The day in Alamogordo started with dark skies and rain showers. A visit to the New Mexico Museum of Space History seemed a good place to begin. In the Main Exhibits Building visitors start on the fourth floor and work their way down ramps through themed exhibits – Icons of Exploration, Living and Working in Space, Rockets!, Space Science in New Mexico. Woven throughout the exhibits are photos and brief bios on inductees of the International Space Hall of Fame – a trip through the memory bank for those who grew up in the heyday of manned space flight and exploration. I’m sorry to say that I mostly found the exhibits uninspiring and frequently tacky.
We planned to attend a morning Imax feature but found that the show was sold out. A weekday morning in early April didn’t seem like a time likely to fill. We didn’t count on school bus loads of students on field trips. We did choose a planetarium presentation on what one can see in the night sky over Alamogordo this time of year. The school group that attended the show at the same time we did was extremely attentive and well-behaved.
Our best entertainment of the morning was watching museum volunteers being trained to operate a new human gyroscope. Two teenage girls served as guinea pigs to be twirled, flipped and spun while most of us older folks knew this was not anything we wanted to try. I’m sure this will be a very successful attraction.
Note: The theater complex is considerably downhill from the exhibit building. Allow enough time to relocate.
A visit to Alamogordo wouldn’t be complete without a visit to White Sands National Monument, 15 miles west of the city. First stop is the historic visitor center built in the Pueblo Revival style in the 1930s. An orientation film, exhibits, bookstore and information desk provide an overview of the monument and a schedule of ranger activities. The free ranger-guided Sunset Strolls always holds appeal for me.
Across the courtyard of the visitor center there is a gift shop with a selection of souvenirs, plus Native American jewelry, arts and crafts. A few food items, snacks, ice cream bars and soft drinks are also available. There is no water available beyond the visitor center complex, be sure to be prepared.
The most popular gift shop purchase is plastic saucers for sliding down the dunes. Early in the day there may be some available for rent. If you do purchase saucers you can receive a $5 rebate if you want to turn them in after use. I offered to purchase one for Bob but he declined. It is definitely an enticing activity for many visitors.
An eight-mile scenic drive takes visitors deeper into the gypsum dunes. Numerous pullouts allow parking for an up-close encounter with the fine white sand. Picnic tables are sheltered by wind breaks but locals bring their own umbrellas or shade tarps. A ranger tells us. “On Easter this is everyone’s “go-to”. They come early, set up volleyball nets and stay the day.” Overnight camping or RV parking is not allowed at White Sands except for ten backcountry sites requiring permits.
I recommend the 2,000-foot-long Interdune Boardwalk with interpretive signs for a greater appreciation of the formation, flora and fauna of the dunes and interesting photography opportunities.
Nearly everyone has to charge up at least one slope – usually with a bit of backsliding.
Although the main goal for the day was putting some miles behind us as we head towards the Pacific Northwest we must have a least one activity. Our last visit to Dinosaur National Monument occurred in 1973, wasn’t it time for a revisit? What was intended as an hour off the highway stretched to nearly three as we explored the southwestern section of the park north of Jensen, Utah.
The Quarry Exhibit Hall encloses a wall of an excavation site encasing more than 1,500 dinosaur bones including Allosaurus, Apatosaurus, Camarasaurus, Diplodicus and Stegosaurus of the Jurassic Period. To every 4-year-old’s delight, in one area, you’re actually encouraged to touch. Or, see how you measure up to a femur bone.
The Monument includes much more than just fossils – canyons and fertile valleys the Green and Yampa Rivers, ancestral history dating back thousands of years and the remnants of twentieth-century ranch life. We followed the Tour of the Tilted Rocks along Cub Creek Road searching out petroglyphs and pictographs – rock art left by inhabitants centuries past.
The longer we study the panels the more details we note. While some images are easy to decipher (goats and men), others are left to interpretation. Where they messages, historic records or decorative? Looks like a necklace design to me.
The road ends in a secluded, shady vale that was home to Josie Basset for 50 years. Walking through the dirt-floored cabin we can only imagine life as she knew it. We’re enticed by a couple of trails leading to nearby canyons but it’s time to hit the road towards tonight’s destination – Vernal, Utah.
One regret from today is that we didn’t take the time to capture photographs of two inspirational sights. Two Colorado towns we passed through made special efforts to mark this 13th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack.
In front of the Granby fire station an extra large American flag hung suspended between the outstretched ladders of two gleaming red fire trucks.
Along the entire length of Victory Avenue (the route of US40) in Craig, Colorado was lined with literally hundreds of American flags, a project of the local Rotary club.
Stirring sights noting respect, honor and resolve – We will NOT forget!
A leisurely summer Sunday in Taos started with breakfast at Guitz. We first tried this locally popular cafe a couple of times last year and it was high on the list for a return visit. The menu includes creative combinations after one gets past the Basic Breakfast and French Toast (which I so recommend). Bob ordered the Scrambled Egg Tower – scrambled eggs, mushrooms, spinach, diced tomato & Manchego cheese – served with Guitz potatoes & mixed green salad.I selected the Spanish Tortlla – Spanish omelette baked with onion and potatoes, topped with warm cucumber mushrooms & tomatoes, drizzled with basil pesto, served with olive tapenade & crustini. Great way to start the day.
Between time reading and drawing at the casita we explored back roads and drove out to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. Spanning the gorge more than 500 feet above the Rio Grande River the is the 7th highest bridge in the U.S. The gorge slices the Northern New Mexico landscape for approximately 50 miles with depths up to 800′. Designated in 2013 as the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, 74 miles of the Wild and Scenic River is a draw for whitewater rafters, anglers, hikers and artists.
The evening started with an opening orientation session for Bob’s workshop with artist/potter Stephen Kilborn. Always a good time catching up with the Kilborns and seeing friends made in previous classes plus several new participants.
Afterwards we joined friends Dolores and Orrel for dinner at Doc Martin’s in Taos Inn. We noted that the menu selection were fewer than in previous years and missing the ladies favorite watermelon gazpacho. Our waitress provided cheerful, excellent service.
For those with limited time, short attention span or physical limitations the Discovery Tour at Jewel Cave National Monument offers an introduction to the world’s third longest cave system. The 20 minute, ranger-led tour includes tales of the cave’s discovery and current exploration efforts plus a visit to the Target Room to see the “jewels” of Jewel Cave – two special calcite crystals known as dogtooth and nailhead spar. Descent 240-ft. below the surface and return is via elevator. Even wheelchairs can be accommodated on this tour.
Other tours options are the moderately strenuous 80 minute Scenic Tour, a Historic Lantern Tour, and a 3-4 hour strenuous adventure on the Wild Caving Tour. I highly recommend the Historic Lantern Tour, we did this many years ago and our sons still remember the sense of adventure.
To qualify for the Wild Caving Tour one must fit through the space in this concrete block. It’s beyond my imagination to ever want to, not that there is any danger that I would pass the test.