We got an early start to Carlsbad Caverns National Park in Whites City, New Mexico. The caverns are just South of Carlsbad, New Mexico, with a town that is an honest to god 0.25-mile long. On one side of the road was a volunteer fire fighting station, a gas station, and a strip-style convenience store with interconnected rooms consisting of a grocery, a fast food style grab and go counter, restrooms, a souvenir shop, and a post office. Across the street was a Rodeway Inn, and a restaurant simply labeled “Restaurant.” Then down the road was a small campground. Inside the convenience store is where you register for a campsite so we introduced ourselves to the gentleman running all of the shops, his name was Barry. He showed us on the map where in the campground would be our best bet for the car-tent set up and provided some additional information about the park. With the campsite paid for we headed across the street to “Restaurant” and sat down to eat a late lunch. We made it just in time for the beginning of the dinner rush!
Welcome to New Mexico, where even the most far away lonely places have incredible Mexican food. (And due to the gluten-free nature of Mexican food, has been the most consistently eaten cuisine on this trip.) After stuffing ourselves with food, we crossed the street to the campground and pitched. We then promptly locked our tent (yea, we locked it) and headed up the winding road to Carlsbad Caverns so that we would be able to watch one of the greatest natural attractions at their park – The Bat Flight.
Every night, an estimated group of 400,000 Mexican Free Tail Bats come out in a swirling vortex of softly flapping wings. During the bat flight you must remain quiet and still, and no photography of any kind is allowed during the flight near the entrance of the cavern, as you walk back towards your car you are allowed to take pictures and video, but there is nothing like seeing 400,000 little creatures move in perfect harmony. They were almost completely silent in their synchronicity, if 400,000 humans had to accomplish this, every night, there would be disastrous outcomes (Just think about rush hours!) After the bat flight we drove back down the mountain enjoying the sun set and peace of the valley.
The next morning, we woke up early and headed up to the caverns so we would be first in line down the elevator in to the vast cavern; which laid 750ft below our feet. The only problem with that is that we were a little bit too early. We opted to enjoy some breakfast before our self-guided tour. The only problem with this is feeding a Claire is difficult. Luckily the convenience eatery did have one food item that was gluten free!
Fudge bars and Pinon coffee – breakfast of champions. The tour takes approximately 2 hours to complete, so we strolled around the expanse of the big room in the pristine silence of the caverns. It was a place of great reverence, and a reminder of just how small a person is. We admired the cave pools, as well as the actively growing formations. After the end of our mile plus walk, we treated ourselves to better food at the Cavern eatery… which was located inside the cavern. A place to eat and buy gifts is an incredibly odd thing to see 750ft underground. More odd was the postal service box that was down there.
We left the caverns and headed out to Roswell New Mexico. Our first stop was at Peppers for lunch (Stuffed Potatoes for the win!) and then we went to the official UFO Museum. The museum was an incredibly informative presentation, as well as amusing displays and dioramas. They had the movie “Fire in the Sky” playing in a small video room in the center of the building and the tour wrapped around it. After spending our time scanning declassified documents, we walked around the town strip for a little while, then got back in the car and headed out to Bottomless Lake State Park to Lake Lea for a swim, and spend the night. We arrived at the campground on the foot of the lake and pitched. After being cranky about flies and pitching a tent in hot weather, we changed our clothes and went for a swim in a sinkhole. Well, that sounds a lot simpler than what actually happened. Joe, my fearless husband, required some coaxing into the chilly water. I say chilly, he calls it Arctic. After what felt like hours of hostage negotiations and honest threats of drowning, I managed to convince Joe to dunk his head. We floated for a while looking at the little fish swimming, and after getting prune fingers decided that we had officially cooled off enough to be able to relax in the tent. We headed back to our site, and promptly realized we had a minor problem - we had no way to dry our swim suits. Being the industrious creatures we are, we ratcheted 2 straps together and created a clothesline. When we got in to the tent to change, we realized that the air was heavy with heat, there was no breeze, and we began to slow roast. Putting our industrious nature to work again we snaked the cords for the fan and the battery, and created a shelf for it to rest in – Voila! A ceiling fan! Pleased with our creative solutions, we relaxed for the rest of the evening.
We left Bottomless Lake the next morning with the intent of heading up North towards Taos. This drive fortuitously took us through Santa Fe, which is a cute little town from what we got to see of it. We were most excited to sit down and eat some food at Annapurna’s World Vegetarian Cafe, a chain of restaurants that offer Ayurvedic vegan fresh food. They offer gluten free, vegetarian, and vegan options including, most importantly to me, a dedicated fryer which means FRENCH FRIES!
