Monday, 7 April 2014

New Mexico, Texas and Louisanna

New Mexico was our next stop.
Wecome to more desert!
We had two places in particular to see, White Sands National Monument and Carlsbad Caverns. We are becoming very conscious of the limited time left before we need to be back in Ontario. We were not sure what to expect in New Mexico, as neither of us had been there. However, we did not expect flat, non-changing barren desert for miles and miles along the I-10.

Once we got to Bowie, there were grasslands, more mesquite and orchards, but only for a while. There were also some bright green, irrigated fields, then back to desert. We also saw a real haze over the desert and mountains. 

We later found out that it was dust blown up by high winds in Texas and Mexico to the south.
As we neared the White Sands National Monument, we saw signs for the White Sands Missile Range and a museum, so decided to check it out first. It surrounds the White Sands National Monument. It was first used as a military proving ground during WWII where the first atomic bomb was tested and after the war to test rockets captured from Germany. We really wanted to see the Trinity test site of the first atomic bomb explosion however it is only open to the public for one day during the spring (April 6 this year) - too late for us to visit.  The Range is still used to test experimental weapons and space technology and is periodically closed to the public (as is the highway passing through). 
Entrance Checkpoint, Security is on the right
We left the trailer in the outer parking lot and walked through the checkpoint. That is after we had passed the security check, and given them our drivers’ licences! We were instructed by the guard at the gate that we could take pictures, but only facing one direction. 

Outdoor Display
The museums were really well done.

 German V2 Rocket
There were stories of the original settlers, those who came looking for gold, and a history of the base itself. Each section was in a separate room- eg a Naval Room, one dedicate to the Native Americans of the area, one room dedicated to POW’s- and a separate room of the paintings of a vet who had been in a Japanese POW camp. These were incredibly powerful, and left me speechless.

We only had enough time to check out the White Sands National Monument Visitors’ Center,

The front
Back courtyard

before heading off to our campground in Alamogordo. We stayed at Boot Hill RV Resort. It was fairly large with 50 sites, laid out in the shape of a cowboy boot, with the Park Residence in the heel! Sites were large, level and easy to back into for 30 sites or pull through for the other 20. They have full hookups and good wifi. We drove around quite a bit while we were there, getting pizza the first night, shopping, and looking for a barber, as John really needed a haircut. We found one, but decided we didn’t need, or particulary want, a barber shop which had bars on the windows. We finally found a unisex corner shop in a little Mall. One side was a hairdresser, and facing the other side was a barber, so I got my hair cut too. 

The next day we headed to White Sands National Monument. It is located in a mountain-ringed valley at the northern end of the Chihuahuan Desert. At the heart of the basin, rise great wave-like dunes of glistening white gypsum. You pay for the tickets at the Visitors’ Center,- $3 each and good for a week-, then drive eight miles into the heart of the dunes. For the first couple of miles, you see white patches in the grasses along the road, 
Formation of the Basin
and gradually more and more white. There are several short trails to walk, and one longer Interdune Boardwalk. A sea of white appears, as you approach first the parabolic dunes, then the Transverse Dunes. The roads are plowed. 

Plowed Roads

Higher than the truck

It is magnificent, bright white sand dunes with a variety of grasses and cacti stretching up through the sand. Then the road ends, but the plows have created a road through the gypsum dunes. There is a beautiful picnic area, with shelters from the sun.
One small section of the picnic area

John relaxing out of the sun

The dunes grow, then slump, but always advance. Even plants and animal have adapted to desert conditions. The earless lizard is bleached and the soaptree yucca elongates its stem to keep the leaves above the sand. 

Yucca on top of the dune

It looks like a winter wonderland, but it’s hot not cold, and folks are in shorts and sandals. There are kids, teens and, I suspect, some adults sliding down the 50ft. high dunes on bright coloured saucers. 

Enjoying sliding
No one will be cold or dirty, just tired. There is a huge picnic area, with individual curved shelters, so the table is shaded from the heat of the sun. We chose to climb on the dunes

and walk across the tops. The sand at the bottom is a bit crusty and hard where no one had walked, but soft on the dune. It was magnificent.

