Tag Archives: New Mexico

Mescalero Apache Reservation, New Mexico ~ November 9-12, 2014

Although now in southcentral New Mexico, we were still in Apache territory, the Mescalero Apache. (see Gila National Monument for info on the Chiricahua Apache.)

The Mescalero Apache thrive in their native “heartland” on a 463,000 acre reservation that includes their four sacred mountains… Sierra Blanca, Guadalupe, Three Sisters, and Oscura Peak.

Sierra Blanca Mountain, Mescalero Apache Reservation

The reservation, which includes other Apache bands, is governed by tribal code, a constitution, and under the leadership of a Tribal Council. Their economy relies on tourism and is supported by an abundance of outdoor activities—fishing, hunting, camping, golf, snow skiing—and the indoor activity of gambling.

It’s the perfect playground for Texans, yet this was our first visit.

Inn of the Mountain Gods

The Mescalero’s Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort & Casino is their mountain jewel, and it was a haven for this road-weary traveler.

Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort & Casino

Nestled in a peaceful, forested valley overlooking serene, trout-filled Mescalero Lake, Inn of the Mountain Gods is most appropriately named.

View from inside Inn of the Mountain Gods

Our first morning coincided with the first arctic front of the season. Thirty-five mph winds and frigid temperatures kept our bikes stowed and us mostly inside…

Trey bundled up and ventured out for an icy-windy round of golf at their Championship Golf Course, his last of four golf excursions.

Championship Golf Course, Inn of the Mountain Gods, NM

He said the trees protected him from the wind somewhat, but still made the challenging course even more difficult.

Ski Apache

Ski Apache

From Hwy 48 on the outskirts of Ruidoso, Hwy 532 climbs 12 ½ miles to Ski Apache.

Windy Point on Hwy 532 was very windy!

Nine of those miles switch up, back, and along mountain ledges with gorgeous vistas.

The ski area was weeks away from opening, so we had the mountain top to ourselves.

Despite not having water nor proper jackets, we were lured onto a hiking trail just above the parking area.

Hiking path at Ski Apache

We made it about a mile in before heading back, but not before appreciating the natural beauty and solitude.

View from base of Ski Apache, New Mexico

Food

On Wednesday evening, we drove into nearby Ruidoso for dinner without considering that mid-November is a downtime for the ski city. Many restaurants weren’t open or had closed early. After driving around a bit we noticed the Caliente Grill appeared to be open. We were the first of a few diners that evening, which gave us the opportunity to visit with the restaurant’s friendly owners. We chatted about wine and Austin… they were heading there the following week. Overall, the evening, food, service, and company were excellent.

Several dining options are offered at Inn of the Mountain Gods. We particularly enjoyed Wendell’s Steak & Seafood for a reasonable and tasty breakfast and lunch. For dinner, they go more upscale… food was amazing, just pricey.

Casino

Trey spent some of his evenings at the Casino’s blackjack tables. He experienced ups and downs, but overall left with an extra $200 in his pocket.

Sunset across Lake Mescalero, Inn of the Mountain Gods, NM

With a casino, first-rate restaurants, indoor pool, workout room and spa, the Inn of the Mountain Gods was ideal for being stuck indoors.

It wasn’t a difficult decision, or even a disappointment, to delay our departure a day… the winter blast would make it impossible to safely climb Guadalupe Peak, our final stop before home.

Maybe a day would make a difference.

More Pics…

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…

Tombstone, AZ & Gila National Monument, NM ~ November 4 – 5, 2014

Tombstone, Arizona

Tombstone, AZ 1
Tombstone, Arizona

Between I-10 and the Mexican border lies the infamous town of Tombstone, Arizona. It’s an easy drive from Tucson —about 75 miles—and the cutoff (Hwy 80) was on the way to New Mexico.

Tombstone, AZ 2
Tombstone, Arizona

Like Virginia City, Nevada, Tombstone’s classic western scape is preserved and attracts tourists now rather than cowboys, miners, and outlaws.

OK Corral, Tombstone AZ

Since we weren’t interested in souvenirs or saloons, there wasn’t much to do except walk around, bask in the nostalgia, and read historical markers.

In 1877, and after being told he was foolish and would only discover his own tombstone, Edward Schieffelin found silver in the surrounding hills. By the mid-1880’s, his small encampment had grown into the town of Tombstone with a population upwards of 15,000.

Yet, Tombstone is worth the detour whether you love the lore of the American West or are simply curious. In fact, it enticed us longer than we’d meant to stay.

