Thursday, February 6, 2014

Back in the Southwest

Just across the border from Texas is this little place called New Mexico.  Not really all that little as we found out, the fifth largest state in fact.  (As a somewhat unrelated side note but because it's fun to brag, in terms of square miles you can take #2 Texas and add #3 California and #4 Montana and #5 New Mexico and just barely surpass the square miles of Alaska.  That Texas is such a cute little place.)
Anyway, New Mexico had a bunch of places we were interested in visiting, but we had already been on the road for three and a half months and were starting to worry about our dwindling savings, so we thought we should pick one area to explore and then move along.  We divided the state into four parts and compared the highlights of each.
The northwest corner has Chaco Canyon, awe inspiring and creepy at the same time, the Hopi and Zuni reservations, and the Farmington and Shiprock area to draw in all the Tony Hillerman fans, making it a good solid choice.  The Southeast has Roswell for the UFO and alien crowds and Carlsbad Caverns for the spelunkers.  The northeast has Taos and Santa Fe, nice mountain scenery and good skiing, but probably not great in winter for folks traveling in a camper van.  We chose the Southwest part of the state, not for any one specific thing but mostly because it offered a bunch of interesting-sounding places to visit, and it was on the way to Tucson.
Our first stop in NM was the town of Tucumcari, which should be famous for its plethora of under $20 motel room options, but instead is not really very well known for one of many Route 66 museums.  We just wanted a laundromat, which we found, and a quick fix of fast food, which the local Sonic satisfied for us.  From there we moved on down Interstate 40 to Albuquerque where we turned south down I-25.  We visited the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, wintering grounds for sandhill cranes and numerous waterfowl and raptor species.  It turned out to be a fun stop to refresh our duck identification skills, as well as frustrate me as usual with raptor identification.  We saw lots of cranes and snow geese, got to do a bit of hiking, and took a bunch of pictures.
The next day we got off the interstate and headed up into the mountains on highway 152, which turned out to be a fun and exceptionally scenic road to drive.  Lots of twisty narrow 15MPH sections meant the drive took a lot longer than we expected, but we were in no hurry and thoroughly enjoyed the views.  We stopped briefly in Silver City and then headed north to Glenwood NM, intent on visiting The Catwalk Recreation Area.  We spent the night in a nice free campground on the outskirts of Glenwood before heading up to do some hiking the next morning.  Unfortunately, if we would have checked the website I linked above, we would have know that the whole area had been severely damaged by rain and flooding last fall, and was closed to visitors.  Instead we drove back to Silver City, stocked up on groceries, and headed south.
Our next stop was City of Rocks State Park.  This should not be confused with the City of Rocks we stopped at earlier in the trip in Idaho.  The New Mexico version is a snow-globe-sized park by comparison, and there are not many similarities between the two places.  That said, an inexpensive campground with free showers and interesting campsites is worth a stop.  After circling the park several times in the van to chose our favorite campsite, we walked around amongst the rock formations and then settled in for a pleasant night.
Next on our list was Rockhound State Park.  It was a quick hour drive south from City of Rocks and boasted being one of the few parks in the US that encourages visitors to take rocks with them.  Since Madeline has become quite the rock picker (mostly in parking lots) we figured it would be a fun stop for her as well.  The campground isn't as interesting as nearby City of Rocks but there certainly were more than enough rocks to look at.  With our expected arrival date in Tucson approaching, we hopped on I-10 and scooted across to Arizona.

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