Living in the state of Texas, we have traveled to many far off states over the years. However it is a big shame that we were not able to visit our neighboring New Mexico thus far.
New Mexico, the state as I know, is famous for its nature, history and culture. An unique experience which we would not get anywhere else. Hence finally decided to make use of the Christmas Holidays for a long road trip through New Mexico covering few of the major attractions right from the South to the North. We were interested in the scenic routes, National parks & monuments as well as wanted to learn little bit of the cultural history, during our short time there.
Trip Date: 23rd December 2016
How did we get there:
We were basically looking to start our trip at the Southern part of New Mexico and work our way slowly towards the North. Since it is almost about a 8 hr journey to our first stop in New Mexico, we decided to have a stop over in Texas around the mid way mark.
So our trip basically started on Day 0 (22nd December) when we got loaded up and drove up until Big Spring, TX. If it was summer, we would have driven a little more further up until Odessa, TX. But with limited day light in the Winter, we had to settle with a comfortable accommodation in Big Spring.
On the actual first day of our trip, we were then left with only a 3 – 3.5 hour travel to get to our first stop in New Mexico.
Due to the winter timings, we decided to start early and wrap up early on every day of the trip. Since we still had a 3.5 hours journey ahead of us, we whiled away the morning in the comfort of our car.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Our first stop of the day and the trip was at the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. While the national park is technically in Texas, it is very close to the New Mexico border. I could not plan to visit it any other time and hence decided to combine it along with this trip.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park is a perfect example of miles and miles of wilderness. It was somewhat similar to the other national park, I have visited in Texas, ‘ The Big Bend ‘. Mountains and deserts, as far as your eyes could see, makes you feel like you are in a different planet all together.
The park itself is defined as a hikers paradise, where the best trail takes you on top of the Guadalupe peak, which is the highest in Texas. The views of the surrounding areas are supposed to be too good from there. Since we are not much into hiking, it was not on our agenda. The only reason we stopped there was to take a quick glance at the Guadalupe peak right from the visitor center and scan through the exhibits. The visitor center was well maintained and the scenery was beautiful. After spending a short while there, we decided to move on to the next area within the park.
Frijole Ranch, which was built more than 100 years ago is well preserved with the boundary of the national park. Since it is such a remote location, it is so worth while to see how people decided to do ranching in this area a long time ago. The Frijoles Ranch is just a short drive from the visitor center and I believe it houses a small museum as well. However, on the day we visited, it was all fenced up and closed. All we got was a good view from outside and then we had no other choice, but to move on to our next stop.
Cost: We chose to purchase the $80 Annual Pass at the visitor center. The pass covered the entrance fee for all the National Parks and Monuments we visited during the trip and also good for many more attractions for a duration of 1 year.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Guadalupe Mountains and the Carlsbad Caverns are the closest national parks I have been to. It was just a 30-45 mins short scenic drive for us to get the visitor center of the Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Since the caverns are located in New Mexico, we had the advantage of moving into Mountain Time Zone and thus gained an additional 1 hour for the day.
Since the area was again very remote, we decided to start off with our lunch at the restaurant located behind the visitor center. It was more styled liked a cafeteria and we ordered a cheese pizza and veggie burger. Both of them were frozen and just reheated on order. But they were not too bad and actually tasted OK.
I initially had my reservation about visiting the Carlsbad Caverns, since I have already been to a few caverns in Texas and Arkansas. But after visiting the Carlsbad Caverns, I no more have any doubts. It is certainly unique in many ways.
Some of the things I loved about this cavern were:
– The fact that they have self guided tours into the cavern, lets you spend as much time you want and not be whisked away in a hurry by your guide.
– Availability of 2 trails, Natural Entrance Trail and Big Room, gives the flexibility of choosing the experience you want based on time and ability.
– Having an elevator to take you down to the depths of the cavern, particularly helps the elderly and the disabled.
– They also have ranger guided tours to a few rooms which cannot be accessed via the self guided tours, for folks interested in much more fun.
Since we had a lot of time in our hands, we decided to start with the Natural Entrance Trail. It basically starts where they have the amphitheater for bat viewing. While there were no bats during the winter time, when we visited, heard that the bats would fly out of the cave during summer months at dusk. And the amphitheater was such a neat arrangement to get a glimpse of the bats.
The starting part of the trial was amazing with all the switch backs taking you gradually into the cave. Both the view up front and right at the back were equally amazing.
Once you get into the cave, you will be all awestruck with sights of stalagmite and other unique cave formations like Whales Mouth, etc..
The trial was a little over a mile long and a little challenging at times, due to the steepness. And the Natural entrance trail ended right at the start of the Big Room trail. If you chose to skip the Natural entrance trail, you can just take the elevator from the visitor center to get to the Big room trail start.
Big Room, as it is aptly named, is one of the largest rooms I have seen in a cavern. The trail is again a little over a mile and winds its way through a much flatter terrain.
Some portion of the trail is also wheelchair accessible and certainly a boon for many. There were a lot of interesting formations to see like the Sun Temple, Lions’s Tail, etc., etc. Also, you get a chance to view the dark depths of the cave at points like the bottomless pit.
Once we were done with the the Big room trail, we chose to take the elevator up and back to the visitor center. We then whiled away a little time watching the movie about the cave and scanning through the different exhibits. And then finally we took a short drive down the mountain side to our accommodation in White’s City and signed off for the day.
– To be continued (New Mexico Road Trip from Dallas – Day 2) –