. Unfortunately, visiting the church didn't help our success when visiting the Indian casino later that day - but the buffet was good.
We're in our traveling mode now; we'll be heading east and northeast through New Mexico, the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles, into Kansas, through Missouri, and on to a visit to the Saint Louis area, where we spent time at Scott AFB back in the early 80s. We'll try and get some pictures of our travels on the way - stay tuned!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Backroads & Birding

ItalicLeaving Alamogordo, we had a short drive to the little town of San Antonio, NM, located at the crossroads of US 380 and Interstate 25. We spent five days here, at the Birdwatchers RV Park, primarily because it's the closest park to Bosque Del Apache, one of the premier National Wildlife Refuges. The refuge is large (over 57,000 acres) with a number of lakes and marshes along the Rio Grande River. During the winter, thousands of Sandhill Cranes, Snow Geese, and other migratory waterfowl call this area home, but unfortunately our timing was off, and except for lots of ducks and some ibis and egrets, the refuge was quiet. It was still a beautiful area to visit, and one evening we sat on the edge of a pond next to an egret rookery and listened to the sound of egrets and red-winged blackbirds singing. On the way to the refuge, we saw a sign for Fort Craig National Historic Site, a place we'd never heard about but one that turned out to be very interesting. It surprised us that Fort Craig was one of the largest forts in the west, and we were even more surprised to learn of the Civil War battle that was fought here. Leaving I-25, it was a five-mile drive down into the Rio Grande valley and the visitor center. Just north of the fort is the site where in February 1862, 2,500 Confederate soldiers forded the river from the east and were met by 4,000 Union troops. Although the Confederate forces are generally considered to have won the battle, they were not capable of laying seige to the fort and moved northward to Santa Fe, where after another battle the remaining troops retreated to Texas. You can read about the battle here. Taking the self-guided tour through the ruins, we were able to use old photographs to get a mental picture of what the fort looked like in it's prime. Although not much is left, it's still evident that this was once a huge facility with a large population.
Just up the road from the RV park was the town of Socorro, an interesting town along the interstate. Driving through the main business route doesn't do the town justice; once off the main highway, we found a beautiful university (New Mexico Tech) with tree-lined streets and upscale housing areas. We found a truly outstanding place to eat, the Socorro Springs Brewery, and even made a trip up the road to see the Very Large Array, one of our favorite spots to visit. We also took a side trip on the Quebradas Scenic Byway, a BLM-maintained dirt road through the hills above the Rio Grande Valley. It was a nice day for a drive in the boonies, and while the byway had some nice views, it wasn't anything we'd recommend to others.
We're off to Albuquerque and "The Rally", the largest RV rally of the year - it should be fun; come back and see!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Pictures on Rocks & Lava Beds

The Tularosa Basin of New Mexico has a variety of sights, from white sand dunes and parched desert to the heavy forests of the Sacramento Mountains. After spending time in the mountains, we decided on a change of pace. Heading north from Alamogordo, we passed through the little town of Tularosa, which has made an amazing recovery in the past few years, and 17 miles later we came to the turn-off for Three Rivers Petroglyph site. The site, administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), has a small interperative center, picnic tables, and two fairly nice RV sites. We were met by a volunteer couple who explained the trail and gave us a map of the petroglyphs and history of the people who made them. It surprised us how extensive the site is; over 21,000 "glyphs" have been identified, and because they're compressed into a relatively small area, our 1 1/2 mile hike gave us a view of most of the artwork. The glyphs are believed to be created by the Mogollon people between 900-1400 AD and are still remarkably visible. People, Animals, birds, and symbols are clearly visible on the basalt rocks, and every few feet brings on a new panorama of art. Most of the art is clearly identifiable, Bighorn Sheep, deer, birds, snakes, and scorpions are common, as are faces and symbols. It's an amazing place and an easy hike; we'd recommend it if you're in the area. Leaving the petroglyph site, we turned East on the dirt road toward the Sacramento Mountains to do some exploring. We quickly came upon a bovine roadblock; apparently they thought we were bringing them some hay & refused to move until I promised them that Brenda would bake them an alfalfa cheesecake. The road took us on to the Mescalaro Apache Indian Reservation, and ended at a small enclave of old houses and this beautiful old chapel. It looked like the area was deserted; a shame, it was a beautiful area with the mountains in the background. After backtracking to the main road, we headed further north to Valley of Fires Recreation Area, another BLM site, just west of the drab little town of Carizozo. The lava flow stretches for over 44 miles and is 4 to 6 miles wide, and was formed from lava vents, not a volcano. The site has great facilities; paved RV sites with electric, a nice visitor center, and a paved nature trail through the lava bed. It's not exactly a beautiful place, unless you like black rock, but it was interesting to walk the trail and see the patterns in the rocks and how plant life had managed to survive. Not everything survives, though, and I thought this image of a dead pinon pine looked good in black and white.
We're leaving the area this week and heading for a short stay at a park near the Bosque Del Apache NWR; come back and visit!

