Bashful Elephant

Last stop of the New Mexico portion of the journey before heading home. I visited Carlsbad in 1978 on my gross country trip before graduate school. I remember it was a welcome relief to the hot weather I had been traveling through! And the Bashful Elephant.


The drive from Roswell was short, hot, and flat. We passed through the biggest dairy farm I had ever seen – the were thousands of cows, and the stench nearly gave me a headache! We arrived and watched an enormous thunderhead threaten us with rain.

Carlsbad KOA

Carlsbad Caverns

I made a reservation for an 8:30 AM tour. Jake got to stay home this morning. Interestingly, the park has a kennel – the first I have seen so far on our journeys. The drive took me about an hour. The canyon leading to the caves was very scenic.

Carlsbad Caverns

The caverns were initially explored around 1900. Local ranchers used to collect the batshit (aka guano) for fertilizer. Eventually, it was turned into a National Park. Elevators were installed in the 1950s, and Rangers would lead tour groups through the caverns. The elevator shaft was one of the tallest at the time, going some 750 feet down. You can also hike the original entrance, adding about 1 1/2 hours each way.

One person on my trip commented it was the most fantastic thing they had ever seen. I felt the same level of awe that I did when visiting the Redwoods earlier in the trip.

It was an epic experience, with every turn opening up to a more incredible vista than the last. I applauded the lighting design – it really made the caverns come alive.

The whole loop took me about 1 1/2 hours. One of the highlights of the trip!

Alas – the Bashfull Elephant was nowhere to be found.


Guadalupe Mountains National Park

This was our last stop on the Big Kahuna as originally planned. This came on the list later in the trip after seeing the mountain range from Las Cruces some two months earlier!

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

I knew there was not much there to see – but hey – it is a National Park. As an official National Park Geek Club member, I needed to check it off my list! And wouldn’t you know – it was the only stop where it rained the whole time we were there.

We learned that this whole mountain range, including Carlsbad Caverns, was, at one point in time, a vast ocean reef. They call these fossil mountains because they are built on ancient sea creatures’ fossils. Amazing!

It was actually quite cool – cooling, that is! We managed to get on a quick hike and watch the thunderstorm! I tried to get some shots with lighting – but the weather just wouldn’t cooperate. Hah 🤣!

Thunderstorm on the desert mountains! Magnificent!

Too bad I didn’t bring my scuba gear!


Excellent Adventure 2021-23 Wall of Fame!

That’s it, everybody! Now the trip home.

👽 Little Green Men

We left the Trinity site with a new mission – to find all the Little Green Men in Roswell I have always heard about. We didn’t need to look far.

Valley of Fire

First, we crossed over the Valley of Fire again. We saw this in 2021 on a different road to Kanab, Arizona.

It was alive with blooming Dasylirion wheeleri as far as the eye could see. Situated in the lava flows, it made for a spectacular sight!

Valley of Fire

As we continued eastward that morning, it got hot. Really hot. By the time we reached Roswell, it was 107F outside. The trailer tires reached 113F. We got there and tried to beat the heat. Not much fun walking Jake in that heat with little shade to be found in the New Mexico desert.


Roswell

Roswell, New Mexico – Epicenter of the UFO movement

The story goes something like this: In 1947, an alien spaceship explodes north of Roswell. A bunch of people see it. A fewer number of people find the wreckage of the flying saucer. Four aliens were dead, but one survived. They examined him. They covered it up because – WFT – a flying saucer? We thought World War II was bad wait for this! Or something like that 😉.

Introduction to the exhibits. We believe!

Years later, people started talking. Military people. Townspeople. A cover-up had occurred. The gig was up. They eventually built this museum and laid the whole thing out for the world to see. They host conventions and have regular speakers. They have a research library containing all their reference materials.

We believe.

⁨International UFO Museum & Research Center⁩

There were a lot of people who ended up saying they knew about it. Probably more surprising was the cohesiveness or the individual stories taken as a whole. Many were deathbed confessions! How dramatic is that? Everyone’s 15 minutes of fame? Hard to know.

The surviving alien – bound for the autopsy table!

The second part of the museum had artifacts, including some very cool re-enactments of the alien autopsy—another group of exhibits talked about other sightings, some from antiquity. Intriguing stuff.

The museum was fun and about what I expected. They make a compelling case with all of this evidence. I personally do not believe it – the physics just make it all too unlikely.

