Alamogordo New Mexico
Campground: Oliver Lee State Park. Reg rate: $14 Water/Elect. New Mexico has some of the best camping rates in the country. Great hiking trails through Dog Canyon.
Well on my last day I treated myself to an Easter Buffet at a hotel right outside of the park.
Distance Traveled: 151 miles
Alamogordo New Mexico
A very pleasant morning drive over to Oliver Lee St Pk outside of Alamogordo. The sky seems so vast along the stretch of flat desert. Almost forming a low curving sky from horizon to horizon. Contrails are forming overhead as jets silently cross back and forth across the sky. The lines eventually becoming jagged before gradually breaking up.
I’ll be here for a week exploring the area. The park has a wonderful hiking trail through Dog Canyon, which I intend to do in the next day or so. The park sits on a rise right on the edge of the Sacramento Mountains and is a part of the Lincoln National Forest.
My first tour in the area is to the White Sands National Monument. It’s surrounded by the White Sands Missile Range. The visitor center and a dozen or so adobe cabins were built by the CCC. Their talent is evident inside and out. I was told that there was a big event this past weekend with over 300 vehicles full of tourists arriving at the Monument celebrating their 80th year anniversary. Meaning that many of the dunes would still have remnants of their foot prints as the winds had not yet made them disappear. Not great for picture taking, but I was able to avoid many shots that would have looked like a heard of shoppers had stampeded across the dunes trying to get the latest spring fashion before it became last years designer mishap.
My tours continued throughout the week with a hike up Dog Canyon here in the park. My friends from Desert Trails would love to hike this canyon which has a six mile hike and a shorter one that I’ve explored so far. The steep sides of the canyon are spectacular with a year round stream running through it. Even a few pools that would be perfect for a dip in the heat of the summer months. Although the park is named after Oliver Milton Lee who would eventually own over one million acres of land as a part of the Circle Cross Cattle Company, I would have preferred it be named after “Frenchy” Rochas who homesteaded Dog Canyon for 10 years before being shot to death. Some say he shot himself with his rifle, others believe cattlemen killed him. He built stone walls running up the sides of the foothills to protect the spring waters from cattle and others desiring access to that water. A solitary man, he grew orchards containing olives, figs, apple, cherry, plum and peaches. He is also believed to be the builder of the free standing spiral staircase in a church up in Santa Fe. But as often times in history, the larger, wealthier person gets his name placed on monuments. Standing on the remains of his stone and adobe cabin overlooking the valley, you can see why he settled here. It would be hard to feel lonely with those expansive views and a deep rich canyon of your own.
In town, high up on a ridge overlooking the town and valley below, I visited the New Mexico Museum of Space History. Devoted solely to those that contributed to the exploration of space. Covering everyone who first looked up at the stars and determined that we were indeed a round planet circling the sun on up to the present day scientists and visionaries that have made traveling into space possible. Each brilliant mind adding one more step to making exploration of space possible. They even give credit to those science fiction writers that first inspired those future looking scientists to believe it was possible to go into space. I only wish there had been more voice narrations and music being played throughout the static displays. Only a few short movies throughout brought the experience a bit closer to the senses. Still, if you’re a space junkie, you’ll enjoy this 5 story high museum. The Imax experience was closed down on the day I went but I’m hoping it will be up and running before I leave the area.
