I had been looking forward to visiting Taos for decades! Sister Jeanne, my art history professor at Daemen College, had taught me about several buildings there and I wanted to see them for myself.
In addition to the buildings I knew about, I couldn’t wait to see what else I could fine in this magical place.
One thing I was looking forward to was dining out. In addition to the buildings, I was reading about the good eating available in Taos. I was getting a little tired of eating in. Not only do I have to cook the food, but I have to clean up after myself. Since I live in about 250 square feet, it’s hard to ignore a mess in the kitchen.
The first day, I ate at The Alley Cantina, the oldest building in town. Well, part of the building is 400 years old. As with any good building, you keep repairing and rebuilding.
My second day, I ate at The Farmhouse Cafe and Bakery. Everything was locally sourced, grass-fed, non-GMO, pesticide-free and handmade. I felt 75% more hip after that lunch.
My third day, I ate at Michael’s Kitchen, a place a friend had recommended to me. You know it’s good when you have to wait in line for 20 minutes – and it’s not even a peak meal period.
My last dining experience was another recommendation – The Adobe Bar at the Taos Inn. I looked over the menu, and decided upon Nachos. They had small and large. I asked for the small size. The waiter recommended that I get half of a small. I’m so glad he did! I think I managed to finish half of the half order.
Now that we have the dining out of the way, I’ll share more about the architectural features – in my next post.
My next stop was another Bureau of Land Management site, Valley of Fires, near Carrizozo, New Mexico, just a little ways down the road from Three Rivers Petroglyph Site.
I pulled in and selected a great campsite with a view. Even better than the view was the sense of accomplishment I had when I backed it in on the first pass and didn’t hit anything.
Actually, it wasn’t hard to select a campsite with a view. The campground was situated on a sandstone hill that the lava flowed around.
The lava flow has the distinction of being one of the youngest flows in the continental United States, which took place between 1,500 and 2,000 years ago.
The lava is between four and six miles wide and up to 160 feet deep. Due to the fissures in the surface and the dark color that holds the heat, there is a wide variety of plants in the valley. I read on one of the signs that there is double the number of kinds of grass plants here than in the surrounding desert.
There is a paved path that goes through the lava field. That made the hike more like a stroll.
It has two types of lava: pahoehoe (pronounced pa-HOY-HOY) and a’a (pronounced ah-ah) The pahoehoe is a “ropey” lava and a’a is blocky.
The pahoehoe really does look like ropes and bundles of cables that are cut into chunks.
This formation wasn’t labeled, but it fits the a’a description as blocky.
There were signs that encouraged us to hike on the lava field. I took a few steps, but it was not a comfortable walking experience, in spite of the fact that I had my best walking shoes on.
The signs say that they have a nice assortment of animals. I only saw a lizard, squirrels and rabbits. The squirrels and rabbits refused to pose for me, but the lizard didn’t mind posing.
Along the path, there was a 400-year-old juniper tree.
Also, there were some lovely flowers in bloom.
I finished my walk through the lava field and started on my way back to Flo the Airstream. You can see her parked up on top of the ridge.
I stayed the night and left in the morning for a couple of days in Albuquerque to take care of some business. The next post will be about Taos. Stay tuned!
The next morning, I decided to take the hike to the other petroglyph site that Lyn, the camp host told me about. “Just take the path too the right, and follow along the base of the hill and the fence. Go through the gate and keep going.”
That little line of rocks is the beginning of the trail. I walked toward where the gate was supposed to be.
I walked along the barbed wire fence until I came face-to-face with more barbed wire. For the uninitiated, this is a gate.
You lift the latch.
Drop the gate and walk through.
Then, be sure to latch it up again.
Sometimes the trail was a little hard to see. In some places, there were rocks showing the way. In other places, there were just footprints in the dirt.
But, human trails were easy to distinguish from the animal trails.
I wasn’t too certain that I was heading in the right direction, but I finally found a glyph.
It wasn’t an outstanding glyph, but at least I knew I was on the right path. The next glyph I found was amazing!
After that, I spotted them one after another.
I loved this one. It reminded me of a Picasso work of art. I wonder what the creator intended?
There were more circles.
A handprint. A universal way of leaving one’s mark from the caves at Lascaux and Chauvet in France around 30,000 years ago to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
Could this have been a mountain lion’s paw?
Another circle motif.
I like to think of this as a symbol for wind. There certainly is enough of it here in the desert
What a nice collection of glyphs!
This looks like a video game controller to me.