I have no doubt that there are – or have been over time – many solar systems that support life. Life is too tenacious and found at all extremes on Earth. Essential ingredients are floating around in interstellar space. I am sure that intelligent civilizations like ours have existed.

The Universe, however, is really big, and physics – especially the speed of light/information – is limiting. 13 billion years old is a long time, and 48.5 billion lightyears wide is a long time to receive and transmit. How weak would the signal be so far away? Space, after all, is not empty.

Or maybe they are just fucking with us 👽. I do believe that another independently evolved species would not necessarily be like those that evolved on Earth—too many variables.


Roswell itself was bigger than I expected. The cashier at the museum told me the primary industry is dairy farming. They grow grass in the fields to feed the dairy cattle.

John Chisum – a Cattle Barron in the late 1800s, had his famous Jinglebob Ranch just outside Roswell.

The town does have a grand history of cattle ranching. The statue of John Chisum across from City Hall is a testimony to that. He was a real-life Cattle Barron with over 100,000 head of a longhorn steer at one point in the late 1800s.

Downtown Roswell

Starting in the 1930s, Robert Goddard set up a secret lab nearby and conducted dozens of launches to test rocket engine designs. During and after WWII, Walker Airforce Base became a crucial player in nuclear deterrence. It was eventually closed.

I was surprised that the whole alien thing was not overdone. Roswell is a bigger city than I expected – the fifth largest in New Mexico. The Mcdonalds’ seems to be the biggest alien attraction other than the museum. They light it up at night!


To my great surprise, it rained that afternoon. This was the first solid rain we had experienced on the whole trip. And it happens when it’s 107F outside! I am surprised it didn’t boil on the gravel as it splashed down! It cooled it off a bit – it was a mere 100F an hour later!

The next stop is our last in New Mexico, Carlsbad. We are staying at a big family-oriented park north of town. I made reservations to see the caverns early Friday morning. It’s supposed to be 107F today and then cool off a couple of degrees for the weekend 🥵. I plan on visiting Guadalupe National Park on Saturday.

From there, we start our journey home.

Miss Atomic Bomb

Hundreds of years ago, in this area, the native peoples drew symbols on the rocks inspired by their understanding of the natural world around them. Some of these symbols survived; you can see them in a National Park outside of Albuquerque.

None of them looked like Miss Atomic Bomb above. These were simpler times 🤣.


In the 1950s, when my Dad was testing rockets in Alamogordo, something far more interesting was happening in Los Alamos to the north of Albuquerque.

A decade earlier, the most important device in all the history of bipedal apes with big craniums was built and successfully tested. It was called the Gadget. It was tested at a site called Trinity, about 100 miles south of here.

Replica of the Gadget at the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History in Albuquerque

The successful test of the first Atomic Bomb in 1945 changed everything. It was the culmination of an evolution of the understanding of our Universe unparalleled to that point. Our new understanding of the natural world around us.

The pathway to our understanding of the universe was led by the brightest minds of their time. These are my heroes. The world we live in now would not exist without them.

One hundred years earlier, scientists could not even agree on what matter was. They thought there must be a luminiferous aether that light travels through. One hundred years later, scientists now were beginning to understand the star stuff. We cracked the code, so to speak.

After stars formed in the early universe, things really got interesting.

It was a boomtown in Albuquerque! Events that followed that test put the town front and center in the race to exploit our understanding. Sandia National Laboratories and nearby Kirtland AFB were front and center of the development of nuclear weapons. Research and development were being done on the peaceful uses of atomic energy, like the EBR-I reactor I visited earlier on the trip.

Atomic energy quickly became part of our culture.

The Atomic Bomb quickly became part of Americana, as evidenced by Miss Atomic Bomb and some of the toys available at that time. It meshed nicely with the Space Race and the environment I grew up in. No wonder it appeals so much to me.


Dave told me that he ate at a restaurant called El Pinto when he was once visiting on business. I tried it – it was killer good, and the setting was very unique. They have a factory next door where they make salsa.

El Pinto in northwest Albuquerque

Petroglyph National Monument

I left early by myself to explore the petroglyphs. They allowed dogs but only on certain parts of the trails, excluding the petroglyphs. I decided to go to Boca Negra Canyon, out of the three different trails.