On the way back, we decided to stop at a grocery store in Alamogordo. We picked up some groceries and a couple bottles of wine, and went to the check-out. The girl asked John (as he was paying) for id. We thought she was joking, but no, this is the store's policy. The supervisor had to come over and check his driver’s licence before the wine could be put through! We drove away laughing.

The next day we hitched up, and headed up Hwy 70 across to Rosswell. We had considered – for a brief moment- taking the Cloudcroft pass, which is a shorter route; however, although a beautiful drive, it is not recommended to take trailers over the 8,650ft. winding road. Winds can be nasty.

Our drive took us through a wide tract of Apache territory.The elevation was over 8,0000ft, but the road was wide and well maintained. The rock cuts through the hills revealed beautiful colours, not striated, but often in patches, of reds, greens, greys and yellows.

Unusual patches of colour

As we started out there were few trees, but as we went higher trees became larger and more plentiful, often pine forests with no underbrush. 

There was just grass, some mesquite and lots of creosote bushes. There was a beautiful grassy high desert where missiles were once tested, as we drove towards Rosswell. We had planned to eat there, but there was not much- not even a Subway or a burger joint! 

We headed south to Brantley State Park where we had a cold night with a howling wind, but we were snug in our Airstream.
Lake Brantley

Next day we drove to Carlsbad Caverns. Carlsbad Cavern is one of over 300 limestone caves in a fossil reef laid down by an inland sea 250 to 280 million years ago. The drive to the Caverns is through, around and up large hills in the National Park.

Looking back on the drive up to the top.
From about age 16 in 1898, Jim White explored the cavern with his homemade wire ladder. 
This is not Jim's ladder, but one of the first ladders used to explore beneath the Big Room
When he grew older, most people did not seem to believe such caves existed. He gave many of the rooms their names, including the Big Room, New Mexico Room, Kings Palace, Queens Chamber, Papoose Room, and Green Lake Room. He also named many of the cave's more prominent formations, such as the Totem Pole, Witch's Finger, Giant Dome, Bottomless Pit, Fairyland, Iceberg Rock, Temple of the Sun, and Rock of Ages.

To get into the Caverns, you have two choices, you can take the elevator down 750ft in 1 minute, or you can walk down switchbacks, 

Looking into the cave mouth

Looking back up to the entrance
taking 50 to 60 minutes. With my wonky knee, I rode, John walked.

OMG, there are not enough superlatives to describe the sights. Carlsbad Cavern includes a large cave chamber, the Big Room, a natural limestone chamber which is almost 4,000 feet (1,220 m) long, 625 feet (191 m) wide, and 255 feet (78 m) high at the highest point. It is the fifth largest chamber in North America and the twenty eight largest in the world.
It is of unusual, unique beauty with a variety of natural decorations: stalactites, tiny delicate stalactites called straws, stalagmites, drapes, pillars of awesome sizes, pearls and popcorn. It is spectacular, jaw-dropping beauty. 

Chinese Theatre (PJ)

Dolls Theatre (PJ)

Longfellows Bathtub (PJ)

Rock of Ages (PJ)

Temple of the Sun (PJ)

Totem Pole (PJ)

Devil's Spring (PJ)

Witch's Finger (PJ)

I relied on John to take pictures, but he felt there would not be enough light to get good pictures. So, most of these pictures are NPS photos by Peter Jones (PJ).
There are several more challenging caverns to see on future visits. Beyond the spacious chambers that have been explored, other vast chambers of unknown character and dimensions exist.

Then, we were off to Texas. We really just hopped across Texas in a few days. The terrain was still very flat for miles. 

There were some oil donkeys, scrubby shrubs, a few tufts of grass, and tumbleweeds. We stayed in a Good Sam park, Fort Stockton RV Park, just off the I-10, but far enough away that there was little traffic noise. It was a well-run, friendly, neat park, with level wide pull-through sites and clean rest rooms. We had excellent mesquite ribs from the cafe.