This boulder had them on just about every surface. I was having so much fun exploring and seeing what I could find. Of course, I know I wasn’t really discovering them. Countless people before me had been there, as well as many cows.
I love this little laughing animal.
This one looks like a bear claw.
Another lizard, claw and more circles.
This one looks like a face or mask.
Interesting geometric designs.
And more quadruples.
And finally, my exploration was over. I reached the end of my trail. There may have been more, but I would save them for another visit.
Next up: Valley of Fires near Carrizozo, New Mexico.
The next day started off gloriously sunny, and I grabbed my new walking stick and my hat and took the trail that went across the road to the site of the Three Rivers village. The path lead through low desert plants, such as mesquite and grasses. It was a perfect day to go exploring!
Although the streams are dry now, the climate wasn’t quite as dry when the Jornada Mogollon lived there. There is still a line of cottonwoods growing where I imagine a stream once flowed.
The village started around 1000 years ago. By 1200 AD, it was an important village and it reached its greatest size and influence around 1300 AD. By 1400 AD, it was abandoned.
Archeologists had excavated three sites that exemplified types of dwellings in use during the history of the village. The first was a pit house, which was roofed over with branches and had an animal skin for a door.
The next dwelling I came to was a partially reconstructed house made of stone. The archeologists say that the small size of the door was due at least in part to the height of the people at the time. Men were about 5’4″ and women were about 5 feet tall.
They say that they think this was a dwelling for one family.
At one end, there was a rounded room, that they think was for storing food.
There were signs encouraging us to look for remains of buildings that hadn’t been excavated. I saw this line of stones, and I think it was the site of another dwelling.
I love exploring and after I found the remnants of this wall, I got really excited! I started finding pottery shards! Check another item off the bucket list!
I found one and then another.
I was absolutely thrilled with my finds. Within minutes, my hands were overflowing with my treasures.
I had to pick out my favorites. It was so hard to choose!
I saw a sign that said people used to dig up the ruins looking for arrowheads and pottery, and they ended up destroying the sites. They said take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprint. I should have read to the end of the sign. I didn’t read it until I was on my way out. It said not to disturb the sites. Uh-oh…
Well, I did return the shards to more or less the same place I found them, and I didn’t take any.
As a “recovering potter” I have always wanted to find the remains of my “ancestors'” work. I was amazed at how finely made and consistently thin the shards were.
In the interest of full disclosure, however, two shards fell into my backpack, and I only discovered them then next day. I did give them to the Lyn, the camp host, to add to their collection in the office.
If there is anything I like more than rocks, it’s rocks with ancient art on them. I also just love surprises.
Tree Rivers Petroglyph Site was full of surprises. And rocks.
I’ve been to places that say they have petroglyphs. Maybe they do, but they are kind of remote, or not too visually exciting or covered over with more recent “petroglyphs.” (Also known as graffiti.)
This site is run by the Bureau of Land Management. In addition to managing the trails, they have camping and picnic facilities. The campsite I had was first rate. It had electric and water hook ups and it was as level as could be. I just pulled in and set up – no jockeying about was required. And it was a pull-through site! No backing up required. The site even had a table with a shelter, a trash can and a grill. All this for $9 a night, with my America the Beautiful Interagency Pass.
I set up camp. The winds were vigorous, but Lyn, the site host told me that the forecast was better for the next day, so I decided to wait to hike the trail.
This was the home of the Jornada Mogollon, a prehistoric indigenous culture, of which there are no known descendants. They made the petroglyphs over 600 years ago, and, according to the brochure I was given, over 21,000 petroglyphs were found here and were documented by the Archeological Society of New Mexico’s Rock Art Recording School.
The Jornada Mogollon created these pictographs by pecking away the patina on the surface of the rock with another rock.
This rock has a surface broken off; you can see the difference between the patina and the rest of the rock.
There are all sorts of petroglyphs and you can walk right up to them. The website for this place says that the trail is rough and boulder-strewn. You can see that it is.
There are geometric shapes.
There are animals, lizards and birds.
And faces and masks.
Speaking of faces, I met some lovely smiling people at. the top of the trail. We sat in the shade of the shelter and chatted for a bit. Mari and Chris were just up for the day from Las Cruces. They were going to continue a little further, and I was heading back down. When we parted ways, Mari gave me her walking stick!
Now I match the hiker guy on the sign!
It’s easy to believe that there are more than 21,000 petroglyphs here! I wonder if there are more on those other rocks over there?
Incidentally, of all the things I saw on the trail, nothing could compare with what I saw in the parking lot.
