Monthly Archives: May 2008

By the time I make Albuquerque…it’ll be time to go to Sante Fe


For a place that has alot of songs about it Albuquerque is not much to shout home about. The town is a bit of a sprawl and I was unimpressed by the historic old town which was a handful of streets selling all that damn turquoise jewelry and bad clothes. However, the sunsets were pretty amazing and the full hook-up High Desert RV park we parked up at was cheap at $18 a night and backed onto desert scrub which made for some great sandy jogging. So after a minimal sampling of the town’s delights we hot the road to go and see the much more dramatic and beautiful Sante Fe.

Santa Fe

Sante Fe, nestled in the foothills of the Sangre Christie mountains seems to have everything, a stunning landscape, access to great hiking, biking and ski trails and endless sunny days. This is a city that looks like no other due to the zoning codes of 1958 that rules that all new structures are based on the pueblo style adobe structures which are essentially mud and straw. So the center of the city and the structures up into the mountains are for the most part beautiful organic, natural structures that just sit in the landscape beautifully. This is a green city with tree lined streets and a beautiful European style feel to it where people hangout having coffee, go to the museums and check out the endless art galleries lining the streets. We happened upon the Lisa Kristine Gallery with some of the most evocative photo’s I have ever seen of indigenous people from all over the world in dramatic landscapes and settings. Sante Fe still has it’s sprawl and speaking to one of the locals it seems that those that live in the zoned area boast about never ever going down to Cerrillos Road which is the pure americiana with mall after faceless mall. But having spent a week there I found it to be one of the few places in the US that I think I could live. We camped up in the pine forested mountains in Black Canyon Campground which is only 8 miles up the mountain from the plaza. It was a treat to be out of the RV parks and into the forest campgrounds where you have space to breathe, watch the light sparkle through the pine, make campfires and be a little closer to the wildlife. The campground is situated really close to the trails, in fact there is a great 1 mile loop out the back of the campground that served as a great jogging trail (if you did a few loops). The Chamisa trail which is a 5 mile round trip was a real treat too for either hiking, biking or jogging but unfortunately for us some cold weather weather came in for a few days. There is so much to do around Sante Fe, with Bandelier National Monument only an hour away if you want to see some pre-historic cliff dwellings that are some of the oldest remains found in the US today.

Ram's Head, White Hollyhock Hills

I can see why the iconic Georgia O’Keefe adopted New Mexico as her home and painted the landscapes, the bleached bones and the hearts of flowers for many years out at Ghost Ranch just north of Sante Fe. New Mexico with it’s history, the colour and shape of the land, the trees, the flowers, the light and the big starry nights do start to take a hold of you. And from the words of Georgia herself…

“It is not a country of light on things. It is a country of things in light.”

How to get there

You can fly to Albuquerque and hire a car to drive an hour north on the I-25

Where to Stay

We stayed at Black Canyon Campground however there is a bunch of camping and accommodation options to chose from from boondocking in Walmart to these campgrounds http://wow.gosantafe.com/campgrounds/

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Jupiter’s Kiss – A Lion’s Tale


Jupiter

This was sent to me by a friend and I have watched it a few times now, each time amazed and touched by the humanness of it all. Ana Julia Torres, 47 has been running an animal shelter called Villa Lorena in Cali, Colombia for a decade unfunded and trying to get by with her teachers salary. Amongst the 800 rescued animals that she looks after Jupiter, the African lion was rescued 6 years ago after she found it abused and emaciated in a traveling circus.

“It is amazing to see an animal like that be so sweet and affectionate,” said Torres. “This hug is the most sincere one that I have received in my life.”

She began more than a decade ago when a friend gave her an owl that had been kept as a pet. Torres looks after many abused animals such as limbless flamengos, blind monkeys and mutilated elephants.

Watch this…

“We dedicate our lives to the care of these animals without one single peso from the state,” Torres said. Torres said many of the animals were rejected as infants by their parents in the wild or found abandoned on the streets of Cali. Torres said because she opposes exhibiting animals in circuses, she decided to keep her shelter closed from the public.”

To donate money you can write to:

Ana Julia Torres,
Villa Lorena,
Carrera Novena Norte, numero 84 N30,
Barrio de Floralia,
Cali
Colombia.

