A Few Days at White Sands National Monument

After Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountains National Park we headed to White Sands National Monument in New Mexico.  Michael had been wanting to go for a long time and we finally made it out of Texas even if the RV tried to stop us at every turn.  Here are some of our favorite photos from the few days we went out there.  It’s like being in another world.

Pictures taken from the Interdune Boardwalk:

white sands boardwalk white sands boardwalk 2again boardwalk

Pictures from the Alkali Flats Trail:

We did the Alkali Flats Trail and, while it was only 4.6 miles long, it was strenuous.  You’re hiking up and down steep dunes without shade for a few hours.  We started the hike around 9:30am and it got hot.  The views do make the hike worth it.  All around you are white rolling hills like waves frozen in time.  I think if we ever did it again we would go first thing in the morning when the park opens.

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You can see the posts marking the way for the hike in the center of the picture.
hike 4
The soil became compacted from the plant growing through it.

hike 2 hike 3

Sunset Pictures

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The next series of photos is Michael starting his modeling career.  This is fair warning to stop unless you want to see some slightly silly but supermodel worthy photos.

 

You’ve been warned.

 

I call these next set of photos–From around the frame, ole blue eyes

michale modeling 3

4michael 4

And this set–That guy that sat on the dunes and took off his hat

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White Sands Sledding- The dog wants to do it too

 

rachel and spicy
Rachel at the top of the sledding hill.
getting ready to sled
Michael getting ready to sled.

A popular thing to do at White Sands National Monument is to sled down the dunes.  You can buy a sled at the gift shop next to the Visitor’s Center and sell it back for a fraction of the price when you’re done.  Our sled was around $16 and we sold it back for $5.  There are also blocks of wax you can buy for around $2 or $3.  You rub the wax on the bottom of the sled and and it increases your speed.  It’s also helpful to find an area where someone else has already packed the sand down for you.  This was more fun than we expected and our dog Rachel wanted to join in as well.

rache l

rachel and spicy
It was a good night.

We peaked early. Guadalupe Peak and the Salt Basin Dunes.

Hiking Guadalupe Peak

Spicy at the peak
Introducing Spicy the Coconut…at 8,749 feet

I have never been one for viewpoint hikes as I call them.  I want a waterfall or a river, a bubbling brook on my hikes.  I feel more peaceful by the water.  So last year when Michael asked me to hike up Mount St Helens I said no.  I laughed about it. Why would I hike up a mountain just to look down and barely see everything I saw on the way up?  But Michael is persistent.  He kept asking and he made a few promises so I relented.  Some of those promises were not kept.

mt st helens
Exact depiction of when we reached the summit of Mount St. Helens.

Okay so it was amazing.  Getting to the top was such a natural high we started talking about hiking another mountain in Oregon before we headed off in our RV.  We never did get a chance to hike that mountain and since I sprained my ankle the second week of our adventure we haven’t done much hiking at all in the last three and a half months.  Staying at Guadalupe Mountains National Park , next to the highest peak in Texas, gave us the opportunity to dust off the ole poles, put on the ole hiking boots and walk up a mountain.

We started the hike at 6:30 am wanting to beat the worst of the afternoon sun.  The first mile and a half of the hike is switchback after switchback going up a steep trail.  After about a 1/4 mile I wanted to stop and maybe cry.  It was early morning and the sun was already beating down on us.

Rvs from trail
View from first part of hike. In the middle of the picture there is a cluster of vehicles where we camped.

At one point in the hike Michael told me he wanted me in front because–

Mountain Lions go after the smallest and the ones at the back.  You’re both of those. 

In my head a dense fog had settled and this sounded appealing.  A mountain lion attack would mean that I wouldn’t have to finish the hike… or give up and look like a big baby.  I stayed in the back.  I daydreamed about turning into one of those big horned sheep that traverse the mountains as easily as a mountain lion would take me down.

michael and me 2michael and me 3

After the first two miles I felt like a new person.  Fresh air and exercise will do that, it’s just getting back in the groove I suppose.  And shade, there was a good amount of shade after that first horrible mile and a half.

At a round-trip of 8.4 miles and an elevation gain of about 3,000 feet the hike is considered strenuous. But after the beginning part is over it’s not that bad. It’s rocky most of the way and there are some steep drop offs in a few places but the views are excellent.

view of other mountain
View of other mountains from the trail.
the bridge
A nice bridge you get to cross.
peak campsite
This is around the three mile marker where the backcountry campsite is located. Only another mile to go.

looking down from the trail

Once you reach the peak at 8,749 feet you can sign the log book that’s up there. You can also read the entries that others have written in the last year. There is one that still stands out in my mind. It was dated February 14th and said- Always alone on Valentine’s Day.  I assume it was meant to be funny, otherwise AWWWWWWW….

view from the top
View of El Capitan from near the top of Guadalupe Peak
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View from the top. It doesn’t get any better than this.

We had some food at the top and hung out with Spicy the Coconut. Spicy has been around since last Spring. I drew a face on him and then couldn’t bring myself to cut him open.  Months passed, his milk dried up and he joined us for the adventure. We had to economize and get rid of lots of stuff when we moved into the RV….  But we kept Spicy.  He sends postcards to my little brother. Oh, and if you’re wondering, he signed the log book too.

spicy and gizmo
Spicy and Gizmo at the old house in Portland
spicy and carrot friend
Spicy and one of his dapper friends.

