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.
Day 2 of our Southwestern Sojourn took us from Santa Fe to Alamogordo, New Mexico. Not surprisingly, we didn’t follow a direct route. At Carrizozo we turned southeastward for a mountainous route detour. In Capitan we made the snap decision to visit Smokey Bear Historical Park.
During WWII a campaign character was created to build awareness of the valuable resource of the National Forests. A devastating fire swept through the Capitan Mountains in May 1950. In the aftermath a badly singed bear cub was found clinging to the burnt trunk of a pine tree. After recovery the cub, originally named Hotfoot, became the symbol used to educate the public about the dangers of careless human-caused wildfires.
Smokey was presented to the schoolchildren of American and took up residency at the National Zoo in Washington D.C. After his death in 1976 Smokey’s body was returned to New Mexico and buried in the Village of Capitan. Today a park and visitor center surround Smokey’s grave.
The visitor center introduces Smokey’s history, displays a wide range of memorabilia, presents a short video and continues education of the importance of preventing human-caused wildfire. The original Smokey is buried in a quiet corner of a tw0-acre park setting. Outdoor interpretive exhibits feature the vegetation of six life zones found in New Mexico.
We spend nearly an hour tripping down memory lane with Smokey and his cause. “Remember! only you can Prevent Forest Fires.”
Finally, a chance to get out of town for a few weeks with plans to visit New Mexico, Arizona and San Diego. Day 1 saw us make a beeline south to Taos. I think we set a time record from our driveway to the Orlando’s Restaurant parking lot – 4 hours and 31 minutes. For 20 years this has been my favorite eatery in the Taos area. We know they stop serving for a couple of hours between lunch and dinner; that’s our incentive to arrive before 2:30pm.
Although I peruse the menu and think that perhaps I’ll make a new selection I fall back on my long-time favorite – a shredded beef burrito smothered in green chile served with beans and posole. Note – I never cared for posole until I had Orlando’s; now, I even make it at home.
Bob opted for fish tacos and their excellent french fries. Our perky and efficient waitress said she prefers the fish tacos on blue corn tortillas instead of the usual flour. When Bob can’t make up his mind she suggests one of each.
Although we are stuffed we can’t pass up sharing a thick white chocolate, macadamia nut cookie. Pleased to once again enjoy an Orlando’s lunch.
On our way to Santa Fe we stop at Stephen Kilborn’s pottery studio in Pilar. I purchased my first hand-thrown and painted coffee mug early in the 1990s. Adding a few pieces each year I now have complete dinner service for eight and numerous serving pieces. Instead of selecting a single pattern I preferred a potpourri of Stephen’s unique endeavors. Recently he added a bee pattern and I had to have one of the small oval plates – a size I use almost everyday.
Overnight is at Old Santa Fe Inn just a few blocks from the historic plaza. A daughter-in-law found this lodging when she planned out 50th anniversary. We’ve returned a half dozen times since. Although we’re only passing through Santa Fe on this trip we want to indulge in a bit of the local ambiance by bypassing the typical brand hotels.
Red River, New Mexico has long been a location dear to the heart of entertainer Michael Martin Murphy. He has now established the Rocking 3M Amphitheater at the location of the old Lazy H Guest Ranch. The venue opened in 2013; for the 2014 season MMM performs twice weekly during July and August. With forested mountain sides and a quiet lake for a backdrop and an enthusiastic audience under an starlit sky Murphy says, “This is a dream come true.”
On this August Saturday evening we made our way up Bitter Creek Trail for the chuckwagon-style dinner and musical entertainment. Located north of the western resort town of Red River the 2+ miles of gravel road is rocky and steep in places but nothing the family sedan can’t handle with careful driving.
Festivities start around 6pm with a barbecue buffet prepared by Texas Reds Steakhouse in Red River. We filled plates with beef slices, smoked sausage, BBQ sauce, beans, macaroni and potato salads and wheat rolls. A special treat this evening was a big dish of stewed fresh apricots. Warm peach cobbler and vanilla ice cream completed the meal; along with hot coffee and/or soft drinks.
Four tiers of tables and benches are spread out in front of the outdoor stage – good viewing from any location. A large tent is available in the case of evening rain. When the sun sinks behind the mountain the temperature changes quickly. We were thankful for the fleece and windbreakers we brought along. Many guests arrive with blankets. Between dinner and the music there’s time to check out MMM’s CDs including his latest release, “Red River Drifter”, and art work by band member Gary Roller.
The friendly, relaxed atmosphere feels like joining Murphy and crew for a family barbecue. MMM visits with the guests and poses for pictures – from cute pre-schoolers to silly old ladies eager for a souvenir photo. This evening one extended family included three adorable youngsters prepared for the occasion with straw cowboy hats, stick horses and plenty of giddy-up.
The one-and-a-half hour of music included a balance of Murphy’s most popular and requested songs plus new ones from his latest release. Tonight he was accompanied by Gary Roller on bass and an amazing young musician Shaun Richardson who made everything with strings sing. Whether playing guitar, fiddle or mandolin Richardson could steal the show from a lesser artist; but it was obvious that MMM loved giving the young man a showcase. Carin Mari is a young lady that Murphy has mentored since she was nine years old. She performed a couple of numbers and joined the band for Murphy’s signature, “Wildfire.”
We’ve seen MMM perform in theaters, large venues and with a symphony orchestra but never have we had as much fun as the Rocking 3M Amphitheater. It truly appeared as if he was having as much fun as his appreciative audience.
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.
Saturday morning started with a visit to the Taos Farmers’ Market. Local growers, producers and purchasers fill Taos Plaza. Even though I don’t plan to do much cooking this week I’m tempted by almost every vendor. Just walking through the market and admiring the artful displays provides pleasure. We left with watermelon and cantaloupe from Rocky Ford, CO, red ripe “Happy” tomatoes, a perfect bunch of radishes and a giant sticky bun for tomorrow’s breakfast. A bonus was running into one of the artist Bob’s painted with at previous workshops.
Our second stop was to Country Furnishings of Taos, north of downtown Taos. I can always find something to fall in love with at this charming shop filled to the brim with everything from hand carved chests to hand lotion, many from local craftsmen. I actually started my Christmas shopping here today. I’ll probably return a couple more times this week to add to my stash of gifts from merchandise not found in every store and reasonable prices.
Next destination was the village 0f Arroyo Seco seven miles northeast of Taos. Our initial purpose was to place a custom order with jeweler Claire Haye. Her creative designs fill the Claire Works shop – necklaces, bracelets, pins, rings earrings. With my “assistance” Bob shops for future gift occasions. We were surprised to see friend Holly working today and grateful for the, “Try this necklace, it looks so good on,” suggestion. One more holiday Bob has covered – if I can wait that long.
We cross the street to indulge in the best ice cream in New Mexico at Taos Cow. They didn’t have my favorite flavor today, caramel piñon nut, but the generous single dip cone of coconut did not disappoint.
Mid-afternoon found us at Orlando’s Cafe for a late lunch. For almost 20 years this has been my favorite spot for traditional Northern New Mexico cuisine. Bob had the soft shell chicken tacos and I selected the smothered shredded beef burrito accompanied by beans and posole. I was never a posole fan until Orlando’s version. Half the large burrito came home with me for a weekday lunch. Orlando’s is another business we’ll return to this week.
We finish the afternoon with visits to three galleries along Kit Carson Road – Angie Coleman’s Studio/Gallery, Mission Gallery and Bryans. After a full day of visiting all these favorites we happily retired to the casita for a peaceful evening and a New Mexico sunset.