Category Archives: Museums

White Sands National Monument & Alamogordo, New Mexico ~ November 6 – 9, 2014

White Sands National Monument

We fell in love with White Sands National Monument (now a national park). Best we could tell, we had the dunes to ourselves.

Drive into White Sands National Monument
Drive into White Sands National Monument

Hiking the 2-mile Backcountry Camping Trail was great for gaining a sense of the parks’ magnitude and beauty. It also provided us with the surreal experience of exploring an alien-like environment.

White Sands NM 1
Backcountry Camping Area, White Sands NP, New Mexico

The San Andres Mountains rise up along the park’s western border. Their size and contrast against the white gypsum give the allusion that they’re closer than they are… White Sands encompasses 228 square miles! No, you can’t walk across it.

Trey, White Sands National Monument
Trey, White Sands National Monument

Treading across the vast whiteness, amongst the ever flowing and shifting dunes, one can easily lose their bearings. It’s both exuberant and eerie, but always having a trail marker within sight was reassuring.

Trail Markers, White Sands National Monument
Trail Markers, White Sands National Monument

November was perfect timing for our visit… cool and gorgeous weather, perfect sky, and no people.

We played like kids and appreciated the experience fully.

White Sands NB 3
Backcountry Camping Area, White Sands NP

Once again, the visitor center was looping an informative film on the park’s history, geology and ecology.

At 10,000 years, White Sands is a relatively young environment. The expanding (even onto surrounding highways) sandy tract was formed by gypsum deposits in the nearby mountains.

White Sands NM 2
White Sands National Monument

Northeasterly winds break off gypsum pieces and grind them into fine bits, dusting the basin continuously.

White Sands NM 4

We’d already decided to return after dark for star gazing but learned that the park’s gates close at 6pm – no entry or exit after that time.

Escape Mobile, White Sands NM
Escape Mobile Alone in the Parking Lot

Alamogordo, New Mexico

We’d chosen Alamogordo as a base due to its proximity to White Sands and only became aware of all it has to offer upon our arrival. First up…

New Mexico Space History Museum

Tularosa Basin has been an epicenter for military research and testing since the U.S. entered World War II. It is home to Holloman Air Force Base and White Sands Missile Range, both innovators in technology and aeronautical aviation.

As a Smithsonian affiliate, the Space History Museum preserves New Mexico’s role in space flight and tells the larger story of the U.S. space program, from the space race with the then Soviet Union to NASA’s ongoing mars program.

Not only are there numerous exhibits from each progressing stage of the U.S. space program, there are several educational videos and interactive displays.

You can even test your skill at landing a space shuttle using a simulator. Trey managed to crash, while I ranked “flown where no man has gone before.” I don’t recall if that was a good or bad thing.

The Museum and it’s International Hall of Fame where Ham, the first space chimpanzee is honored, kept us fascinated for hours.

Then there is the John P. Stapp Air and Space Park that surrounds the museum building. A lunar module capsule, land-speed vehicle, launching track, and rockets of all sorts cover the grounds overlooking the City of Alamogordo.

Wine & Pistachios

We didn’t realize we were back in wine country until we passed a billboard on the way to the space museum. The billboard advertised a winery further up the main road, White Sands Boulevard, but several other vineyards surround the area.

Tularosa Basin’s soil composition, altitude, and temperatures make it ideal for grape production. Spanish settlers and missionaries knew this and were the initiators of New Mexico’s wine tradition.

We sampled wines at Heart of the Desert and Arena Blanca wineries and bought a couple of bottles.

Arena Blanca is associated with the Pistachio Tree Ranch, or Pistachio Land, a 90-acre orchard and home to the world’s largest pistachio.

Pistachio trees benefit from the same natural conditions that make this basin ideal for grapes. A bag of roasted and shelled pistachios sustained us through the remainder of our trip. Very fresh and yummy!

Food…

Blake’s Lotaburger, a family owned chain, is a New Mexico tradition much like Texas’ Whataburger. Its fame expanded beyond New Mexico when it was featured in the AMC’s series Breaking Bad. We hadn’t yet watched Breaking Bad but were lured to Blake’s simply by its authentic and nostalgic burger joint vibe. It did not disappoint; the green chilies burger was nothing less than phenomenal!

We thought our last family visit had taken place in Reno with my brother and his family. No, one more Alamogordo surprise awaited.

Trey’s nephew lives in El Paso, which wasn’t on our path of travel. Happily, Jim contacted us and proposed meeting for lunch in between El Paso and Alamogordo. He suggested La Posta’s in Messila (Old Town Los Cruces).

Best Mexican food of the entire trip! And if anyone has read through these blog posts, they know we love Mexican food and ate it whenever we could… from Montreal, Quebec to the Redwood Forest.

It was wonderful catching up with Jim and we were so grateful for the opportunity to add one last reunion to this six-month trek.