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Down the rabbit-hole to Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico


The entrance to Carlsbad Caverns was silent. No-one else around other than the cave swallows swooping over our heads to catch the bugs and hurry to the nestlings peeking out from the muddy holes in the cave walls. No-one mentioned the swallows, only the Mexican free-tailed bats, who had not yet arrived from the south to perform their evening shows of dramatically exiting the ultimate bat cave at dusk. “Curiouser and curiouser”!

The slow walk to the mouth of the cave is simply breathtaking as the sights and sounds take my imagination off into magical tales of underground kingdoms. The opening is large and not surprisingly…cavernous. I am not sure what I was expecting. Yes, I expected to be impressed but not to be totally gobsmacked before even getting down into the first cave. The opening is huge and as I drift into the darkness it takes a few minutes for my eyes to adjust. The lighting is particularly beautiful. Large features are lit from hidden sources and the rest is just visible but not in great detail. The cave entrance, the “Twilight Zone” has to be lit in the most minimal way so that animals are not tempted to enter and get lost and starved.

Carlsbad (2)

As I move deeper into the cave the sounds of the swallows around the entrance area start to subside and I start to notice a different kinds of sound; drip, drip, drip. It takes 8 months for the water to move into the cave and slowly drip through and anything above the surface will eventually make its way into these limestone caves and drip. Unfortunately this includes all of the fallout from the car park on top of the cave. The dripping starts to fade into the background as I begin to grasp the scale of the caverns. I make my way through the first cavern and after turning a corner look down and gasp at the next huge cavern that I am about to descend into. Let me remind you that Chris and I still have the entrance caves to ourselves. When you get to the caverns you have the self guided option of taking the lifts 750ft down into the main showcase caverns or you can walk down – WALK DOWN!

I don’t know what to do with myself, so I just stand there trying to take it all in. No matter which direction I look in it all looks wondrous. So I continue on and am presented with about 3 more caverns each more awe-inspiring that the one before because each one is not expected. By the time I make my way to the base of the cave I gather myself together and prepare for the aptly titled, “Big Room”. This is even more decorated that the caves I just floated down through, glistening white rock of many different shapes and textures hanging from the roof, jutting out of the ground, stalacmites and stalactites creating fairy grotto’s. This cave is busier with people now but all around me I can hear sharp intakes of breathe as the cave reveals it’s quiet glory to passers-by. The park wardens ask that you do not talk louder than a whisper so the cave is full of hushed “wows”, or “awesome”.

Carlsbad

Words cannot really explain how sublime the caverns are and the experience of being able to walk through them marvelling at the wonder of nature. I cannot think of any man-made structure that is more beautiful or human that this. Needless to say, the next day Alice went back for more but could only dream of the wonders to behold in Lechuguilla caves in Carlsbad, discovered in 1986 and known to be the longest cave in the world. It is still being explored and has yet to reveal all of the caves to it’s explorers.

Other Info

The caverns were explored the lost comprehensively by a 16 year old cowboy called Jimmy White who stumbled upon the opening in 1901. “I worked my way through the rocks and brush until I found myself gazing into the biggest and blackest hole I had ever seen, out of which the bats seemed literally to boil. … I couldn’t estimate the number, but I knew that it must run into millions.” He ultimately spent his life dedicated to exploring and preserving the caves for others to see.

Getting There

S Highway 62/180 from either Carlsbad, New Mexico (23 miles to the northeast) or El Paso, Texas (150 miles to the west). Carlsbad is served by Greyhound and TNM&O bus lines, or you can fly into Albuquerque, New Mexico, or Midland, Texas. Mesa Airlines flies between Albuquerque and Carlsbad.

Where to Stay

There are plenty of places to stay in Carlsbad or even White’s City which was a bit grimsville US for me. We stayed in the friendly family run Carlsbad RV Park which is about 20 miles from the caves. As for Carlsbad, there’s nothing much exiting going on other than stocking up on your groceries.

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Big Bend, Terlingua, Texas and Mountain-biking


We all have pre-conceptions about a place especially as a foreigner in a distant land, but arriving into the US from Mexico and finding ourselves in the beautiful far flung outpost of Terlingua, West Texas I had most of my pre-conceptions thrown out of the window. Driving to Big Bend national Park was the order of the day to escape the not so pretty Presidio, Texas. A great place to cross the border back into the US from the Ojinaga, Mexico border crossing (Toll road most of the way from Chihuahua City) due to the Loma Paloma RV Park 6 miles from the border, but that’s about it. Terlingua on the other hand is a place you want to hang your hat for at least half the year as many of the current residents do.