Thursday I took a road trip up to Ruidoso and Cloudcroft. Theyre both up in the Sacramento Mountains. Going from desert to the high country where there are pine trees sure is a nice break. I went to a western museum up in Ruidoso but unfortunately half of it was closed as they were setting up a new exhibit on the first level. The lower level had an awesome collection of sleighs, stage coaches and Conestoga wagons, but I felt kind of let down that the museum was only half accessible that day. Hwy 70 has a very gradual grade going into the mountains and Lincoln National forest so I could easily recommend the area for bringing even the larges camping rig up here for a vacation. I understand it’s very popular during the summer months and noted many forest and commercial campgrounds available. Now I also drove over to Cloudcroft along forested hills and many Alpine meadows and even saw a few small patches of snow remaining on the north facing slopes. Understand they got very little snow this past winter and the whole area is in a severe drought. Cloudcroft is just west of Alamogordo along hwy 82. A would caution larger RV-ers about this hwy as it has many miles of 6% grades including a tunnel one must go through. I’ve never seen a forest like this one. The trees are separated from each other so I was able to see the ground through the trees even from great distances. Most unusual. You’d think with all that space in between, I’d be able to see some wildlife, but it was not to be. Unless you count about 8-10 wild horses and some cows. Not sure if the horses were wild, though they were crossing the road in front of me near a number of farms. No harnesses or cowboys were leading them so at this point I’ll say they were wild.
Friday was errand day as well as checking on the Imax Theatre to see if it was up and running again. At the laundry I talked to a guy that has retired recently and was living back with his mother. They both realized that wasn’t going to work out too well, so he was helping her move in with a sister and he was going to move back to El Paso. Gets $1200 from SS, has $800 a month in bills and lives off the rest. Says he won’t be able to play golf anymore as it’s too costly. Do you think a part time job might be in order? He looked in pretty good shape and not all that old.
The Imax was up and running and after doing a some of those chores I made it to the 11am showing of the Hubble Telescope. This Imax was basically a large tilted dome filling the room. Along with a whole troop of grade-schoolers, I sat back and watched a most impressive show about the launching of the Hubble from the Space shuttle. And the subsequent repairs that the shuttle crew made to the Hubble telescope once it was in space. It was a great learning experience and the photos taken from the Hubble telescope and commentary by Leonardo De Caprio were moving. Imagine, billions of stars and galaxies and a telescope that can see to the edges of the universe.
|ground zero, the Trinity Site|
Approx. 150 cars lined up for the caravan as we headed out with a police escort. We entered through that side gate onto the 3,200 square miles of the White Sands Missile Range. The site of the first atomic bomb explosion. Our caravan drove only 72 miles, which is just a small part of the Missile Range, to get to the Trinity Site but what a site to experience. White Sands is in the Tularosa valley surrounded by bare mountain ranges. It felt like entering another world, the vastness of it is overwhelming. After more than an hour and a half driving, we finally reached the Trinity site where an obelisk made out of lava rock marks ground zero. Black and foreboding as the first nuclear explosion must have been. A parks volunteer told the crowd about the events leading up to the first test of an atomic bomb as it exploded at 5:29:45 am July 16 1945, those words were filled with the awesome power of the bomb and the significance that it brought to the world at large. An experience I will not forget. The George McDonald ranch house has been preserved as well. This is where the master bedroom was used to assemble the bomb, a mere two miles away. The windows would be blown out and the roof sunken in during the blast. The building was abandoned for many years before being restored to its 1945 era condition.
It’s hard to describe being at a site like this. The beauty of the desert scenery, the stillness, even with so many others wandering around the site. There’s a raw energy that remains here deep within the earth that seems to state, I am the power both evil and good. I came to life here as in the deepness of space where whole planets and solar systems were and are being created and destroyed by the same forces. And man has been able to duplicate that power. What will we do with it now and in the future. Heady thoughts for sure. But that’s what traveling this country does for me. It brings me to places like this, where I’m forced to think more deeply about issues I never gave much thought to in the past. Whew, mind boggling at times.
And then as we head back through that valley, our caravan comes across an African Oryx. What a site. There are over 3,000 of them in this part of southern New Mexico. They were brought in around 1969 by the state of New Mexico to provide big game hunting in an area of the state that had none. Because they’ve adapted so well to this desert climate, they are now hunted. Odd to think that such a beautiful animal would be killed for sport. But it is. And here in New Mexico of all places. Oh and the White Sands National Monument has put up a fence to keep them out of that part of the white sands as the park was afraid they might do damage to the natural habitat. I would think it could only add a wonderful element to the desert, but what do I know.
additional photos at: Picasa