⁨Boca Negra Canyon at Petroglyph National Monument⁩. The petroglyphs are estimated to be between 300 and 700 years old.

The park sits on different pieces of land in western Albuquerque. The Boca Negra Trail was in sight of a housing development! The trail consisted of concrete steps and paved surfaces that let you get right up to the rocks.


Boca Negra Trail with over 100 petroglyphs

It is estimated the petroglyphs were done primarily between 13o0 and the late 1600s by the ancestors of the Pueblo people. They were created by scraping the rock varnish off with a hammer and chisel. The feature images from nature and daily life.


The Freeway Dash

On my way back from my exploration of the petroglyphs, I saw a most interesting sight.

It was clear from the moment I got here that Albuquerque is a dangerous place—lots of barred windows and gated communities. The RV park has an all-night security guard and a closed gate after hours.

So I wasn’t all that surprised as I neared the exit to see a tall young man jump over the Interstate fence carrying two large boxes. As I sped by at 75 MPH, I looked in my rearview mirror to see him dart across five lanes of traffic carrying the boxes. He would have then had to scale another fence and cross the other five lanes of traffic in the opposite direction, scale the last fence, and make his getaway.

Yes – a dangerous place indeed. And apparently full of idiots.


The National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

This is one of the best museums I have been to in a long time. The exhibits were very good, and you could tell from the many sponsorship plaques in evidence a lot of money too. Their collection was unique, like the Palm Springs Air Museum I visited at the beginning of the trip.

The displays and exhibit take the viewer through the scientific minds and discoveries made that led to the testing of the Gadget. It does a remarkably good job of explaining the science.

Stunning 🤩 re-creation of the labs that were used in the development of the Gadget. This involved verifying the predictions of the critical mass required to start an uncontrolled fission chain reaction.

I was in tears when I entered the room showing the experiments the scientists did to verify their research.

From here, there was a large collection of exhibits leading up to Hiroshima, including a B29 Bomber used to drop the bomb.

B29 Bomber similar to the ones used to drop the two bombs on Japan

This included a replica of the Trinity test stand. This held the Gadget when it was tested on July 16, 1945, about 100 miles south of here.

A series of exhibits and displays discussed the cold war and the numerous ingenious ways we had to ensure Mutual Assured Destruction.

Around this time in my young life, we practiced air raid drills at elementary school during the Cuban Missile Crisis. I remember thinking to myself, ‘What good is it going to do if I am sitting under this desk and they drop a nuke on us.’ Yes – an exciting time to be alive.

Many years later, I was working at Boeing. I had to get a security clearance because they were working on Cruise Missiles in the building our lab was located in.

These would be on dollies out in the corridors of my building. I would walk by them on the way to lunch 🤣!
Display of what’s commonly referred to as the Nuclear Football – the machine that would authorize the launch of nuclear weapons by the President. The latest in the lower right was from the 1990s and featured a Compaq computer laptop 😳.

There were a lot of schoolchildren at the museum. There were a number of exhibits designed for children as well as exhibits on the atomic age in popular culture.

Atomic Pop Culture! We visited Arco earlier in this trip with a visit to the EBR-I reactor museum there.

The was a special exhibit on the Uranium Cube. This is a five-pound chunk of pure Uranium made by Nazi Scientists who then hung over 600 of them in an array to achieve a chain reaction.

Pure Uranium cube 2 inches square and weighs 5 pounds. Over 600 of these were built by Nazi Scientists in 1945

Most of the cubes are unaccounted for, but very few remain and are among the amazing exhibits at this incredible museum. This experiment was located in Haigerloch, Germany, near where I lived in the late 1980s.

Heisenberg’s Uranium Machine

Another part of the museum was dedicated to the current technology of atomic energy for power production. A series of displays on the work that is being done with Thorium based reactors moderated by liquid sodium.

Display on the Thorium fuel cycle for power generation

Nothing new here – I was very interested in doing this when I graduated from college. I tried to get a job at Gulf General Atomic, which had built a similar design reactor at Fort St Vrain in Colorado.

Matador Flying Rocket

Outside was an extensive collection of aircraft, missiles, and other items. The Matador was a flying rocket, much like the original V2 Buzz Bomb built by the Nazis. My Dad worked on this during his time with Goodyear in Alamagordo.

Dad’s Career 1951-1992. He worked on the Matador after leaving the Air Force in 1953.

