From Texas we moved Northward in to New Mexico. Our main goal was to reach the Santa Fe area but we took in some other sites along the way.
We stayed at Guadalupe Mountains an extra day to visit Carlsbad Caverns, just across the Texas/New Mexico border. The cavern resulted from uplift and erosion of the Capitan Reef which served as the coastline of an inland sea 250 million years ago. What we see today is the fifth largest cavern in the US and the twenty eights largest in the world. The main attraction is the Big Room, a limestone chamber almost 4,000 feet long. Normally it can be accessed via an elevator however it was being replaced while we were there! Due to the elevator being out we accessed the Big Room via the natural entrance and took the mile long (and 750ft elevation drop) down to the main pathway, and yes, had to climb it back out when we were done! Between the two pathways we got to see stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws, draperies, columns, lily pads, popcorn and crystals among other cave features. It was by far the largest cave either of us have been in – we’re glad we got the chance to see it!
We happened to be passing right through Roswell so we had to stop and check out the International UFO Museum and take a couple pictures with green aliens! The museum is full of articles, witness accounts and recreations of recovered debris related to the 1947 incident where an unidentified object crashed in to the desert and the supposed government cover-up. It was an interesting and fun stop! We stayed in Roswell at the lovely Wal-Mart accommodations before moving on the next day.
Santa Fe – North
We had heard the Santa Fe area had a lot to offer and didn’t have time to explore on our quest eastward last fall so we detoured to check it out this time. We spent most of our time North of Santa Fe and feel like we barely scratched the surface! We found one of the many casinos in the area that would allow overnight parking and got permission to stay behind one of their buildings.
New Mexico pueblos are the villages inhabited by descendants of Ancestral Puebloans living in the four-corners area since between 1000 and 1300 A.D. There were once more than 100 pueblos located along the Rio Grande Valley, 19 remain in New Mexico, Taos Pueblo being the largest. Around 150 Taos Indians live in the pueblo full time with many other families living in the surrounding area, using the pueblo for ceremonial purposes and to sell their artwork in individually owned shops. The pueblo buildings are entirely adobe (earth, water and straw) with roofs made of large timbers and they do not have electricity or running water. It was so amazing to see how people lived so long ago, and how a few still do today! We purchased some fry bread and cookies baked in a clay oven while browsing the artisan shops and petting the roaming dogs. Megann even found some beautiful hand made earrings to bring home. The nearby town of Taos seemed like a really neat town as well, full of galleries and shops, but we enjoyed purchasing right at the source.
We stumbled upon the Puye Cliffs Dwellings on one of our drives and are really glad we did. The cliffs were home to 1,500 Pueblo Indians between 900 and 1580 A.D. Before they moved to the Rio Grande River valley. There are remnants of two level of cliff dwellings along with dwellings on the mesa top. Access to the cliffs and mesa are by tour only, we did the cliff tour. What was really great is that our tour guide is a direct descendant of the original inhabitants and was able to share some of the oral history with us explaining how they lived at that time, what some of the petroglyphs mean, what they farmed and hunted, and how they defended the dwelling against intruders. One of the interesting things we learned was about the pottery. All over the ground are pieces of broken pottery. Our guide explained to us that when a person died or when the community moved, all pottery was broken and left behind. For one, they believed that a persons breath was still in the pottery after hours of working to create it and it should go back to the earth. In addition, it was too heavy and bulky to carry when travelling on long distances. New pottery was made once they were at their new home. The tour was a really special experience.
Bandelier National Monument
Near the town of White Rock, 48 miles Northeast of Santa Fe and at 7,000 ft. elevation, is Bandelier National Monument. The monument is 33,000 acres of rugged canyon and mesa, once inhabited by Ancestral Puebloan people who are ancestors of the modern day San Ildefonso and Cochiti pueblos. Archeological surveys have found at least 3,000 sites in Bandelier, some exceeding over 600 rooms when populations reached their peaks. The most visited area of the park is the main loop trail behind the visitor center along the many cliff dwellings. We took the trail a bit further and climbed to Alcove house, a large alcove reached by climbing 140 feet of ladders! We liked the area so much we decided to do three more trails. First, we climbed up to the mesa on the Frijole Rim trail. On top is an unexcavated ruin – you can barely tell where the walls were but there are pottery shards all over the ground. It is amazing to hold something in your hand that someone made and used so long ago! Next we did the Falls Trail, down a narrow canyon to a water fall and back. We could only reach the upper falls view due to a wash out. Last we visited Tsankawi, another small mesa with cave dwellings along the cliffs. What was interesting about this area was the rock (formed from volcanic ash) was so soft that the trail was worn down in to the rock, in some places waste deep. Most of this erosion has been caused by modern people visiting the area with more aggressive footwear than the traditional people would have worn. There is a lot more exploration that can be done here if we ever get the chance to return!
Bradbury Science Museum
In the town of Los Alamos is the Bradbury Science Museum, home to the history of the WWII Manhattan Project, resulting in the creation of the first nuclear weapons, and research of the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory. They have replicas of Little Boy and Fat Man, the first nuclear bombs, exhibits on defense, nano-technologies and many others along with a theater playing video of various subjects.
It was highly recommended to us that we visit Ojo Caliente, a geothermal mineral springs resort and spa about 50 miles North of Santa Fe. We usually avoid hot springs because we don’t like coming out smelling like sulfur. The great thing about these springs are that none of them are sulfur! There are pools of lithia, iron, soda and arsenic that are all around 102 degrees that you can go between while cooling down on a lounge chair in between. You also have access to the hot and dry saunas and, in the summer they have the cool pool and mud bath open. We had a lot of fun and it was so relaxing. Our favorites were the enclosed and steamy soda pool and the outdoor arsenic pool. No pictures from here – that would require documentation of my wearing a bathing suit and that aint gonna happen folks!
The city of Santa Fe is beautiful and has an artistic flare. We honestly didn’t spend a lot of time in the city with all the exploring we did up North. We did have dinner at a good New Mexican style restaurant and drove around the more artsy area of town which is all done in adobe style. Perhaps next time we’re in the area we will have time to explore more.
We had a great time exploring but had to get going to our next destination: Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, UT!