Yes, I dropped my keys. I did the trail again, and even called a locksmith. He was on his way when I found them. I texted him and let him know that I was all set. He congratulated me on the find and wished me a good stay.
As exciting as this day was, the next day allowed me to cross something off my bucket list.
If you need a dose of roadside side attractions, may I suggest the World’s Largest Pistachio?
You can see it – and many of the ordinary-sized ones – at McGinn’s Pistachio Tree Ranch and Arena Blanca Winery, On highway 54 north out of Alamogordo.
If you need a more compelling reason than seeing an enormous pistachio statue, I have two words for you:
That’s right, they let you try all the delicious pistachio concoctions that they have for sale. Pistachios in the shell, pistachios out of the shell, pistachio brittle, flavored pistachios – you name it! I’ll bet they had 25 different flavors and preparations there to try.
And, if pistachios aren’t you thing, how about wine? Yes, they had wine tasting, too.
Keep your eyes peeled for the rack cards advertising area attractions when you are in other business. I picked one up and got a free bag of pistachios with a purchase of more then $10.
What did chronically frugal Kim buy, you might ask. Well, let me tell you! They had plus sized tee shirts. And not only did they have larger shirts, they had them separated on their own racks. No pawing through size extra small wondering is they have one that fits!
They also give tours of the pistachio ranch. I missed the tour, but I’ll bet it is interesting.
If my post has you hankering for some pistachios, you can check out their website. www.pistachioland.com
The next day, I made it to White Sands by 6:30. The ranger-lead stroll was scheduled to start at 7:00. I had a few minutes, so I drove the loop at the end of the road. It didn’t look too promising. The skies were cloudy and a cold wind was whipping the sand into the air. It felt uncomfortable on the skin, and I only had on shorts and a tee shirt. The weather forecast was for a little warmer temperatures than I was experiencing.
You can see the virga, which is precipitation that evaporates before it reaches the earth.
I watched and waited to see if the sun would come out.
A few times, I decided to leave and I headed for the exit. It was too chilly for me to stroll with the ranger. But, I kept catching a glimpse of the sky in my rear-view mirror and it would stop me in my tracks.
I kept turning around and parking. It was getting interesting.
And then I left.
What a splendid show our Sun put on for those of us lucky enough to be there.
Now, that might seem like a trick question. As you can see in the photo above, the sand is white at White Sands National Monument. And Grant is buried in Grant’s Tomb.
However, as I approached the site, I have to admit that I was a little concerned. I could see some white in the distance, but it looked more like snow drifts in a mall parking lot in March – vaguely white, but with lots of dark matter combined. When I got up to the Monument, I could see that the dark spots were desert plants growing in the white sand. Still, it wasn’t quite what I was expecting.
I stopped off in the visitor center, looked at the exhibits and saw a video about the dunes and how they are created. Then, I was off to see them for myself.
The first four miles of the Monument are a safety zone, which means there is no stopping. I assume that this has something to do with the fact that White Sands National Monument is smack-dab in the middle of the White Sands Missile Range. I didn’t ask.
The scenery is much like the picture posted above. White dunes sprinkled liberally with desert plants.
I came to a sign that gave me pause.
After the jarring rides I had after the pavement ended in Death Valley, I was a little concerned. However, I needn’t have worried.
The unpaved road was smoother than the asphalt! If you look to the side of the road, you can see that they have to plow the roads to keep them passable.
I stopped first to look at a display on the plant and animal life, but what I saw was a sign the made my heart sing!
“This area is reserved for Nature Study. For sand play and other recreational activities, please drive three miles down the road into the heart of the dunes.”
Oh, be still, my heart! Not only was I getting close to the heart of the dunes, but they were actually encouraging sand play! I jumped back into the truck and headed into the heart of the dunes.
After that, the white dunes that I was hoping to see came into view.
White sand as far as the eye could see!
And there were people sledding on the dunes! I kind of wondered how they happened to have flying saucers with them in southern New Mexico. I found out afterwards that they sold them in the gift shop.
I like how they will buy back your sled and resell it. Used sleds are even cheaper than new ones. I was almost tempted to buy one, go back and give it a try. Then I reflected on my last sledding experience more than twenty years ago and thought better of it. The sand wasn’t particularly slippery. Maybe it was due to the rain they had recently.
Actually, the water table is very high here. In the visitor center, they showed that the water is only about a foot below the surface. I didn’t dig down to check it, but I could feel that the sand was much moister than the sand in Death Valley.
There were actually puddles on the sand. Bart looked really jaunty with the splatters from going through them.
One of the highlights of the experience at White Sands is sunset. They even have a ranger-lead stroll to experience sunset. I vowed to return for that.
