An October 1999 trip
to New Mexico by lcampbell
Quote: This was a short New Mexico Roadtrip with my pal Jen who had recently moved to Albuquerque and wanted to see some of the sights. We visited Bandelier National Monument, Carlsbad Caverns, and White Sands National Monument. I loved the desert ecosystem and the food!
We visited Bandelier National Monument, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, and White Sands National Monument. My favorite ended up being White Sands, which I had never heard of until we were driving past it and decided, on a whim, to stop. One thing I definitely got out of this road trip was ideas for future road trips – not that I need an excuse to go back!
After taking about an hour to see the dwellings, we weren’t ready to leave yet. So we went on a hike to the Rio Grande River. This was a great hike! It seems that most visitors don’t venture beyond the cliff dwellings, so we had the entire trail to ourselves. Actually, the trail was narrow and overgrown in some spots due to lack of use! Fairly early in the hike, you get to a viewpoint of a scenic waterfall. You can look down into the flat drainage under the waterfall and can hike into it from lower on the trail. The trail then winds downhill toward the Rio Grande through wild clumps of vegetation and swampy areas. We saw where deer had bedded down and left matted down grass. The river itself was kind of brown and very quick moving – I wondered where the origin of the Rio Grande was since the river is not very big here. We sat under a nearby tree in the shade and soaked up the tranquility – how nice not to have to share with anyone. We were glad to have spent longer that the "average visit" of 2 hours in Bandelier National Monument.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on November 18, 2001
Bandelier National Monument
15 Entrance Rd.
Los Alamos, New Mexico 87544
The map showed a campground just outside the eastern boundary of Carlsbad Caverns – the only campground around as far as I could tell (there are no campgrounds inside the park). Well, I guess we would have to camp there, or else commit to who knows how long searching. When we pulled into this little "gateway" to Carlsbad Caverns, we found a gas station, a small strip of tourist shops, and a restaurant. We couldn’t see the campground, but saw a sign at the tourist shops to pay for camping there. We went in and paid the – GULP! - $18.00 to camp for the night. Then we found the campground.
It was horrible! The campground was basically a gravel parking lot with some grass around the edges to set up your tent. No trees, no view (unless you count the view of the highway). UGH. Jen would never want to go on a road trip with me again! This was not a good start – I had to try to turn it around or this may ruin the rest of the trip. I could only think of one solution – beer. To save money, we had brought our own food and didn’t buy any alcohol – but this was an EMERGENCY. I left Jen to set up the tent, and drove over to the gas station. Beer! And marshmallows! That will save the day! I went back, and dragged a very bummed out friend and our newly purchased beer up the hill behind the campground. We found a big flat rock in the middle of the cactus, and made sure that we had no view of the campground from our spot, and drank our beer until sunset. Feeling much better, we returned to our campsite after dark for dinner and toasted marshmallows. You know, when it’s dark out, you can’t tell you are in a parking lot. The trip was looking up! Tomorrow is a new day.
Member Rating 1 out of 5 on November 18, 2001
What I did find extremely disconcerting was the bottom of the Cavern. I had no idea that it has been developed. There is a gift shop, snacks, bathrooms, and even an elevator to the top. It was just so unnatural and I didn’t like it at all. But then I thought about how this area is basically a "sacrifice area" and is only one cave of 94 in the park. This one cave is developed for education and use so that all of the others can remain natural and unvisited by the masses.
Back up in the Visitor Center, we looked at the displays and found out that the deepest limestone cave in the United States is in the Park – called Lechuguilla Cave. What was very interesting is that this cave had remained undiscovered and unexplored until very recently, maybe the mid-1980s. It is 1567 feet deep, and is the third longest cave in the nation.
Visiting Carlsbad Caverns is one aspect of our road trip that would have benefitted from planning ahead and researching. One thing I would have liked to do if we had time to stay longer (or had known about so we could do it instead of the main cavern) was to take a ranger-led "wild cave tour". The cost is from $7 to $20 depending on the cave. The tours are into undeveloped caves and are of varying difficulty. I think this would be the best way to get a true cave experience, and some education from the rangers along with it.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on November 18, 2001
White Sands is a 275 square mile gypsum sand dunes. A huge white beach without the water! It is near Alamogordo, New Mexico, east of Las Cruces on Highway 70. The dunes are located in Tularosa Basin on the north end of the Chihuahuan Desert. We actually saw the dunes during our drive through a mountain pass to the east, but we didn’t know what we were looking at. We saw a big shiny patch, with sun glinting off of it.
There are some hiking trails at White Sands, but we just parked at a parking area, and headed off across the sand dunes. Because the dunes are ever changing and moving, the few plants that grow here are the ones that can grow fast enough so as not to get buried by the sand. The changes in the dunes also mean that the same area will never look the same twice. Not many people visit this area, and since you have 275 miles of sand with no trails, everyone can find their own spot with no sharing. What a great opportunity for discovery and solitude. We found an interesting spot and took a siesta in the sun. On the way back to the car, we discovered lizard tracks that hadn’t been covered up yet.
One activity that I found out about after we were back home (that’s why you should read those Park Newspapers that they give you at the Entrance Station), was Moonlight Bicycle Rides. I don’t know exactly what it is but it sounds fun! The ranger-led bike rides cost $5 and they open up the road (closed to cars at night) just for the ride. I imagine that with enough moonlight the white sand would just glow, and also I think that there is more wildlife activity at night in the desert. I will definitely try it out if I go back to that area.
A few miles west, we saw a sign for a campground. It turned out to be a great find! It was a Bureau of Land Management area called Organ Mountains Recreation Area. The campsite cost a whopping $3 per night. At first we were a little concerned because the place was packed with families. But we held out hope because nobody had any tents set up. Low and behold, in the late afternoon, all the picnickers left, and only a few folks were left overnight. But even if the campground was very full, the campsites are spaced far enough apart to retain some privacy in the sites. The campsites have fire rings, grills, picnic tables, and shade covers over the tables. There are lots of trees in the campground and wildlife walking through (and domestic animals too –watch for cows on the road). There are bathrooms and drinking water.
After scavenging wood left behind by the picnickers, we made a dinner and admired the scenic view from our campsite. We didn’t have time to hike the trails or find the springs, but it was a great place to camp for a great price.
Port Angeles, Washington