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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Criss-cross, Up and Down in New Mexico

Thursday February 26,2015 Quality Inn Room 139 Alamogordo, New Mexico

Left Roswell yesterday morning around 10 am on a day as beautiful as had been predicted. 38 degrees but sunshine and clear skies with no wind. Headed west out of town after passing the sprawling campus of the New Mexico Military Institute which looks like a huge fortress on the Main St of Roswell, not far from the beautiful county courthouse but before the tacky shops and museum with research center celebrating the UFO crash that the government has kept completely covered up for ages. Have chosen not to explore any of these emporia of blobby green men (  or women ? or non-sexual beings?) and spacecraft models in the most horrible silver material I’ve ever seen. I laugh each time I see the research center—just not buying it,

Once beyond the city limits the countryside becomes beautiful—mountains as far as the eye can see and on this trip across the area, covered in last few days’ snow. We soon twisted and turned downward into the winding Rio Ruidoso valley to the town of Tinnie. Farther along this route, which we’ve taken many times is the town of San Patricio, the home of Peter Hurd a well known artist. He was commissioned to paint the official portrait of LBJ, who hated it. If you get to chatting with the lady who runs the small museum there, she will show you a few of the sketches of LBJ that Hurd did, showing LBJ as a jack-ass. The artist’s response to the lack of appreciation from the President. There is also a neat looking shop that I did not notice near Tinnie last fall, when Barb and I passed this way. Going to have to figure out how to plan our route to take us there again before we return home since neither of us were in the mood to shop that early in the am. ( Not that Bill is ever really in the mood to shop, for things I like, anyway—lol)

This time however, we did not go to San Patricio but rather turned toward Lincoln, a major stomping ground of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett and Lew Wallace, author of Ben Hur. Wallace actually was a Union General in the Civil War and after the war, became the Governor of New Mexico Territory and held that office during the turbulent Lincoln County wars in which Billy played a significant role. The town is an interesting place that has been very well preserved, with many of the original buildings still intact and open to the public. Bill and I spent half a day there one year. It lies in the Lincoln National Forest and is high up the mountains from the Ruidoso. It is as high as Bill and I have ever gone, because I have always avoided going up higher to Capitan. The road, on the map, looks very switch-backy and I know from experience that those kinds of wiggles indicate steep drop offs, without guardrails, almost inevitably on the passenger side of the car. No fun for me. BUT, last fall, traveling in the opposite direction and with no snow on the ground, nor any possibility of it, Barb and I did climb to Capitan. The road is a piece of cake. And so, for the first time, I consented to going over it in winter with Bill at the wheel. The mountains are so beautiful, with the ground fog still trying to find its way over the tops. We came across a high power firing range, that I’d missed in the Fall. No one was out but it is rather large. We rounded a narrow curve with the only drop-off on the whole route and into Capitan we went.

This is quite a tourist town and last October it was filled with cars and people and very active. Now it looked almost deserted. Everything is named after Smokey the Bear, since the real Smokey was found as a young cub during a forest fire in the Lincoln National Forest now far from this location. There is even a park dedicated to him and a statue.  We opted to move on. These are the Capitan mountains and though Capitan itself is over 10,000 feet, we actually skirted its base rather than going over it—I think there is a road to a ski resort that goes closer to it. So, as you leave the town of Capitan, you begin to descend in wide sweeping curves that bring ever more beautiful mountain views. In time the Sierra Blancas become visible and Sierra Blanca stands out with its snow covered jagged peak. We have skirted that mountain near Ruidoso many times but have never, nor will we ever, gone closer to it by climbing Cloudcroft. That one I’ve researched with locals and everyone has told me—you do not want to go there—high, narrow and tons of drop-offs and steep slopes with hairpin turns. Even the description makes me queasy.

You may have noticed, as my sister-in-law, Sally, had that this stretch of an otherwise deserted road seemed to have a fair share of pedestrian travel. Well, some were jogging, some were walking and some were struggling but all of them were taking part in some sort of fundraising marathon. There was a vehicle alongside the road at one point but by the time I paid attention enough to read the placard on its side, we were by it. And soon we had descended totally into the Tularosa Basin. It covers more than 6,000 square miles—bigger than Connecticut. And at its edge is Carrizozo and the Four Winds Restaurant. Bill was hungry but I was not. He had a green chile hamburger and I had a piece of lemon cake and coffee. Chatted a bit with the three Staties at the next table. Picked up a couple pieces of this delicious peanut marzipan-like Mexican candy that I only ever see here. Then off we went across the Basin –this is a route I think I could drive blindfolded we’ve taken it so many times. 65 miles of nothing but valley floor—no towns, no houses. Just outside Carrizozo is the Valley of Fires and the Malpais Lava Flow. As you descend into the Basin from any direction, the wide dark black band that runs lengthwise north and south on the Basin floor stands out starkly against the tan scrubby ground.About five miles wide it runs 40 miles into the Basin, is believed to have originated ten miles away from Little Black Peak and at 5000 years old it is considered to be one of the youngest flows in the continental US. Cannot imagine trying to cross it on foot or horseback before the road that crosses it was built. Actually, cannot imagine building the road—it is rough stuff and deep.