I was going to title this post “Tucson in the Rearview Mirror.” But I realized that when I’m hitched up and rolling, the only thing in my rearview mirror is Flo!
My stay in Tucson this time wasn’t exactly what I had been hoping for. I had a doctor appointment that was canceled and I didn’t get the repairs done on Flo that I had scheduled. And, it was heartbreaking to have to put Walter down. But, his time had come, I made an appointment with a doctor in a town I’ll be in shortly, and at least the parts for the repair came in. Now I just need a little help getting them installed.
And, I was parked right next to a lemon tree at the KOA in Tucson. They encouraged me to take lemons, and you can see that I did!
I made it to Alamogordo, New Mexico last night and got into my campsite at Oliver Lee Memorial State Park just as the last bit of twilight was fading. No further damage was done to truck or trailer.
I will be reporting on some places I was last month as well as keeping you up to date on where I am. Look for posts about Lone Pine, California and Joshua Tree National Park, as well as White Sands National Monument. I sure am lucky to be able to see all these marvelous places.
Before I wrap up my Death Valley Tales, let me dedicate a few lines to a summary.
Highlights and surprises
My biggest surprise was the amount of color I found in Death Valley. Every family in the color wheel was represented. Who knew that it wasn’t black and white?
I was also surprised by the drive through Titus Canyon. It was a reminder of what travel must have been like at the beginning of automobile tourism and even back to prospecting days, which really weren’t all that long ago. It’s not all that often this city girl gets to drive that far on a dirt road.
The Artists Drive was amazing! All those colors splashed across the landscape.
The swimming pool at Furnace Creek Ranch Resort and RV Park was a delight. A little bit of affordable luxury for a hot and dusty place. It is available to all visitors to the park, and only costs $5 to use if you are not a guest of the Resort.
It seems to be a bit whiney to say I was disappointed with the weather, but the wind kept me from fully exploring the park.
I did a bit of research on the wind, and found that when I visited, in April, was during the windier part of the year. When I return, I will try to schedule my visit for December or January, which has the lowest average windspeed, I found this information at traveltips.usatoday.com/weather-climate-death-valley-california-59318.html.
I ate a couple of meals in the restaurants at Furnace Creek Ranch Resort and RV Park. The best things I can say about them are that the food sustained life and didn’t make me sick. On the other hand, the kindest thing I can say is that the meals were uninspired. Oh, and the food is expensive. If you want a table indoors with someone else preparing the food, then the price is worth it. A better alternative would be to bring your food into the park with you.
The site I had at Furnace Creek Ranch Resort and RV Park was nice, but the sites were so small that I had difficulty getting backed in. Two of my neighbors helped out by moving their vehicles. The plantings and the close quarters may have helped reduce the effects of the wind.
The fee to stay in a full hook up site $38, although they do have a campground without hook ups for $18. With both of these options, you get to use the swimming pool, shower facility, coin operated laundry and sports courts.
After my first night, I stayed at Texas Spring campground, which is across the road from Furnace Creek Ranch. The listed price is $14, but the machine that sells the camping permits only charged $12. There is a lot of room there, along with picnic tables and fire rings. The sites don’t have hook ups, but water and flush toilets are available at the campground.
The only National Park campground that accepts reservations is Furnace Creek, but there are plenty of campgrounds that are first come, first served. Don’t let the lack of a reservation stand in the way of planning a visit.
There is so much that I missed on this trip that I know I will be back.
On my next visit, I will try to schedule my trip for January or February. The winds should be lighter and the temperatures should still be comfortable for outdoor activities. January’s average high is 67º and the low is 40º. February’s average high is 73º and the low is 46º.
Next time, I want to hike Mosaic Canyon and Darwin Falls. I want to spend more time at the dunes. I want to walk to Salt Creek and see the pupfish. Natural Bridge Canyon also sounds like a great hike. I’d like to see the Wildrose Charcol Kilns.
If I feel like a 27 mile drive one way over rough roads, I’d like to see The Racetrack, where rocks seem to mysteriously move across a dry lakebed, leaving tracks behind them.
I might even want to do the Titus Canyon drive again!
If you plan to take the Titus Canyon drive, continue up the road to Beatty, Nevada and fill your gas tank. Gas is a lot cheaper there.
Take plenty of food. You won’t starve there. You can buy food and eat in restaurants, but you will probably be more satisfied with the selection you bring with you.
Don’t worry if you can’t make reservations, unless you want to site at Furnace Creek Ranch Resort and RV Park. There will a place for you.