Trip: Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon
Week #1: Carbondale, Illinois - Deming, New Mexico
At the risk of beginning an essay with a cliché, it's been quite
a week. We've had two long driving days (nine hours, which is highly
unusual for us), but we've had no real road trouble. Well, there was
the puncture in one of the starboard tires on the 5th wheel, but it
was so easy to get it: 1) patched (in Murfreesboro, AR), and then 2)
replaced (just outside of Austin, TX) that the inconvenience was barely
enough to mention.
The best part about the trip so
far is that we can take our time getting to Albuquerque. We don't have
to be there for 11 days. So, after dropping the car off at Camp Russell
in Kingsland, we headed for Crater of Diamonds State Park in western
Arkansas. The park contains the only diamond bearing site in the world
that is open to the public. For $6.50 you can dig all day and keep anything
you find. Lady Luck did not smile upon us, but while we dug, the bell
rang two separate times (indicating that 2 diamonds had been found.)
Over the years, many noteworthy finds have been uncovered. Probably
the most noteworthy was found in 1998. It was the Strawn-Wagner Diamond,
a cut white diamond weighing 3.03 carats (606 mg), later cut to 1.09
carats (218 mg), graded by the American Gem Society as a "D"
Flawless 0/0/0 perfect diamond (the highest grade a diamond can receive.)
It sits on display at the visitors' center, and it IS incredibly beautiful.
From there we drove
to Texas to visit DJ and Ariel in Austin. They have recently become
engaged! They took us to a place called Flip Happy Crepes (www.fliphappycrepes.com),
featured on the Food Network in the last month or so. It's more of an
"eating establishment" than a restaurant because the owners
operate out of an Airstream parked on a large, shady corner. Tables-for-two
are scattered here and there, and doubling them up is common. The crepes
are wrapped in foil, and eating them like burritos is just as acceptable
as using utensils. We ordered both savory crepes AND dessert crepes.
What an experience! By the end, we were stuffed, but the food was so
good we kept picking, picking, picking at the last of the desserts.
It was a good thing
that the next stop was Umlauf Sculpture Garden, a place they were considering
as a site for their wedding, because we needed to walk off lunch! To
say that we were favorably impressed is an understatement. If the Garden
of Eden exists on earth, my vote is that it's here. www.umlaufsculpture.org
When we left Austin on Friday,
we thought we'd travel just a couple of hours west to Fredericksburg,
but as it turned out, this was Octoberfest weekend, and not a site was
available. So we just drove, and drove, making it as far as Van Horn,
Texas, a distance of 450+ miles. That translates into a 9-hour drive
for us. Seems long, but when we traveled from Corpus Christi, TX to
Washington, DC by boat, a 100 mile day took just as long, actually
longer! It's all relative, I guess.
We were making better time than
we thought we would, so we decided to spend a couple of nights in Deming,
New Mexico. Interstate 10 enters New Mexico in the southwest corner.
This is our third visit to New Mexico, and every time we return we like
it more and more. There is so much to see and do in this particular
area, but we won't have time on this particular trip to do it all. We
decided on one definite: to go to the Gila (hE la) Cliff Dwellings.
Dave and I agree that, of all the things we've ever done or seen, this
ranks close to being The Best. Archeological evidence suggests that
many different groups of people have inhabited this area over thousands
of years. But there was a certain group of people, the Mogollon, who,
for a short period of time (1270-1300) built "rooms" inside
the caves. That's what makes it so unusual.
From the RV park, it was 90 miles
one way to the cliff dwellings. The final 40 miles took two hours to
drive. The black-topped road twisted and curved, sometime making hairpin
turns. Only twice did I notice guard rails. There was a sign warning
against pulling trailers more than 20 feet long. The scenery was spectacular
as we wove our way up and down, up and down. And yes, it took every
minute of two hours. It was as though we were on a pilgrimage.
A stop at the visitors' center
is always rewarding (from the aspect of learning something new), and
all the more important here because of how long to get here. The cliff
dwellings were a short drive away.
The ranger stationed at the trailhead
told us that we couldn't take Victor with us, but that kennels were
available. A couple of basset hounds were already there, so we put Victor
in the kennel next to them. The one-mile loop trail to and through the
cliff dwellings climbs 180 feet above the canyon floor, and an adequate
number of benches are provided.
Sometimes it's rocky and steep,
and one can't help but go back in time 700 years, and put themselves
in the shoes of the Mogollon people. All along the way, an incredible
diversity of plant life unfolds. Cottonwoods and willows, lush, moisture-loving
mosses, grapevines, and wildflowers, pines and Douglas firs. Collectively,
these would have greatly assisted the Mogollon people in their search
for day-to-day needs, such as food, tools, medicine, fuel, and more.
The wild grapes, berries, and nuts attracted deer and rabbits; a ready-made
Circle of Life.
The caves themselves reveal a window
into prehistoric life. Artifacts suggest that the Mongollon people were
hunters and farmers. A communal kitchen is what one envisions in the
first cave, complete with foundations of three small storage rooms,
a hearth, and two circular depressions in the floor, big enough to support
large, round-bottomed pots.
Another cave reveals what might
have been an amphitheatre because of is natural acoustics. Cave erosion
resulted in a large open area in the back and several smaller alcoves
in front. The acoustics are incredible, and the beats of dancing feet
or the stories of chanting voices would have been amplified accordingly.
Indeed, we experienced the acoustics for ourselves when we realized
we were clearly hearing what the ranger was telling some tourists. Artifacts
found here suggest that this part of the cave was used for ceremonial
There are a total of 40 rooms identified
in the Gila Cliff Dwellings. Speculating on each room's purpose is fun.
Was it used for storage, for sleeping, for working, for meetings? Remarkable
craftsmanship and working with nature were fundamental to the Mogollon,
which made the whole experience of touring the dwelling that much more
astounding. There is a reason that New Mexico is called the Land of
On our way back to the RV park,
we turned off at the sign for City of Rocks State Park. In the midst
of the Chihuahuan Desert, rocks as high as 50 feet tower skyward. Its
quite a site to drive up to. The rock formations throughout the park
create individual, neatly maintained picnic areas, complete with concrete
table and fire pit/bar-b-q. Camping is allowed within the rock formations.
This blog would be remiss if no
mention was made of the RV park we stayed at while in Deming: the Hidden
Ranch. The name was appropriate since it was 10 miles from the main
road, mostly gravel. The elevation at this point is more than 7,000
feet. All throughout the day, dessert critters-quail, jack rabbits,
and roadrunners-went about their business. At night it was dead quiet
and a million brilliant stars blanketed the sky.
This is our third trip to New Mexico,
and the first time to Deming. We like New Mexico, so we know we'll be
back. Next time, though, much more time in Deming will be built in.
There is a lot more here than we ever expected.
Miles driven this week: 1,619
Trip so far: 1,619