Swept Off Our Feet to New Mexico

“It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

Back in December I was thinking a lot about travel. I saw that Gwen had a week long school break at the end of March, for her Spring Break. It was the perfect time to get away, and the perfect time to finally make it to New Mexico!

Yeah, that's snow...

I started packing earlier that week, breaking things down into manageable bites as always, so we could awake when ready on Saturday, get showered and fed, then only have to pack our food and go. We were out the door around 9a.m. and on our way! We stopped once for gas, and once for gas and lunch, but made good time.

As always, our time was dominated by National Parks and Monuments, and we managed to see a lot of the state that way.

Our first stop was Badelier National Monument, and I think it might have been my favorite!

We ended up camping next to some really lovely people, with whom we ended up sharing a few fires and a few picnic tables. Gwen spent much of that evening and the next running around with the daughter, and I was able to talk to the parents and spend some time reading and relaxing.

Sunday we woke with the birds, eat some breakfast with our neighbors, and headed out to check on Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument.

It was a pretty starting place with some amazing rock formations. We started our adventuring with a hike there to check out a little cave.

Each of our 3 walks/hikes that day was between 1.25 and 1.5miles. Enough to get us moving and work our legs, but not so much we were overly tired.

Next we headed to Valles Caldera National Park. I think my car's alignment will never be the same again after the drive in, but it was an amazing place to visit!

The Caldera itself was huge!!

We barely walked around a little part in the middle!

On our way out, we ran into some really sweet horseback riders who offered Gwen a lift for the little bit of trail left. She was ecstatic!

After that we headed back to Bandelier, and down to their visitor center to do the main loop trail. It offered views and entry into a handful of caves, kivas, and long houses... Gwen's absolute favorite!

There were a few places that they had ladders set up, so you could climb into some of the old house rooms. One of them was pretty large, and a lot darker then it appears in the picture. It also had a number of recesses that you really couldn't see all the way to the back of. We were both a little creeped out by it and climbed back out real fast!

The bottom part of the trail was very different from the top... it was their nature walk trail, which was wooded and ran next to a stream. Very pretty!

We camped in Bandelier that night as well, cooking some soup on the fire, and hanging out with our friends just a little bit more (including marshmallow roasting!).

Monday we drove down to Almogordo, NM to hit up White Sands National Monument. We stayed at a KOA in town, which was not as lovely as camping in Bandelier, but it did have some nice perks! After getting our tent set up, we headed to White Sands, equipped with our sleds!

The sand there was so white, so fine, and so soft! We couldn't believe it!

Driving in was surreal, dunes as far as the eye could see... and as tall as houses!

We spent a few hours running up the dunes and sledding down, with a drink/snack break halfway through. It was a little exhausting, and I think if we went back (which I'd like to do sometime!), that it would be better with more of a group.

The next day was a super low-key day. We took showers (perk!), ate a relaxed breakfast, played some table soccer (perk!), then took down our tent and headed down the street to a local park we had passed.

We played on the park for an hour or so (well Gwen played, I lounged), then headed out to Carlsbad. Originally we were supposed to stay at a State Park about 30 minutes from the Caverns, but when we got there the campsites were nothing like I expected... set on a hill with no cover to speak of, we weren't too excited. So we changed plans and headed towards the Caverns, figuring we might as well get closer and see what we could find.

We ended up staying in a little tiny cabin just outside of the National Park. They also had tent sites there, but let me tell you one surprise we encountered on our trip: Wind. It was windy after sunset in Bandelier, but there was enough tree cover that it wasn't a problem. It was even windier at the KOA, but again, there was enough stuff around that the wind wasn't direct. It was windier still down by Carlsbad, to the point that I was worried I wouldn't even be able to get the tent up myself without it being gusted over! The guy I talked to said that it does happen in NM in the spring, that these winds will pop up for a few days, blow everything around, then fade out. No real way to know when they would be bad.

We were very grateful for the little cabin (two twin beds, and otherwise bare!) that night as we listened to the wind howl outside and even once rock our little building!

Wednesday morning we were up early to eat breakfast and head to the Caverns. We did the self guided tour, walking down the natural entrance (1.25m), then doing the "Big Room" loop (another 1.25m).

It was absolutely amazing and my pictures aren't going to do it any justice.

The whole thing was phenomenally large, occasionally creepy, always awe-inspiring.

You could fit a 747 inside the cavern. At the tallest point in the big room you could have fit Big Ben!

After the tours, we were stomach rumbling hungry, so we got some lunch, then headed out. We took the scenic loop road out of the National Park lands....

I'll take a moment to note here: everyone I talked to before going on this trip mentioned how much they loved New Mexico, how amazing it is there, and how they'd happily go back. I would definitely visit NM again, but I'll say that I wasn't blown away at first. I'm not a "South-West" kind of girl. I've talked before about how forests are my happy place, and the type of area that makes me feel most at ease and rejuvenated; and specifically I'm thinking more East Coast kind of forests - very green and dense. New Mexico, I think because of that unique shade of orangey-tan of the soil, combined with the SW low, spaced out flora made it all feel very barren to me. Even in areas that I would consider lovely country if otherwise similar in population and notability of human hand, but instead being green and lush, in New Mexico they seemed desolate to me. I really enjoyed the more forested areas of Bandelier (I think it was my favorite stop of the whole trip), but it wasn't until we were making the drive between Almogordo and Carlsbad, passing over the mountains and through such areas as Cloucroft that I thought: okay, maybe I can see it.

All that said, I did find that when I stopped trying to see what everyone else saw, I was able to find the beauty a lot easier. Driving the scenic loop through Carlsbad Caverns National Park, you would get these most amazing flashes of purples breaking up the tans, oranges, and greens. And they were very lovely surprises.

Moving on! 

Our next stop was Roswell. As a big X-files nerd, who truly believes that the cosmos are way too big for us to be alone in them, I just had to stop here. And we treated ourselves to a hotel for the night for our stay.

The town is a little hokey, but cutesy/campy fun. Gwen's favorite part was going to a buffet for dinner. Mine was the nice warm, non-cramped shower I got to take after putting her to bed... followed by the amazing soft mattress and sheets that we slept on.

Thursday we enjoyed our complimentary breakfast, then headed on out to our last few stops. First was a quick tour of the Earthships by Taos! They are amazing structures, and beautiful in a very different way.

They are expensive enough that I couldn't justify it for just Gwen and I, but I would love to stay in one sometime.

Next was a drive over the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge...

Then finally, all the way down into that gorge to camp at Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument.

We set up camp, then headed out to explore some trails. I don't know if you can tell, but the river ran right behind our campsite!

It was a beautiful place to finish up our trip.

We played some cards in our tent, ate some more soup for dinner, then headed to bed.
The next day it was time to head home. We packed up one last time, then started heading in the general direction we wanted to go. I say general direction because we had to climb all the way out of that gorge before we had any kind of signal!

There was a point when we finally crested a ridge and before us the land just opened up... snow capped mountains in front of us and to the right, the huge split in the earth marking the gorge to the right. It was pretty damn breathtaking. [This will give you an idea, but its so damn much better in person.]

We made great time through New Mexico and into Southern Colorado, until we headed through the mountains and suddenly found ourselves in a cloud!

That slowed us down a bit... and unfortunately we were under cloud/rain cover for the rest of the trip... and the next few days (blah!). We stopped at a diner in Colorado Springs, then finally Friday afternoon we were home!

It was an amazing trip. Another state to check off the list, and a great start to 2017's travels!! 

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