Next Stop…

Mescalero Apache Reservation, New Mexico (via Cloudcroft and the Lincoln National Forest)

Lincoln National Forest

More Pics…

Ohio’s Halls of Fame – Canton & Cleveland: July 26-28, 2014

The second of four official direction changes we made on our circle around the U.S. technically took place on July 8th when we departed Maine. However, the left turn we made onto Interstate 76 just north of Pittsburgh felt more like a true shift in direction as we felt the vastness of the west laying before us. This would have been a bit daunting except we had decided to break up the initial westward drive with several stops in Midwest cities. The change in scenery was almost immediate as we entered eastern Ohio and became bounded by lush cornfields. In fact, cornfields were the dominate landscape across the entire Midwest and for the next 1,000 miles of our trip. This provided me with a new perspective on the corn industry…it’s freaking huge!

Pro Football Hall of Fame – Canton, Ohio

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Canton, Ohio
Pro Football Hall of Fame, Canton, Ohio

The Pro Football Hall of Fame is located in a Canton neighborhood bordering Interstate 77. We paid $10 to park at an offsite lot and noted an energy and excitement in the air on the walk to the main entrance – a route that took us past a high school and its football stadium, which also hosts the annual NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame game, and past several homes.

Story of why the Pro Football HOF is located in Canton
Story of why the Pro Football HOF is located in Canton

Once inside, we discovered that the excitement was in preparation for the festivities leading up to the 2014 induction ceremony that was to take place the following weekend.

We were glad to find that our AAA membership allowed us to receive a discounted admission price of $20.70 each. Our late departure from Pittsburgh and the two hour drive left only a couple of hours to tour the Hall of Fame before it closed. We knew this would not be sufficient time, but decided to continue with the plan and take in what we could.

Trey & Heisman Trophy
Trey & Heisman Trophy

I enjoyed learning the history of football and seeing examples of its evolution through time, and Trey loved seeing the memorabilia and exhibits of his heroes!

All inductees are honored with a bust displayed in the main hall -- here's Tom Landry and Earl Campbell
All inductees are honored with a bust displayed in the main hall — here’s Tom Landry and Earl Campbell

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum – Cleveland, Ohio

We rolled into Cleveland as the sun was setting and as it started to rain – a welcomed respite from what had been one of the warmer days to date. We used hotel points to stay at a Westin in downtown Cleveland and located a couple of blocks from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Lake Erie’s shoreline.

The fact that we were staying in a hotel was a treat in itself — a treat that was made even sweeter as we checked in and found out that it was a brand new luxury hotel and we had randomly been upgraded to a junior suite. Another gift from the Universe to be fully embraced and appreciated!

Rainy view from the Westin
Rainy view from the Westin

Cleveland quickly exceeded our expectations, or rather any expectations that we would have had if we had been there for anything other than touring the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  As it was, we were pleasantly surprised to find a lovely city with a seemingly successful revitalization effort occurring downtown. There was a youthful presence on the streets, and fun vibes in and around the restaurants and bars located near our hotel.

We decided to embrace the comforts of our gifted junior suite and heed to the needs of our bodies by catching up on some much needed rest. This had us arriving at the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame at 1pm rather than when it opened at 10am. We had been told that we needed to allow a full day to see everything and found this advice to be correct. We made the most of the 4 ½ hours we had by prioritizing which floors and exhibits were a “must see.”

The Boss' notebook - Hungry Heart
The Boss’ notebook – Hungry Heart

The number and quality of rock n’ roll artifacts were astonishing, making the $23.35 admission price seem very reasonable.

Porsche belonging to the late great "Pearl of Port Arthur"
Porsche belonging to the late great “Pearl of Port Arthur”

Highlights for me were Janis Joplin’s Porsche and Bruce Springsteen’s notebooks of handwritten lyrics, and Trey enjoyed the Pink Floyd tribute.

Another Brick in the Wall
Another Brick in the Wall

John Lennon's from Sargent Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
John Lennon’s from Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

We did have one critical observation:  The story of Texas’ musical roots in blues and rock, and the artists that planted and sprang from those roots, is noticeably missing. Yes, there are exhibits of various Texas artists scattered throughout the exhibit halls, but not in an organized wholistic way that pieces together and reflects the big, authentic picture.

There are such exhibits for Detroit, San Francisco and Seattle and I am not denying that these cities’ musicians have made huge contributions. I just don’t understand how their influences on specific genres are recognized while Texas’ overall influence and undeniable contributions are completely ignored. I think we would still feel this way even if we could claim to be completely unbiased.

Hendrix Purple Haze Lyrics
Hendrix Purple Haze Lyrics

Hendrix
Hendrix

Cleveland Food

The Blue Pointe Grille…

 High quality seafood options with superior service. $$$$

High quality seafood options with superior service. $$$$

We also enjoyed brunch at The Nauti Mermaid, a nautical themed bar and restaurant, but forgot to take photos due to hunger.