I could not believe all of this was in a place like this. It touches on a lot of things that I am very interested in now and over the course of my life. I was crying at several points it touched me so. Go figure.

Eddie – Just This Geek – You Know 😎.


The rest of the day was spent either heating up in the hot tub or cooling down from the 100+ F weather!

⁨Albuquerque⁩ KOA – Winner of the Best Hot Tub category for Excellent Adventure 2023

The next day we left early for the final stage of the Miss Atomic Bomb tour.


Trinity

The Trinity Site is located here. About 100 miles or so south of Albuquerque, just south of Highway 380. There is a marker to the northeast of the site. I was told there are often protestors there, and the marker gets frequently damaged.

Historic Marker for Trinity Site 18 miles southeast of this location. It is closed except for two days a year.

Not today.

Trinity and Me

How can I save my little boy from Oppenheimer’s deadly toy?
There is no monopoly on common sense
On either side of the political fence
We share the same biology, regardless of ideology
Believe me when I say to you
I hope the Russians love their children too

Gordon Sumner aka Sting

Next stop – Aliens!

👽

Adobe Pink 🦩

Sante Fe

Jake got the morning off on our first day when I went on to explore Sante Fe. It was a good thing because it was a beautiful city with hot, narrow streets. I headed for the center of the town, the central Plaza of Sante Fe. The buildings were uniformly one or two-story buildings finished the same color. Adobe Pink?

Sante Fe Central Plaza, complete with an ugly box painted Adobe Pink 🦩

In the center of the plaza was a place where a monument used to be. I learned that whatever was there was torn down by protestors and replaced with an ugly box painted the same fucking Adobe Pink. On the nasty box was a faded message from the city council explaining that it had been removed. Then there was a QR code you could barely see anymore. Supposedly this would tell you what was there and why it was removed.

Sante Fe – Museum of Contemporary Native Art. All of the buildings were a variation of this adobe style and adobe pink color.

Other than that, the town was full of beautiful people walking around looking at their phones instead of all these beautiful Adobe Pink buildings. Inside these buildings were art and specialty stores with very expensive and very nice stuff. Whatever you wanted: Art of all persuasions, an oxygen bar, chic clothing, very upscale-looking restaurants and bars. And lots and lots of beautiful people. My time to leave – but first merch! I found some very cool and unique merch.

A church in downtown Sante Fe. Not a church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster but nice anyway 😎

High Road to Taos

High Road to Taos

This collection of two-lane roads leads to Taos through the southernmost Sangre de Cristo Mountains. We left early to beat the heat.

The Sangre de Cristo Mountains is the southernmost range of the Rocky Mountains. This part of the drive went through Badlands and the Carson National Forrest.

There were many pueblos along the way, many with histories dating to the 1700s. The area was very rural.

The lower part of the road had scenic pines and juniper trees that look so splendid against the light brown hillsides.

We came across several graveyards. Many of the graves were colorfully decorated. This must be the tradition that is reflected in the highly colorful figurines made by native craftspeople.

The final part of the road took us through Carson National Forrest and some spectacular vistas.

Carson National Forrest on the High Road to Taos

Taos itself was a huge disappointment. Like a smaller, crapper version of Sante Fe. In addition, instead of just having a monument destroyed, they destroyed the whole fucking plaza in Taos, it seems!

Taos Plaza – WTF?

Another weird town with a weird vibe. I mean, the whole place looks like it’s in a bit of a state of disrepair or something.

We took the low road back. Highway 62 winds down the long Rio Grande River Valley. It would have been a pleasant drive except for sprawling desert towns with strip malls and lots of stoplights designed to slow you down. The section along the Rio Grande gave some good views of the rapidly flowing water.


Pecos National Historical Park

Our last day turned out to be the best as far as exploring. We visited the park on advice from an AI (Google in this case) who listed it as #1 and close by. The reviews looked good, so off we went, early as usual.

Pecos National Historical Park

The valley we are staying on is part of the Sante Fe trail. This was a well-used wagon train trail and then a railroad line that opened up this part of the West. The Pecos Pueblo had been abandoned by that time.

Pecos Pueblo. The five-story structures they built, including the partially buried Kiva, were on this ridgeline. It must have been a fantastic sight with over 2000 inhabitants at its peak.