Filled with natural food goodness, we hit the road again and made our way towards Carson National Forest and the Santa Barbara Campgrounds. A recommendation was provided to us by the National Forest Service that covered that area. I explained to the nice Ranger on the phone that we were on our honeymoon, and needed a place to camp for the night, and most specifically, one that was on our way towards Taos. The ranger insisted that we go to Santa Barbara Campgrounds. He said it was the nicest camp in the forest, and since there was a river that ran through it, you would be able to fall asleep to the comforting sounds of the river. Excited for what sounded like a hidden jewel, we set our sights toward Santa Barbara.
Again, this sounds much easier than it was. Most of the roads we were traveling on were one lane in each direction, which is fine, but as we traveled further along those nice paved roads turned into nice dirt roads, which turned into less-nice dirt roads, and ended at a fork in the road. But Hope! There’s a sign! Aforementioned hopes were thwarted when we discovered the sign had been ripped in half, and the pole was bent making it impossible to tell which direction the campground was located (we were originally told in the directions that the road simply ends at the campground.) The only indication that camping was allowed, was one little sign that requested you dowse your campfire, so there would not be a forest fire. Determined to find a site (and a bathroom) we opted for the high road first, while traversing it looked down the cliff and saw that other cars had pitched camp on the low road. Thinking we had made a mistake, we doubled back and headed for the low road; which was probably a mistake. The low road was much less car friendly than we had initially presumed. After running over a few small boulders, we realized that this was more of a “Backpacking, High clearance Vehicles only” site. While Joe and I are fairly adventurous folk, this was out of our league. Dismayed, we headed back for the high road again, resolved to see what was at the end of it. After what felt like forever, there was something off in the distance, signs of life! We drove onward spurred by the possibility of victory, we came up closer to discover….. Cows! – grazing outside a campground. Hallelujah! This particular campground also brought us a new experience of Vault Toilets. For those of you playing the home game, a vault toilet is in essence a giant hole in the ground, with a built up seat that semi resembles a toilet, but has a breeze that comes up to surprise you when you sit down. We found a site to pitch and began to settle in for the evening.
It was around dusk that we were formally introduced to our neighbors. The Cows pasture path, unbeknownst to us, outlined either side of the campground, and they were very impressed by our car tent. There was a small gathering outside the tent that started chatting each other up. Who knows, maybe they just like Blue and Orange?
We fell asleep to the blissful sounds of the river coursing mere feet away from us, and woke to the sounds of birds chirping, and cows mooing. We made coffee, broke down, and began our day but only after Joe was assaulted by a hummingbird. Taking this as an omen for good luck, we made our way down the high mountain road and headed out of the campground. This gave us another first, we encountered our first ever traffic jam / stand-off with cows. After a few minutes they shooed off to the side, but it seemed like they had wanted to keep us there for at least another night.
We made it to Taos in good time, and set about wandering the Pueblo one of the oldest towns within Taos which is still being lived in today. After Pueblo we went wandering around town in search of some food - Heaven. La Cueva is a Mexican Restaurant that is smaller than most, and in its tiny little corner lot, most people would drive right by. Tucked away to one side is the outdoor seating area that is covered by umbrellas, very clean with several tables packed with people. We were excited to find out why - they made the freshest guacamole, homemade corn tortillas, and food that I have had the pleasure of eating on this entire trip. We stuffed ourselves silly, and finished it off with homemade flan.
We opted to walk off the hefty meal by heading to Taos Mountain Candlers a customer of Paramold, and Cindy the owner introduced us to Theresa and Corinne who gave us a mini-tour of their candle operation. They were also kind enough to inform us what Pinon is, since it was everywhere and we had no idea what this was. (Home game side note - Pinon is a small pine tree that produces pine-cones, and the pine-cones bloom and a tasty tree nut comes out.)
We thanked them for their time and set out on the road again to check out what really made us want to come to Taos in the first place – Earthships. We headed to a place where they have a neighborhood of Earthships, including one that you can walk through to get a feeling of how a standard Earthship works and feels. It introduces you to the systems, as well as the reasons why these systems were put in place. We wandered around for a bit and introduced ourselves to Shanti, the woman who was running the desk for the Earthship walk through. We told her about what we were doing, and she asked to see our set up. We showed her around the Element, and let her know about the little things that we were doing in order to make this trip easier. She told us her story about how it went for her when she was living out of a Geo Metro for 6 months. We thanked Shanti for her time, and then drove off towards Colorado.