Next stop was across the I-10 to Junction North Llano River RV Park. It was a “sister” park to Fort Stockton, and gave a 20% discount if you stayed at both. We even had our own Pecan tree and a little gazebo with rocking sliders and a table.
A beautiful spot across from the river
We got in early enough to get a couple of loads of laundry done. The drive became more interesting as there were more hills and mesas,

oil donkeys and several large wind farms around mile 280. 

The rock cuts were interesting as the rock here was striated yellows and greys. 

Rockcut- striated
The road was wide, and driving relatively easy, except for a cross wind.
For our next stop, we chose Palmetto State Park. The drive along the I-10 was a little wild. It was a grey day with and only 12 degrees C. Rain and wind gusts were expected. Well, both were delivered. At one point the wind was so bad, we pulled off the highway. As we were waiting for the traffic lights, (which were temporary and suspended by wires across the road), the lights started to fly out of the metal holder right at us, and one whole light just smashed on the right lane. We drove a few more miles and pulled into a gas station to wait out the rain, which by this time was parallel to the ground.. We could see blue sky creeping towards us from the west. Finally we were able to continue. We noticed that everything was becoming greener,

Much more open, cattle, green
and there were more hills, wide open fields and cattle. There were fields of wild flowers right beside the highway- white, red, purple and salmon-coloured. After many months of desert, it was an amazing sight.

Fields of colour

Palmetto State Park is a hidden gem, on the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail.

The drive into Palmetto
It is tranquil, wooded, with several wide, well-maintained trails. There were many beautiful wildflowers throughout the park.

The Palmetto

Sites are large and level. 

Our site
Unfortunately, the humidity was so high that the washrooms were constantly wet.  There is a CCC (Civillian Conservation Corps) Refectory, built in the 1930’s, by the RV section.

Luling, the nearest town and Lockhart are part of the Texas BarBQ Trail “Legends”. We talked to the neighbours in the park, who raved about Black’s BarBQ. We decided to stay an extra day and try it. We drove around the next day to find the Walmart to shop, and check out the neighbouring towns. Lockhart was a unique town, but much further than the “20 minutes down the road” that we expected. The Caldwell County Courthouse 

Lockhart County Courthouse
is an imposing structure built of Muldoon limestone with red Pecos sandstone trim. This is the third courthouse built on the site in 1984, and originally had electricity, but no indoor plumbing. Later broom closets were converted into washrooms. However, the story goes that when the first water bill was received, the county judge was so shocked, he padlocked the restrooms.

Owned by same family since 1932
Black’s was interesting, booths around the edge of the large room and long tables down the middle. When you go in, you choose your ‘sides’, then pick out the BarBQ of your choice- a big rib, back ribs brisket or sausages. However, in spite of all-day smoking, neither of us would give it a 10 for BarBQ, although the meat had a good rub on it and was quite tender, but rather dry.

We had to make one more stop in Texas before heading to New Orleans. We went to the Good Sam book for a park in Beaumont. East Lucas RV Park had room for us. Well, we did have a full service, pull-through site with a pretty wooden deck with a table. However, the wifi didn’t work at all, the man who checked us in wasn’t sure about the wifi and didn’t know the password, there were two full washrooms with showers, but only one worked, and it was dreary and grubby. The roads were really poor and bounced everything around. In fact the whole park had a run-down, unkempt appearance. We were out early the next morning, and on to New Orleans.