The original dwelling dates back to the 11th century. Because of its location, this pueblo was large and successful by the 13th century. There were estimated to have 2000 inhabitants.

Ruins of the second church built on the site. Not a church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster 🍜.

Then the Spanish came and built a church. The Native Americans revolted and burned it down.

They built another one—manifest destiny. Same story as everywhere else the Europeans and then Americans eventually subjugated the native people.

Eventually, their proud society – known originally by the name “500 Warriors” – has all but vanished. The pueblo was abandoned in the early 1800s. The descendants still celebrate their heritage. In recent years, they successfully returned sacred artifacts from the archeologists who removed them. The museum spoke to that, and I found it incredibly moving.

The Hollywood Actress Greer Garson and her Oil Barron Husband eventually became the owner of the land near the Pueblo ruins and donated it to the state to become the park. The staff was very friendly, and the exhibits were some of the best I had ever seen.

An enthusiastic ranger told me they had recently reworked the exhibits to tell the story of the Native Americans as well as the exploits of our Foundering Fathers.

Pecos National Historical Park

Yes – it is officially woke – and I enjoyed every fuckling bit of it. Thank you very much.


Jake helps with housecleaning 🐶

We spent the rest of the day relaxing, shopping for some New Mexico Herb (expensive), and doing some house cleaning. The weather was perfect in the afternoon with clouds, a breeze, and temps in the mid-80s.

We drop down into the desert tomorrow and forecasted temperatures over 100F 🥵 for the coming week.

God Bless America 🇺🇸

July 4th – we headed for New Mexico for the last leg of this year’s incredible adventure.

Our first stop was a 5-mile detour to see four corners. I visited here in the 90s during my tour of the southwest but decided it was an easy detour and a good opportunity to pick up some merch. Like Monument Valley, the land is part of the Navajo Nation.

I have no idea what the deal was then – but now it costs $8 bucks to get in – the same as Monument Valley. I guess the Navajo elders decided on $8 as the going rate! There was a tour bus full of Asian tourists – Chinese, I think. It seemed fitting somehow on this 4th of July! Everybody else was standing in line to get a selfie on the X! However, there was good merch to be had! God Bless America 🇺🇸!

Four Corners monument at a rare moment when no one was standing on it!

We stopped for the night in Farmington. The RV park was small and tucked away in an industrial area. Jake didn’t care much for the fireworks later that evening!

The next morning we made a trip to a nearby park along the Animas River. The water was flowing swiftly!

Animas River in Farmington

We left early and made our way to Sante Fe. The trip took us through a variety of terrain as we made our way back into the mountains. Outside of Sante Fe, our campground is in a beautiful setting, surrounded by the small evergreen trees growing here.

Sante Fe KOA

We talked to Brother Dave and decided to make a stop at their home in the North Carolina mountains on the way home. This will change our route taking us through some new territory in Texas and Oklahoma. It will also take us through Memphis again. A side trip to Graceland seems appropriate after visiting Elvis in Las Vegas!

Fade left

We fade from south to west on the second half of the drive.

Leaving on Day 6 from Sonora we drove through the remaining part of the Hill Country into Big Bend Country. The scenery changed pretty radially and it became flatter and dryer. At one point the signs warned of an 80-mile stretch with no services.

His dog riding on the back with his goggles on! They were easily doing 80!

We saw a guy riding a big road bike with his dog strapped to the rear seat. he was wearing a pair of goggles and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the ride. We passed them several times during the day (which is common – you get to know different rigs, etc). Finally, I was able to get a photo of him as he sped out of a rest area and overtook us at 80 mph!

We arrived in Van Horn and stayed at the Wild West RV Park! Not much to write home about but everything worked and we had a quiet evening there.

Van Horn is home to Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin launch operations. About 25 miles up the road Jeff and his buddies fly into space on his giant flying dildo 🤣. I suspect many of the people staying in the campground worked there. I doubt very seriously that William Shatner was one of them! I passed on the opportunity to visit. Maybe next time 😎.

We woke to a clear, cold (49 F) morning and headed out on Day 7 for the westernmost end of Texas. We were within range of the Mexican border for most of the drive which took us through El Paso and the New Mexico border. El Paso was not a pretty sight from the roadway – it looked like an endless sprawl in a hot, dry desert.