On we went, past Trinity Site, where the first atomic bomb was detonated. As we approached San Antonio and the Rio Grande, the clouds darkened and virga was quite heavy. Made a right onto route 1 at The Owl in San Antonio, passed through the small community of Luis Lopez and into Socorro. It was only 2:10,and, though the sun had disappeared, the temperature had risen to 45 degrees. Settled in to watch The Five, which out here, is on at 3. Cindy Pino, the General Manager, who had been so upset that she only had a smoking king room left to offer me and Barb, was on the desk. She immediately remembered me and said she had a family king ready for us. We could have had a formal cocktail party and dance in the room, it was so large!  Headed to K-Bobs for a steak and brew, then home to NCIS, NCIS New Orleans, which I don’t really like, Perception and Rizzoli and Isles---then off to dreamland.

Yesterday we were up before dawn—the sunrise was beautiful over the streets and lights of Socorro. Got dressed quickly and ate a fast breakfast before heading out the door as the rooster at the house next door was waking up the neighborhood. Took the Interstate down to the Bosque where some of the smaller pools had skim ice on the surface and there were patches of snow and bits of ice along the road. The low trees and shrubs sparkled in the brightening sun with the ice on their thin limbs. It is such a special place this wildlife refuge. We’ve been to many but this one is magical and a visit to New Mexico would be incomplete without at least one visit to it. We never know what animals we will see. The hawks and Canadian geese are givens. We have known this great blue heron for years—he’s always in the same area. Often we spend time with a lovely slinky skunk who runs along the road in our shadow, but she must have been keeping warm somewhere in this 24 degree morning chill. At the far end of the first loop there was the field of Canadian geese and in the far distance the snow geese that often fill that grain field. In the foreground a mule deer buck was a bit edgy about our proximity to his 8 gal harem. At one point, it seemed as though he might cross the water canal to confront us but he seemed to decide we weren’t trying to accost them and he called the girls closer and continued to graze.

It is in this area that we’ve seen a herd of javelinas. They are a most unappealing looking animal and, if one believes the rumors, as unfriendly and dangerous as they look. No sign of them today. It wasn’t until we reached the other extreme fields of the refuge that we were rewarded with the chief avian visitor from the North, the Sandhill Crane. We’ve only seen them here once before—our first X-C trip when we were here in January. By this time they have usually left for their summer homes in the Dakotas etc. Although the roads are close to the fields the animals prefer to be out of range of humans, so the size of these guys is hard to determine. When we were in Nashville last year there were a couple in the zoo. You may recall the pictures I sent of the mating ritual we observed—they are huge—at least four to five feet tall with an incredible wing span.

So many of them winter here in San Antonio that there is an annual Crane Festival in October ( Barb and I were too early on Oct 5 ) for the fly-in. I bought a new sweatshirt with the birds on it. So it was incredibly exciting to see them here again. When we went into the visitor center, a couple who was in the refuge about ten minutes before us saw three mountain lions strolling through. We missed them, but we’ll be back again and who knows what we’ll see next. Saw several road runners, too, which we haven’t seen for awhile. One was really funny—I’m surprised he didn’t jump up on the hood, he was so curious about us and almost against the car. Funny to watch. They are one of my favorites along with the adorable quail with their bobbing head dresses.

After our usual hour and a half we went back to the motel, showered, packed and headed out at 1045 in 57 degree sunny weather back across the Tularosa Basin to Carrizozo, where we made a right turn toward Tularosa. Love McGinn’s pistachio farm with huge pistachio out front—reminds me of the Wonderful pistachio commercials on TV. But our favorite shop is Heart of the Desert at Eagle Ranch. It has been here forever and we stopped in 2000 and every year that we are have been in the area. Bought a huge bag of red chile and lime and a smaller one of green chile and garlic, on which we are munching now..Also bought a dozen of their pistachio cookies and two pistachio-cranberry biscotti.

From there we headed to Johnny Carino’s for sausage skilletinis—we both love it—and being in the Southwest the green peppers are not Bells but Poblanos—a bit more picante!  Had a delicious Malbec to wash it down. As usual the serving is huge so brought home the leftovers which I ate for lunch today. Also got an Italian iceberg wedge which I ate for dinner tonight with six wings from Buffalo Wild Wings. These restaurants are all on the strip in Alamogordo where we checked in at 3, right on time. Sunny and 64 degrees—had to turn on the A/C to cool off the room. Read USA Today,watched the Mysteries of Laura, Argo, and The Americans—didn’t get to bed til midnight!!!!

Looking at the date and what we want to do, we decided to stay another night here. Up again early though not before dawn, quick shower, quick breakfast and a spin down the road past Holloman AFB, after the morning rush when the two lanes of traffic turn in formation into the base, to White Sands National Monument. Another favorite place. Never see any wildlife but the white dunes against the blue sky is just so soothing. The yucca and desert grasses take such graceful forms and cast such dramatic shadows of varying shades of gray on the blinding whiteness of the sands. It is a place where I love to play with the camera trying to get dramatic compositions of light and dark. Today we had better timing that usual. I’ve been too early in the past—the sun not high enough, though I’ve gotten a bit of pinkish tones that disappear as the sun rises. Other times, I’ve been too late, so the sun has been so high that the shadows aren’t deep enough. Today was pretty good. I think next time  I’m going to try black and white shots. Don’t know why I haven’t thought of that before.

Came back to the room and did the books, paid the bills and that’s about all—it is so time consuming and irritating but it’s done for another month. Well, that and getting the pix shared and the blog caught up. Now it is Big Bang and then Blacklist, so time to wrap it up.

Until next time, we’re thinking of you all. Ceil, loved your note and am so glad I was able to refresh your memory of Leesville etc. I think that trailer is still there, lol! Love hearing from any of you with anything you want to share or ask. For now, good night, the Two Traveling Peas

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