 

The Salt Basin Dunes at Guadalupe Mountains National Park

We wanted to mention the Salt Basin Dunes because it was one of the highlights of our time at Guadalupe Mountains National Park.  The dunes were a 50 minute drive from Pine Springs Campground.  The area they cover is small compared to the dunes at White Sands National Monument (where we went next).  But we had them all to ourselves and instead of seeing human footprints everywhere we saw animal tracks racing up and down the dunes.  It was worth it for that reason alone.

sand dune tara hike
The hike out to the dunes
sand michael
Michael wearing his Lawrence of Arabia hat. I used to make fun of this. Now I realize I need one too.
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Michael takes beautiful pictures.

sand dunes weedy snad dunes weedy sand dune tara sand dunes

We went out to the dunes around 11:00am on a day where the high was in the 70’s.  It felt at least ten degrees warmer.  The hike from the parking lot is only a mile but take a lot of water if you ever go.  There’s no respite from the sun during the hike or on the dunes.

There are bathrooms and a picnic area at the start of the hike.

so funny
Michael is so funny. There was no hand sanitizer in the women’s restroom.

 

 

 

Campsite Breakdown- Pine Springs at Guadalupe Mountains National Park

rv guadalupe

We thought we would start doing some short posts with basic information about where we’ve been staying.  We will probably go back and do this for the other places we have stayed too.

Where we stayed:  Guadalupe Mountains National Park Pine Springs Campground

Why we went there:  It’s about a 30 or 40 minute drive to Carlsbad Caverns and there isn’t any camping around Carlsbad Caverns.  There is an RV park in White City which is only about 8 miles to the Caverns but we prefer a more natural setting.  And we are trying to live as cheap as possible.  We would’ve loved to boondock somewhere but did not find a place to do this.

How accessible for RV’s: The drive to the park and campground is no problem.  Because of a tight turn on your way out, the max recommended total vehicle length is 50′. The tent and RV camping areas are separate.  There are about 8 spaces for big RV’s in a circular parking lot framed by the Guadalupe Mountains.  Ours is 38 feet so we used one of these big spots.  Three of the spaces are huge and you could easily fit an RV bigger than ours and your car next to it.  The other five are not as big but we managed to squeeze our car into our spot right behind the slide outs.  The rest of the spaces were for much smaller rigs.

Are there hookups:  No hookups and no dump station but there is a place to get water right by the registration board.

How much does it cost:  There is the entrance fee to the National Park which is 5 dollars per person.  We bought an Interagency Annual Pass for 80 dollars at the beginning of our RV traveling and it has already paid for itself.  The camping fee is 8 dollars a night.

Quiet Hours: (This is something Michael loved):  From 8am to 8pm.

Why we loved it:  The views were spectacular.  The sunsets were amazing, this seems to be a staple of the Southwest.  A lot of the hiking trails started right out of the campsite including the hike to Guadalupe Peak, Texas’s highest peak.  We got to see some wildlife like Mule Deer and Javelinas. It was close to Carlsbad Caverns.  The Salt Basin Dunes were not something we expected to find at the park and they were a good warm up for White Sands National Monument.

Things we didn’t like:  The RV’s were packed in pretty tightly together.  All week long we had neighbors 4 feet from us.  It’s nice to have some more space.

Would we go back if in the area: Yes

cool tree at campiste
Beautiful tree we saw on the Smith Spring Trail
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Walking on the Pinery Trail that starts right outside the visitor center.
javalina
Javelina
mule deer
Mule Deer on the Smith Spring Trail.
hike on guadalupe peak
Picture from our hike up Guadalupe Peak.
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Sunset over Visitor’s Center.

Spider Cave Tour

I already covered our photo journey through the main Carlsbad Caverns.  The Spider Cave tour was a reservation that we made several weeks in advance.  They run it about once a week and limit it to 8 people.  It’s listed online as very strenuous.   I went on a similar type of tour at Mammoth Cave, KY so I knew I would love it.  Tara however, was apprehensive.  Being underneath 150′ of rock and crawling along a 16″ tall passage wasn’t her idea of a fun time.  But she said she would try it.

We started with a 15 minute classroom session where we got fitted for gear and went over some of the basics of caving.  We lucked out with our rangers.  One was a geologist and one was an archaeologist which made for an informative cave tour.  We drove out to the trail leading to the cave and hiked a quarter mile down a canyon to the entrance.

Here we are eager to get into the cave.
Here we are eager to get into the cave.

Continue reading Spider Cave Tour

Carlsbad Caverns

We went to Carlsbad Caverns several times over the course of a week.  We took two trips into the main cavern, and a special tour to Spider Cave.  Right now the main cavern is only accessible by the natural entrance as their elevators are currently broken.  We enjoy hiking so we would’ve taken the natural entrance either way.  The mile walk in is about a 750′ descent.  All the rangers warned us – you have to come back up everything you go down. Continue reading Carlsbad Caverns

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

Last week we took a day trip to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, in Texas. This is the winter grounds for the endangered Whooping Crane. The numbers are a bit hazy, but in 1941 they were down to around 15 birds in the wild. Today there are an estimated 500-600 (about half in captivity). They were even able to introduce another population in the state of Florida, though they are still teaching them how to migrate by having them follow an ultra-light. Getting to see this extremely rare bird was the primary reason for our visit. Another reason…. Alligators!

The refuge is mostly drive through with a few designated trails that are all under 1.5 miles each. Right across from the visitor center is an alligator viewing platform. We were up there with another couple when the lady excitedly told her significant other that she saw one. I was able to get her to tell me where she saw it and I found it in our binoculars. I pointed it out to Tara. Since they had forgotten their binoculars I let them borrow ours to get a better view. This was the first alligator either of us had seen in the wild…. but it wouldn’t be the last.

first alligator

alligators and other wildlife