We stopped for the day at our first KOA Kampground of the trip. We will be staying in them for most of the remainder of the trip. I like the consistency and convenience of going through a single booking process for hundreds of campgrounds. This one was perched on a hill overlooking Las Cruces and Mesilla toward the Guadalupe Mountian range.

We are staying next to the town of Mesilla just north of Las Cruces. The place has an interesting history. It was settled in the mid-1800s. During the Civil War, it was occupied by Confederate soldiers and was named the capital of the Confederate Republic of Arizona for a brief period. Billy the Kid was tried and sentenced to be executed in 1881 here before he escaped (only to be mysteriously shot several months later).

On our way there we stopped by the Rio Grande river at a park near Las Cruces. The riverbed was dry, affording an interesting view of the river, indeed! Jake had a blast running on the sand 🐶.

We started Day 8 out visiting Las Cruces and Mesilla before heading west to Arizona and our next stop outside of Tucson. This called for listening to Linda Ronstadt as we drove through the arid landscape! We came across several stretches of areas with bad dust storms. I am not sure I was encouraged by the roadside instructions!

…and pray there is not some idiot from Texas behind you 🤠

We ended the day in the middle of Tucson’s suburban sprawl in a huge KOA Resort. Resorts are KOA’s mini-theme park with lots of stuff for families and especially kids to do. This one had several hundred spaces and one section was covered (with a solar panel) to protect the spots below from the scorching Arizona sun ☀️. I like them because they generally have a hot tub. Unfortunately, the one here was lukewarm at best. Our spot was excellent though – Jake even had a little spot of grass he could lie in. It was hot but the low humidity and breeze made it feel a lot cooler.

Day 9 and our last overnight before our visit stop at Desert Springs and Joshua Tree National Monument in California. We drove from Tucson northwest and then made a detour to Gila Bend Arizona.

North of Tucson we went through Saguaro National Park and a stunning drive through Saguaro Cactii forests. I was stunned at how green it appeared in some spots like Pacaco Mountain.

Mt Pacacho AZ

Gila Bend Arizona

45 years ago this Summer I was traveling cross country after graduating from college. My finance Margaret and I made a round trip around the US. The last leg of our trip took us the same route I am going now except we were headed to San Diego. We were trying to get back to San Jose to get married and were making time.

Camping outside of Houston I was bitten by a bunch of ants. I had a reaction, took a bunch of Benadryl, and slept for a day. We stopped at Carlsbad Caverns. The next day we went by Alamagordo (without stopping), and made it all the way to Gila Bend. It was the beginning of August and the heat (in our non-air-conditioned Toyota) was almost too much.

Summer 1978 on my way back to California

We were basically out of money. We wanted to stay at the Best Western (now the Space Age In!) but it was too much. We opted instead for the budget strip motel down the road. We paid our money and went to the room only to discover the A/C had not been turned on! It was hotter in the room than it was outside!

Gila Bend AZ – 45 years later

Fortunately, they had a pool that was almost too hot to swim in but gave us a bit of relief. We went to take showers and left the cold water running for what seemed to be 30 minutes. The water never got any colder! Fuck it we said, and pulled the mattress off the bed and threw it in front of the A/C.

Gila Bend AZ – 45 years later

While we were going to sleep we turned the TV on and saw the weather. The hottest place in the United States that day? Gila Bend, Arizona at 117 F!

We woke up at 3 AM with our teeth chattering. While we slept the room cooled down to the point that we were now freezing! As I letter learned, once the sun goes down the desert can get quite chilly!

Gila Bend AZ – 45 years later

The next day driving into San Diego we passed dozens of cars on the side of the road with radiators boiling over as we drove over a mountain pass into San Diego. The temperature seemed like it dropped 50 degrees as we drove down towards the cool Pacific Ocean!


We stopped for the day at Salome Arizona near the Arizona-California border. It was a bit off the Interstate which gave us the chance to see the desert up close! The campgrounds were huge and mostly vacant after the snowbirds headed back north. They had a pool and a hot tub which I thoroughly enjoyed!

Day 10 – last day of our journey west – next stop California!

Alamogordo

I explore the town I was born in and close-by White Sands National Park

Or second destination in the Adventure is my ‘original’ home town of Alamogordo, New Mexico. I was born here in 1955 exactly one year and one week after my parents were married. Mom was pregnant with me when she flew out here to meet Dad who drove out earlier.