Raised Highway

Over the swamp

A Levee

We had heard and read very good reviews about the KOA in New Orleans. It was wonderful, friendly, very helpful staff, large well-spaced sites, good roads, clean, bright washrooms and showers. One of the staff helped John back in just a few minutes. They had a free shuttle service into New Orleans which took us in at 9am to the French Quarter, and picked us up at 5:45pm. The driver was fabulous, and so knowledgeable. He gave us a running commentary for the whole 45 minute ride- both ways. He showed us the single shot-gun homes,

which are one room wide and very long, There are often 3 or 4 chimneys on the roof. With 2 fireplaces to each chimney, one in each room, this means there are 6 or 8 rooms. There were several double shotgun houses, where someone has bought two houses and made them into one home. You can tell these because they have one door, but two sets of stairs. All the houses are on stilts or up on blocks. There are no basements. Many of the houses are wood and are covered in vinyl or brick for protection from the weather. He drove us down St Charles Ave., with its beautiful antebellum mansions, telling us who owned many of them, and what movies were made. On the way home one day he drove us up Magazine St., pointing out the 6 miles of unique shops, restaurants and “if you get bored, count the coffee shops”, the bar where Lee Harvey Oswald hung out, the haunted house, the side of the church that fell on the gas station next door, and so much more....

New Orleans was incredible. The first day we took the shuttle in, starting at Jackson Square,

Jackson Square
we walked the whole French Quarter. There were street artists, and entertainers everywhere.

We enjoyed impromptu jazz concerts on the streets.

On the balcony to entice you into the restaurant

A group got together in the street

The architecture was fascinating. Many of the buildings have the metal balconies on the second and third floors.
note the fire escape...

typical 3 storey home
The colours range from pastels to bright vivid yellows and pinks. There are a number of houses, and stores which reflect the Creole influence- one storey with floor to ceiling narrow windows, and 14ft ceilings. Many doors are on the street level, but some are raised up 2 or 3 stairs.
Varied colours on same street

Unusual wooden balcony

Creole influence floor to ceiling windows

More elaborate, but still creole influence This is like a 'double shotgun' style

There were lots of tourist shops with beads, T-shirts and souvenirs. There were a lot of restaurants, from small take-outs, and bars, to several that included patio seating back in courtyards. If you look up between buildings, you can often catch a glimpse of beautiful private and interesting courtyards.

One of the more unusual courtyards
It seems many buildings are built right on the sidewalk around a block, so each building has a section of ‘back yard’ or interior courtyard. We walked along Decatur Street and the French Market. Much of this was restaurants or trinkets, souvenirs or crafts. There was very little food for sale. The first day, there was a foodfest by the Market in the large parking lot. There were food trucks from all over, and a beer tent. But you could get your beer or drink and walk ANYWHERE. We found the most delicious, spicy lightly battered chicken from Memphis. There were free beignets, freshly made, ribs, several other chicken barbeques, grits and of course hot dogs. 

Bourbon Street was a blast. There were people walking on sidewalks, and on the roads, sitting in the bars, and on the balconies of the buildings. 

Many of the balconies were decorated

Most of the bars and many of the restaurants open onto the street. Almost anything goes. Many of the bars have signs announcing, drinks “To Go”.

Signs along the streets

We had to try the Hand Grenade!

You can walk anywhere with your drink as long as it is in a plastic container. We sat in The Musical legends Park,
There are sculptures of Jazz Legends
 drank a wonderful Irish Coffee and listened to Jazz.

The second day we went into the city, we spent the morning at the National WWII Museum. It is extremely well done. We started with a ‘train ride to Boot Camp’ with several recruits who explained, in living scrapbook pages, why they signed up. You begin the exhibits with the background to the German and Japanese expansionist programs, through the European conflicts with powerful personal stories, exhibits and films. There is a separate section which details the Pacific campaign, and links the two fronts. We did not get a chance to fully explore this section or to see the two films as we were meeting cousins from Edmonton who were visiting New Orleans. 

We enjoyed a delicious lunch at the home of the Hurricane, then walked up to Louis Armstrong Park. 

Relaxing in Creole Square

Charles "Buddy" Bolden

Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong

It is a beautiful place to wander, or to sit and relax. Then we made our way slowly back to the waterfront and our shuttle meeting place. 

We were sorry to leave New Orleans, but needed to take a few more steps closer to Ontario. We drove on I-10 straight through Mississippi and Alabama and into Florida. We are at an Airstream Park 25mi. North of Pensacola. We’ve been delayed here by several days of rain and thunderstorms.

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