Heading East on I-10

The detour to Tombstone added 50 miles to the 200-mile drive to southwestern New Mexico, and it was already late afternoon. By the time we were again heading east on I-10, the sun was setting.

Waxing Moon, I-10 east of Tucson
Waxing Moon, I-10 heading toward New Mexico

Cookies, it’s what’s for dinner!

After the deluge in Redwoods National Forest, we had no more camping plans. We also knew there’d be no kitchen access for the remaining eleven days of this adventure, so there was no need to tote food, other than a few snacks. Plus, we’d filled our bellies with a hearty breakfast at Cross Roads Restaurant in Tucson and felt satisfied enough to get through to evening. But, the long day and drive had us arriving in Silver City, NM just after restaurants had closed. Luckily Petit Écolier cookies, leftover from making s’mores, sustained us to morning. This wasn’t the first time we had cookies for dinner.

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument (Pronounced Hee-la)

Gila Cliff Dwellings NM 9
Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

The remnant cliff dwellings lay deep within Gila National Forest. After turning off Silver City’s main road onto Hwy 15, we started climbing and signs of civilization soon succumbed to a verdant wilderness.

GNF Map

The road mostly follows the Gila River while twisting around, over, and atop the ridges of mountains for 40 miles.

Atop Ridge, Hwy 15, New Mexico
Atop Ridge, Hwy 15, New Mexico

At the visitor center we watched a brief and informative video. The cliffside homes are believed to have been constructed by Mogollon (Mo-go-yone) Puebloans beginning in the 1270’s. But these original inhabitants had moved on by 1300, perhaps due to drought.

The Chiricahua Apache settled there in the 1500’s and remained in the area until the U.S. government forced their removal between 1870 and 1886. The last Apache to sadly leave this ancestral land were led by a defeated Geronimo (Goyahkla).

Gila Canyon, Cliff Dwellings Nat'l Monument
Gila Canyon, Cliff Dwellings Nat’l Monument

The Gila National Forest is spotted with ancient pueblo ruins, yet none as unique and Eden-like as the cliff-dwellings… seven caves high on a canyon cliff topped with fertile soil for growing corn, beans, and squash (the “three sisters”).

Gila Cliff Dwellings
Caves 2, 4 and 5 (Cave 3 is between 2 & 4 but its entrance is set back and not visible from this angle)

The middle fork of the Gila River runs below the caves and in early November appeared more creek-like.

1-Mile Loop Trail to Gila Cliff Dwellings
1-Mile Loop Trail to Gila Cliff Dwellings

Only five of the caves were used as living quarters. Cave number 6 appeared to be used for rituals while hard-to-reach cave 7 had no trace of human occupancy.

Gila Cliff Dwellings NM 4
Gila Cliff Dwellings, New Mexico

Unlike Montezuma’s castle, visitors are allowed into the Gila Cliff Dwellings. Being a weekday in November, the forest ranger and a volunteer were the only other persons inside the caves.

Gila Cliff Dwellings NM 1
Inside Cave 3, Gila National Monument, NM

The ranger pointed out unique architectural details including a structure believed to be used for food storage, like a pantry.

Storage Pantry, Gila Cliff Dwellings
Storage Pantry, Gila Cliff Dwellings

We particularly enjoyed cave 3, the largest and coolest (as in temperature), and its view was fabulous.

Meditating, Cave 3, Gila Cliff Dwellings
Meditating in Cave 3, Gila Cliff Dwellings

Having the dwellings to ourselves was special and a memorable experience.

We were able to spend amble time inside the caves to fully appreciate the area’s beauty, sense of safety, and peace.

Gila Cliff Dwellings NM 8

For the return trip to Silver Springs we opted to continue looping the scenic byway—the Trail of the Mountain Spirits—into San Lorenzo then back west to Silver Springs.

Trail of the Mountain Spirts Byway

This only added thirty miles to our trip, but Trey and I both agreed the more picturesque route was Hwy 15.

View from Hwy 15 New Mexico
View from Hwy 15 New Mexico

Silver City, New Mexico

Silver City is a friendly mining town nestled aside a mountain and a tad east of the Continental Divide. More modern than expected (not rustic) yet it retains a quaint, small town quality. We savored an authentic Mexican dinner at La Cocina and a hearty breakfast at the artsy Adobe Café. Highly recommend both!

Next Stop…

Alamogordo & White Sands National Park, New Mexico (via quirky Hatch New Mexico…)

More pics…

Lizard, Gila Nat'l Monument, NM
Gila National Forest Lizard 🙂
Casting Shadows, Gila Natl Monument, NM
Casting Shadows, Gila National Monument