Wednesday, July 29, 2015

New Mexico

Alamogordo is 20 miles north of Oliver Lee State Park. Located a few miles off US 54, it is the gateway to the west and an early chapter in America's dust bowl story.

Oliver Lee was a rancher whose lands were changed by overgrazing and drought. It's difficult to imagine large herds of cattle having enough to eat on this barren wasteland, not even 50 miles away from White Sands.

The park is nearly empty on week days, even with the beautiful fall weather, with temperatures in the low eighties. The visitor center had some cool artifacts and offered tours of the historical ranch house on weekends. We signed up for a tour right away.  Since we were staying for a few days, we also signed up for a hike lead by Ranger Charles, which ended with a glorious sunset view.

Joy took a quick trip into Alamogordo for groceries and laundry and found a very clean local laundromat. Just across the parking lot were two of her favorites - a thrift store and a hardware store with a large selection of chachkies.

Wash time flew by.  We thought that the only available grocery store was a Walmart super center. Yuk!  We later learned there was another grocery store in Alamogordo that is super clean, has some organics, and carpet. We later learned to love Lowes' grocery store chain.

Joy got what we needed and left quickly, picking up drive thru food on the way home. Drive thru food has become a delicacy in our new life. Rarely do we spend money on unsubstantial products that imitate food, but sometimes you just gotta do it!

That evening's sunset hike was led by Ranger Charles, a man who loves the area.  He was a well informed presenter whose sense of humor was infectious. As we neared the end of the hike, the sun created long shadows on a stone foundation from yesteryear. As we parted ways, we thanked Charles and looked forward to our next day exploring on our own.

The next day there was a slight chance of rain. We went to the visitor center to obtain maps and begin our hike up the mountain. Ranger Charles was there and we excitedly talked to him about the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge and our new position at Bosque Del Apache. He was very supportive and excited for us.

We asked about his position at Oliver Lee. He told us he'd been there for years and luckily was able to keep his job as he was undergoing cancer treatment. His cancer was terminal and his supervisor had maintained his position so he could keep his health insurance. We were moved by Ranger Charles' strength and saddened by the fact that his life would be cut so short.  We allowed him to really touch us and we carried his story with us, not just up the mountain but on the road, as well.

We left the visitor center in a somber mood but motivated. Joy is not a hiker, does not exercise and only enjoys playing games or taking leisurely walks. Kathy lets Joy lead the way on hikes so that the pace will be doable for her.

The first half mile is a 800' elevation change so it was a slow go. The single track was smooth stone in some places and slippery when wet. We made it to the top with just one break and were rewarded with an amazing view.

As we reached the first plateau, the winds shifted and the clouds began to roll in. We walked on until we entered the National Forest, leaving the state park behind. We had been told the river that ran below us had a hot spring about a mile and a half ahead and we were determined to find it. The desert blooms called and the rain began to fall. We were uncertain how long the rain would last so we decided to turn back. The hot springs would be there another day.

As we descended. we met a few young people on the trail. They obviously walked with purpose and confidence and at a much quicker pace than either of us. We stepped aside and let them pass since, as we feared, the smooth rock sections of the trail were slippery due to the rain.  We made it home safely and we were filled with pride and gratitude.

We chatted with our neighbors and ended the evening at their RV having a beer and some snacks. They were Canadians on vacation who were heading to Arizona. They had spent the day at White Sands and highly recommended the attraction, as well as the Worlds Largest Pistachio just north of Alamogordo. The nut was located at a pistachio farm which had a large shop that sold wine, nuts, and other goodies to tourists.

The next morning a storm rolled in and blanketed the mountains in white fog. We left as it cleared - heading to parts of New Mexico unknown.

We decided to head towards our new refuge so our next stop was near the Three Rivers petroglyphs. We found a campground right behind a store on the corner. A small red school was on the edge of the property. Obviously, someone had been working to restore it. The store and campground owner was friendly, as were her dogs. She had two unleashed dogs back in the campground area so Frances was a barking maniac. Keila wasn't too thrilled about a large male circling the RV either. At least we didn't have any neighbors, as the only other RV in the park looked abandoned. We worried about snakes, coyotes and loose dogs whenever we were outside, which was even scarier after dark.

The next morning, we drove down the dirt road toward the BLM Three River Petroglyphs site. On our way, we found a small church and stopped to explore.  The building had obviously been used for worship for centuries. We continued on our trek, drove another mile or two and found the petroglyph site.  It was amazing! It was a large stand of rocks - like a mountain that collapsed on itself in the middle of the desert. Each separate rock held a secret message from man long ago. Kathy found her new tattoo here - a circle with a cross inside and dots framing the entire circle. This will represent New Mexico as her Tlingit raven tattoo represents her adventures in Alaska.

As we departed, we decided we could do a drive through our soon-to-be new home since we were early.  We stopped on our way to Elephant Butte, which is just a few hours south of the refuge and where we'd planned on staying until our report date.

We'd studied up on the area and learned about green chile burgers and the battles that had occurred between two restaurants, the Owl Bar and the Buckhorn, in downtown San Antonio. New Mexico. We decided to try the Buckhorn first. It was the best green chile burger we had ever eaten. We drove the seven miles south to the refuge and stopped at the visitor center. We were welcomed by the current volunteers, who pulled some strings so that we could go ahead and stay, even though we were a few days early.  We were shown to our site, which would be our home for the next four months. That was it. We had arrived at Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.

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