Pecans, Parks, Petroglyphs, then to outer space….

29 Mar

With the week end storm over and the promise of some sunshine our journey took us north from Las Cruses along the Rio Grande river. I was expecting Grande, and I suppose in comparison to any other water course we have seen for a while it was Grande…. but until we arrived at Caballo Lake State Park P1100913where the river is dammed it was perhaps only 40ft wide. Along the way we passed through areas planted with Pecan trees, recently trimmed the ground around them was well manicured. In some places the irrigation channels, which draw from the river, had been set to flood the roots providing much needed water.

We found a lovely spot at Caballo Lake State Park with a view overlooking  the lake, we took a short walk as far as the trails allowed and sat back and enjoyed P1100928the scenery and the sunshine. Further along the Rio Grande again behind a dam is the much larger Elephant Butte Lake State Park,  reputedly one of New Mexico’s most visited state parks. Unfortunately the visitors had left there mark with rubbish strewn along the waters edge. A site overlooking the lake again was to our liking, with the promise of more extensive trails we thought we may stay a couple of nights. As it turned out we decided there was just not enough to keep us there, the forecast was taking a downturn and a beautifulP1100948 sunrise seemed to confirm the imminence of rain. We had not been on the road long before we saw the first raindrops, it was chilly too and eventually the raindrops had snow in them. We had taken the I 25 towards Socorro but turned off onto a road running parallel, it ran through the Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge, just south of San Antonio. The wildlife seemed to have taken refuge from the storm and little was to be seen. San Antonio is a small cluster of buildings on a four way junction, this is the major town for 60 miles or more if you are travelling west, east or south, to say this area is sparsely inhabited is an understatement I think.

We drove eastwards along highway 350 which borders the north edge of the White Sands Missile Range, famous for being the first place an atomic bomb was exploded at the Trinity Test Site. This road took us over a ridge of hills and down into the valley near Carrizozo. A few miles before the town, the terrain either side of the road suddenly became black and volcanic, we had entered the area of the lava flow around the Valley of Fires State Recreation Area.

The park is under the authority of The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) once more we found the camping facilities to be excellent, unfortunately we missed the last electricity hook up by about 5 min. but decided we were happy to dry camp for a night – the charge $12! (£14 for a hook up). A BLM volunteer was managing the office and visitor centre where we called to pay our due’s, as usual a conversation was struck up about where we were from and what we were doing. I asked the gentleman if he was from Carrizozo, he confirmed he had been born there, lived there all his life and not seen the need to travel anywhere beyond where his work on the railroad had taken him in the last 93 years! I was truly amazed to discover his age (if asked I would have put him around 70, a woman of 70 would have been very happy to have his complexion) and thrilled to chat to him about his life and how ‘things’ had changed

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Later the weather brightened and we were able to take a walk along the natureP1100976 trail laid out with interpretive boards to explain the variety of volcanic lava formations. This flow was not as we usually think from a volcano eruption but from the earth splitting open allowing the lava to ooze from fissures, tumbling along forming a black deposit over 40miles long, 5miles wide at its widest point, over 300ft deep. All this took place relatively recently, in geological terms, less than 5,000 years ago. Large bubbles formed and as the lava cooled and crusted they burst and collapsed, folds and twists in the lava P1100964can be easily seen as can cavities and caves where bats now find a home.

P1100972In  fact the flow area is remarkably green, over the centuries pockets of earth have built up in the hollows of the lava crust allowing seeds carried by birds and small animals to germinate and grow. 

We drove through the town of Carrizozo next day, it was very quiet. When the Railroad routes were diverted from the town in the 1940’s, 150 men from the 1000 inhabitants lost their jobs, further hardship was felt by the farmers when the government took over their land for the White Sands Base. The land was freely loaned initially to help with the war effort however, after the war, the government found a way of legally holding on to it for their own requirements, local farmers to this day still feel cheated from what was rightly theirs.

More Ancient history awaited our exploration at the national Petroglyph site near Alamogordo. We felt very lucky to be able to take one of the two RV camp sitesP1120059 available next to the trail for the petroglyph’s. Again a lovely spot and well kept by the BLM, this time we had snow capped mountains for our view rising 9,000 ft in front of us.

The volunteers were Bruce and Kathy who have been on the road full time in their RV for 5 years, they were standing in for the full time volunteers while they took a well earned day off. It transpired that volunteering is the summer job for Bruce who really is one of Santa’s helpers. With his wonderful long white hair and beard (It takes Kathy an hour to prepare him when he is doing his proper job) jolly personality and way with words I am not entirely sure if he is a helper or actually the real Santa!

The site of the petroglyph’s is small but packed with examples of the ancient art. Unfortunately in some places modern graffiti artists have tried to emulate the ancients and the weather is also taking its toll on the rocks which stand P1100992open to all elements splitting rocks and shattering pieces from others. There are still so many to look at in places it is hard to know where to look first. Some designs appear over and over like the various forms of circle, we later learned, it is thought, this site was possibly used for sun worship or for astrological reasons.

P1120038Other pictures show animals, maybe being hunted or stalked, some have spears in them, birds are prevalent too and their are several mask drawings with oval eyes staring out from the rocks

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From Three Rivers Petroglyph site it is just a few miles down the road to Alamogordo, this town serves the Air Base on White Sands Missile Range. Covering a vast area the range takes in not only the air base but facility for the P1120099space shuttle to land, missile testing area, and Space Port.  In Alamogordo itself is the Space Museum and Hall of Fame, which we visited on Thursday afternoon.  Exhibits over four floors include actual space suits worn on various missions, the pre packed food the astronauts had to eat, which has improved greatly over the years and is now far more ‘earth’ like. There are various missiles and satellites, an exhibit about the European Arianne rocket which deploys satellites for commercial operations. For me the most memorable exhibit was a piece of moon rock. Encased in a glass pyramid it was small and black ( I joked it came from the dark side otherwise it would have been white – OK, bad joke) probably something you would pass by quite easily if it was out in the street, however while contemplating where it came from I found it amazing.P1120107

From the outdoor exhibit area looking over Alamogordo to White Sands Monument

Across the outdoor exhibit area down some steps and over the car park we P1120103arrived at the Imax Theatre and Planetarium for the 3pm showing of a new film about the Hubble Telescope. I find Imax a great experience, this film only recently finished recorded last years fantastic achievements by the space team to repair various parts of the Hubble Telescope before the space programme is suspended. The pictures of the space walks as they carried out the repairs left me truly in awe of the astronauts bravery, tethered to the space ship but floating thousands of miles out in space. The difficulties they overcame in these extreme conditions to repair and maintain the telescope will enable it to continue to lead scientists down fascinating paths of discovery for years to come.

The film also showed pictures taken by the cameras on the telescope, it took us back in time to one of the stars in Orion’s belt, a star system commonly identified in the night sky and then inside this stars cloudy atmosphere to a place where new stars are being ‘born’ – quite incomprehensible!

So, today is Friday and as I write we are still in Alamogordo sitting out yet another storm, this time a wind storm. We are being rocked vigorously, the wind blowing across the front of us diagonally and the air thick with dust. It is not cold, on the contrary it is 75 degrees, we have the air conditioning on as we cannot open the windows for the dust. It is due to be over by 7 or 8pm tonight, so all being well should be calm before bedtime. We intend to take a road into the mountains from here and today was not the weather to do it so we have washed, cleaned, baked and passed the time writing, actually its nice to have a day off!

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