Friday, April 03, 2009

White Sand & Snow

We're in Alamogordo, NM, parked at a terrific new RV Resort called Boot Hill. It's a large park that features an extensive entertainment area where they have music on weekends and where we've enjoyed pot luck dinners with other campers. The owners, James and Cindy, have really gone all out to make this a pleasant experience and we we wish them well. Coming to Alamogordo is always an interesting experience for me since in the late 60s I was stationed here as a brand-new air traffic controller, at nearby Holloman AFB. It was my first assignment and also my first experience with life outside Northeast Ohio. I'll always remember my first night out on the town and walking into "Buck's Buckaroo" wearing my Cleveland garb - leather jacket, "Dino" two-inch high collared shirt, tailor-made lacks with wing-tip shoes. It was like the old westerns when the bad guy walks into the saloon and the piano player stops playing and everyone stops talking. The next day I was shopping for Levi's and a western shirt.
One of the reasons Alamogordo is special to us is the Sacramento Mountains which tower over the city. We couldn't wait to head for Ruidoso and visit the interesting shops and restaurants. And of course, the casino. Coming around a curve in the highway, we were presented with a great view of Sierra Blanca, at just under 12,000' high the tallest peak in the area. There still was a coating of snow, and we decided to drive to Ski Apache, a ski and snowboard resort run by the Mescalaro Indian tribe, and which it turned out, was open for the last weekend of the year. The drive up to the ski area is an experience, another one of those where I had to turn up the radio volume to drown out Brenda's screams.
Another of our favorite mountain towns is Cloudcroft, a smaller, more quaint mountain town at an elevation of 9000' that has an small but intriguing area of shops and restaurants. From here, we explored the back roads and an area known as Sunspot, but more correctly the National Solar Observatory (NSO), and the Apache Point Observatory. Both are open to self-guided tours, and the tour at the NSO also highlights the long history of the facility, which dates back to the 50s. Particularly interesting was the Dunn Solar Telescope, the most prominent of the buildings and which can be seen clearly from the valley floor. Although it's tall at 136', there's another 228' below ground that completes the telescope. It's an interesting walk through the tall pines and past the various telescopes, and the view of the valley and White Sands Monument from the observation point is outstanding. From here, we continued on mountain roads to the town of Timberon, where we saw these three bull elk in the shadows along the road. Along the way, this Red-tailed hawk decided to stop in a tree next to us and pose nicely for a picture.
South of Alamogordo lies White Sands National Monument, which we've visited over the years and described in previous blogs. This was an unusual visit; the monument was packed with people surfing the dunes, picnicking, and just enjoying the sun. It was spring break time in Texas and apparently the folks in El Paso were taking advantage of the great weather and closeness of the monument. We stayed until sunset, and the subdued lighting made the place magical.
White Sands Monument and I have a long history together; it started in my early days here as a 19-year old airman. As you can imagine, there weren't a lot of things to do in the area for a single guy who didn't know how to do the two step, and so one night, with the help of a few beers, my roommate and I concocted what we knew would be the event of the century....the next day we visited the wood hobby shop, and with a few two-by-fours and some plywood constructed two sets of stilts with big, clawed footprints. A few nights later, we parked on the highway adjacent to the monument, climbed the fence, and giggling like two adolescent schoolgirls, began making tracks through the dunes. We could just see the headlines: "Spawned by the atomic blast of 1944, the Abominable Sandman Lives!"....we were so ingenious!
About that time we heard what sounded like someone clearing their throat, stopped giggling, and looked the top of a dune where the full moon silhouetted a park ranger on horseback. Looking down at us, and with a sarcastic tone to his voice, he said "you know, every year we get a couple of you idiot airman from the base out here making tracks like there's some kind of sand monster. I guess you two are this year's idiots". He could have arrested us, beaten us.....anything would have been better than destroying our belief that we were the first and only people to ever think of this......we were so visibly humiliated that he just took our names and told us not to come back....ever. I still can't believe that we weren't the first to think of such a cool thing. It still hurts.
Ah well, we still have more to see here before we move on; come back and see what else we've discovered!