Go to Another Vacation
New Mexico - October 2006
Flights went well and apparently that used up all of our luck. We lost the paperwork to our rental car so took a wild guess and went with Budget. Bad gamble. They tried to rent us an enormous SUV when we asked for a small SUV. I could not reach the gas and brake pedals. Back to the line. Forty five minutes later I am in another SUV where the seats do not fold down flat thus making our ability to sleep in the back a losing situation. We finally 'downgrade' to a Pontiac Vibe which is normally the Best Car Ever for camping in the back. The front seat folds down to the same height as the middle seats allowing for over 6' of sleeping room on the passenger's side and enough for a smaller person on the driver's side.
Budget clearly does not take care of their cars which was first made evident by the option for only one tier of insurance - cover everything at a huge cost. The car was dented, pieces were broken off, there was a scrape up the dashboard, and it was missing the radio antenna. But for the $230 total cost of rental, we figured we would be good. (Please note that we were misquoted by the sales clerk and in the end charged $651. Only off by over $400!)
Our luck turned around when we stopped at REI in Albuquerque where a kind associate helped us find camping gas and a few other goodies we forgot to pack. Luck turned south once more when we decided to stop at El Bruno's for dinner. A fire destroyed the place, but they had a small shop set up across the street with a tent. We recalled last time that there had been a problem with the food, but since this came highly reccommended, we were looking forward trying it again. They screwed up my order with something I am allergic to. I was allowed to 'return' the meal but was asked to pay for it anyway and if I wanted something else, I would have to pay for that meal too. I chose hunger because we had a limited budget.
We continued on to Chaco and found a lovely campsite and pulled out the stove to heat up some noodles to finally get some food in me. The stove was broken. The pressure would not build up in order to force the gas out. Argh! Luna bars for dinner!
The day ended beautifully. With the New Moon (this means no moon so the sky is dark) we could see a billion stars. We went over to the ranger station to see the Night Sky program. This was the best ranger station show we had ever seen. The photos were amazing, and in the actual sky we saw several shooting stars. Volunteers from nearby towns set up telescopes to show different stars. I can not put into words how wonderful this show was. We came out specifically for this show and after the day of traveling it was well worth it. We would do it again in a heart beat.
Awaking to the cold dawn and the memory of the broken stove was a bit disheartening. Then our faith in humanity was restored when the gentleman in the camper next to us brought over his spare firewood, kindling and some paper along with a few mugs of hot tea. He had cats living with him. an instant sign of a kind and good person. We chatted for a while with the man. He was a delight. He had advice on some other parks that we would like (we think he has seen them all!). If he had not come to the rescue with kindness and tea, I have a feeling that would have been the last day of our frozen vacation.
We decided to get some exercise in to burn off the chill of morning. We scraped the ice off the windshield at sunrise and drove to the gates. We had signed up for trail permits the day before so our official business was in order.
The first trail we did was the Pueblo Alto Trail which is one of our favorites of all time. It close rival for favorite is the South Mesa Trail which offers a little more solitude but has the same level of silence that the first trail offers.
It was colder than cold. We scraped the ice off of the *inside* of the windshield and made our way over to the ruins to see if we could get some good light for photographing a particular petroglyph in the sunlight. We finally got a good shot and our last rechargeable battery died. Sadly, we forgot the battery charger, so we could not take any further photos. The visitor's center shop did not sell batteries and the weather was just too cold to camp, so we decided to leave the park and head towards White Sands.
To enforce the idea of remembering to bring a recharger or remembering to bring enough spare batteries. We spent several hours in Albuquerque going from one place to the next looking for batteries and finally had to purchase the "Universal Charger" for a huge wad of cash. Thankfully, the Pontiac Vibe comes with an AC outlet (seriously! You can plug in your lap top. No need for a cigarette lighter for power. A real AC outlet.
Several hours later, with batteries changed, we stopped at the Bosque del Apache wildlife reserve. Several people we talked to in New Mexico enthusiastically suggested we would like this place. We are glad the mentioned it. The bird watching was phenomenal, but watch out for mosquitoes. Pure DEET will barely deter them! Bring spray or better yet, a net that goes over your head or hangs from your hat.
We started out early to get to Gila Cliff Dwellings. It is a long and slow drive and the rain did not make it any easier. The scenery along the way was beautiful and we got out to look around a few times.
The park itself is large, but we stayed focused on the tour of the cliff houses which are provided by volunteers. The tour was very interesting, educational, and the woman who was our guide encouraged us to think about the what and the why rather than fed a dry lecture to us. It was interesting to learn about the foods they grew and how sanitation may have been managed and what would lead to the abandonment of the site.
We also saw women's fingerprints in the mortar. We know it was likely a woman as it was the woman's job to build walls and to spread the mortar while the men hunted. There was also a piece of broken pottery in the wall and a few bones.
Following the tour we did a self guided hike to some pictographs that were close by. The walk was short, but some of the art was well preserved considering the weather the area sees.
We continued on to White Sands National Monument which took the remainder of the day. We were able to get to the park in time to see a few F-117As and the sun setting. Fortunately we ran into a park ranger who gave us some suggestions on where to camp in the area as well as how to get to the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site.
Opting for Three Rivers, we drove for longer than we had expected through the middle of nowhere, passing the Three Rivers Petroglyph site that does have camping on to the BLM campground much further down the road. We were grateful to have made this extra distance as the campground was completely quiet and we had our choice of spots to camp at.
We hiked for an hour or so along the main trail at Three Rivers Petroglyph Site. Bill used a walking stick to tap the ground with so that rattlesnakes would be forewarned. The site manager lent us the stick and if she thinks it is a good idea, then we think it is a good idea!
We then went on to the Aerospace Museum and saw an OMNI theater presentation of the Mars land rover by JPL. We also spent a lot of time in the museum itself. They even had the little space suit that Ham the monkey wore. Ham eventually retired and grew old and was buried at the museum in a garden out back.
We returned to White Sands National Monument for a final hike out on to the dunes. From there we had ourselves a picnic and watched the 9 F-117As fly over in three sets of three for about a half hour. What a show!
The Very Large Array (VLA) is likely to be recognized by many people as the place seen in the Movie Contact. As you approach the site you can see the dishes in the distance. They have several configurations where distance between dishes is a factor. When we saw them, they were all very close which was fortunate if you wish to take a photo that includes many of them.
At the site, they allow you to walk up close to one of the antennas. It was freezing out and the wind was bitter so we were actually thankful that is all we could do outside. Inside, there is a gift shop and a museum. The gift shop has really nerdy items which made us both happy.
We had a long drive ahead of us, so we stopped again at the Bosque del Apache wildlife preserve. During the day it was far less buggy, and we were able to see some birds that we did not see a few days ago.
We had signed up for a ranger led hike. It was supposed to be a half day trip, but the BLM ranger was wonderful and extended it to the full day. This was the best day of our vacation. We went to a petroglyph site and also saw some ruins. The time between we learned a tremendous amount on the lives of those who lived on this land and how pottery helped to identify who they traded with.
This is the third year in a row that we signed up for a Balloon ride. This year we finally flew. It was not as scary as I thought it might be, until the landing of course. I guess there is not a lot of control over where you land unless you count Mother Nature doing all of the controlling. The first attempt to land almost set us on someone's car parked in their driveway. We were so close to the house that I could see in their window. The second attempt put us between a two lane road in the median. That was certainly an exciting ride!
As always, we ended our trip at Old Town. One thing we have learned about visiting this area is that the car rentals will always make me mad, the balloon rides will always be cancelled if the weather is not perfect, and the Navajo tacos and spillage will always make everything all right. Strange things come to those who wait!