Terlingua

On your way to Big Bend National Park you might find yourselves like we did parking up at one of the RV parks outside Big Bend but if you are in this area then make the trip along the road and follow the signs to spend a little time in the not so ghostly ghost town of Terlingua whose name is a twisted version of Tres Lenguas or three languages (tongues) that were spoken by the locals of the village back in the 1800’s.

This is an old mercury mining town close to the romantic and dangerous Rio Grande, established in the late 1800’s and situated in Chihuahua desert surrounded by Chisos mountains and huge cavernous skies. With the closure of the mines in the 1940’s the town was abandoned of it’s workers which by 1905 was over 1,000 mostly Mexican miners. The miners lived on the eastern side of the town and I was told that the stone structures they built are the ones that are more complete. The old graveyard is still there with the local historians working through the graves trying to identify them. The simple yet beautiful naturalistic buildings that were left behind have been slowly rebuilt by the people that have been attracted to this area. Through the 60’s new blood arrived in the town and with the establishment in 1967 of the first Annual Terlingua Chili-cook off this became a town for partying and was christened the “Chili Capitol of the World” by the Chili Appreciation Society. Today there is a mix of people who like to enjoy the great outdoors with river rafting, hiking, biking of all kinds and to hang out in the porch of the old Starlight Theatre to play blues and enjoy the cool evenings under the stars. But there is enough going on here for those who still like the occasional party and I hear from the locals that any excuse to dress up in fancy dress is jumped at.

Another resident explained in her words, “When I came to Terlingua I realised that rather than talk about yourself you talk about each other, so I adjusted”.

This has some benefits and some downsides but when strolling down the road peering at the unfeasibly large pair of great horned owls planning their evenings activities and being checked out by the local coyote I was stopped by the judges wife who handed me the local newsletter. In May there were three benefits for local people who found themselves in a state misfortune of some kind either through illness or just plain old bad luck. In Terlingua people rally round and do what they can to help and they are proud of it.

KosmicCare“What do you do around here for fun”? Well there is the biking for starts. If you like road-biking then this is a dream location, the roads are undulating enough to give you a serious workout and they are quiet. If you like motor-biking then…ditto – the road from Presido to Terlingua is an absolute must. From the ghost town itself there are back roads and some sweet single track for mountain-bikers in the Lajitas and Contraband trail system. To get the low-down pop along to incredibly helpful and just plain old nice people at Desert Sports they will tell more than you need to know to get out there to ride. In fact these guys are the hosts of the Mas o Menos 100k race on every winter, a race that takes 4 days through rugged terrain. During the winter when the river is high then these are the people to go to for your river trip as they offer smaller trips finding the less busy spots along the rivers.

The locals, the people that live here now are not all from Texas let alone West Texas are interesting, engaging, open and very community minded. Now I say this with only having spent a few days in the area but having to leave was actually very hard. I found myself pondering whether I too could own a little piece of dry scrub and an old ruin that I could call home. As one delightful resident said to me, “You either get this place or you don’t,” and I definitely got it.

How to Get there

Driving – Highway 170 west of Big Bend

Where to Stay

We lucked out and stayed with some very kind locals and had the ultimate Terlingua experience but you can still have fun staying in the Ghost town at La Posada Milagro or camping at any of the RV campgrounds.

– Big Bend Motor Inn RV Campground, Junction TX 118 and FM 170 at Big Bend Motor Inn with full hookups & pull throughs. 800-848-BEND

– Terlingua Ranch Lodge RV Park And Campground, Full hook ups and tent camping. Swimming pool. Located 16 miles east of TX Highway 118, turn off approximately 12 miles north of junction FM 170 and TX 118. 432-371-2416

– Study Butte RV Park, Electricity, flush toilets and showers. TX Highway 118, Study Butte south of junction TX 118 and FM 170. 432-371-2468

– BJ’s RV Park, Full hook-ups, showers, laundry. FM 170, 5 miles east of junction TX 118 and FM 170, near Terlingua Ghostown. 432-371-2259

Places to eat

For a small place this is packed with fantastic places to eat. Try the Phat Cafe for $10 lunch in Asian fusion cusine or the filmic outdoor cafe called Kathy’s Cosmic Cowgirl for breakfast, Starlight Theater for dinner (check out Mondays for the two for one burger that can’t be missed especially with live music to boot) and for the late evening fun try The Boathouse or La Kiva, a bar built in a cave.

Other Stuff

Check out the documentary that was made of the town interviewing the locals- 24 hours in Terlingua

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