Greetings from Alamogordo
Greetings from Alamogordo

We did not live here long before moving to San Diego, California where brother Rick was born 18 months later. I returned once – albeit briefly – on a cross country trip in 1978.

My brief visit in 1978

There are two significant aspects about this area that have been part of my life. The space program, which has played a huge part in out family, and the Manhattan project – specifically the Trinity Test site – from the 1940s which played such a huge part in our recent past. This occurred here because of what is now White Sands National Monument. I was interested in learning about both.

Jake and I drove from Lovecraft on Wednesday. The scenery changed dramatically as we dropped down out of the Lincoln National Forrest into the Tularosa Basin of the Chihuahuan Desert. Alamogordo was founded in the late 1800s to support the expansion of the railroad. It is an early example of a planned community laid out on a grid whose streets are named after the states. Interestingly enough we lived on Florida Street which is now one of the main drags through town. The old part of town was rather run-down looking but there were a lot of examples of growth. Seems like it is still a one-horse town supporting Holloman Air Force Base.

Exploring Alamogordo

Thursday I put the Jakester in Doggie Day Care at a somewhat sketchy but ultimately perfectly fine facility just outside of town. I had forgotten this is the big memorial day weekend and the closer facilities were booked.

I visited downtown and the Alamogordo Museum of History which had some fascinating displays of the local area, White Sands and especially the Trinity site. I had goose-bumps when I noticed a very early instrument used to measure nuclear activity which was a precursor to the instrumentation I used as a graduate in Nuclear Engineering at the University of Washington. There are also several monuments for notable people form local history and for the military. An old water tower erected during the railroad still stands guard on the entrance to downtown!

Later that afternoon I paid a visit to the New Mexico Museum of Space History just east of town set in the foothills. I was very impressed with the museum – they had a great collection of artifacts from the activities that Holloman has supported or been involved with.

Inside where five floors of exhibits that widely varied in nature. They are busy adding more attractions too. In particular these caught my eye.

A display of artist Chrystal Jackson’s work on the early space program. She was one of several artists commissioned by NASA in the early 1960s to capture the space race from and artists perspective. Some very cool paintings of live in Cocoa Beach and surrounding areas in the ’60s.

A display on the impact of inertial navigation and the space program. This was of significant importance to successfully launch and navigate. It was also my Dad’s area of expertise that carried on through his work on Apollo and the Space Shuttle.

A great display of Star Trek memorabilia!

I also spoke with the staff about visiting the Trinity Site. Tours are arranged twice a year for people to visit and the next availability is not until April 2022! They also had some very small and expensive samples of trinitite. This was the mineral formed during the blast. My Dad had a box of the stuff when we were kids that would have been worth thousands if it had not turned to dust over the years!

Eddie and the Giant Pistachio
Eddie and the Giant Pistachio

On the way to pick up Jake I made a stop at a well-advertised local tourist trap McGinn’s PistachioLand! The featured attraction is the world’s largest pistachio and hosted tours of the pistachio orchards.

Jake survived the day just fine and we headed back to the Excellent Adventure.

White Sands

On Friday Jake and I visited White Sands National Park. First, however, we towed the Excellent Adventure to repair shop in the area to fix the air conditioner!

White Sands National Park Panorama
White Sands National Park Panorama

White Sands is the world’s largest gypsum dunefield. It was formed by gypsum runoff from nearby mountains then ‘worked’ by the wind over the millennia to produce a very fine white sand (and dust). It is full of both plant and animal life – the most striking plants were the beautiful soap tree yucca.

The park had a lot of visitors – especially a lot of families with young children riding the dunes on sleds. We enjoyed the drive and hiking the nature trails and boardwalk over the dunes. While it was not a hot day, the blazing sun really took it out of you! The sand was cool too touch partially because it is so white it reflects most of the light. Jake and I both sucked down the water!

Jake & X6 at White Sands
Jake & X6 at White Sands

We enjoyed the drive and then headed back to pickup Adventure and bask in air conditioning once again!

Jake & Eddie's Excellent Adventure at White Sands
Jake & Eddie’s Excellent Adventure at White Sands

Tomorrow we head west again and leave New Mexico – this time to the mountains in Greer, Arizona. I had fun discovering my ‘roots’ and look forward to meeting my friends Dan, Maggie and John at the Grand Canyon on Monday.