Category Archives: United States

Bandera Volcano and Ice Cave

What a fun place to visit! It’s an area owned by the same family for several generations and they are battling with the National Park Service for control of the site. I can see why the Park Service wants it, it is a treasure.

The first thing we noticed when we drove into the parking lot was the dead dog stretched out in the middle of the parking lot. It was a shocking and upsetting thing to see. It was also weird because ours was the only car in the lot. We weren’t sure if the site was open or if there was something wrong. With the dog, we wondered if this was the beginning of a horror movie.

Bob swerved so he wouldn’t hit the dog and it raised its head and yawned at us. What a relief! No horror movie–just a supremely lazy dog.  After we parked, I approached the dog carefully to see if it was ok. When I was about 10 feet away, she rolled onto her back and presented her belly for a good scratch.  As soon as I started scratching, she sighed deeply, flopped her head back down and didn’t move again.  She was a riot!  Apparently she is the owners pet and she takes it upon herself to patrol the grounds at night and keep all wildlife away.  During the day, she is comatose.

Anyway, after a chat with the owners, we learned about their battle with the National Park Service. The land has been in their family for generations. They’ve always operated it as a tourist attraction. Now they’re struggling to keep it in the face of much pressure from the National Park Service which wants to take over the operation. We also discovered we were a little early in the season for tourists. We had the place to ourselves!

We headed up the path to the Bandera Volcano. The whole area was covered in rough volcanic rock and the path was black from crushed lava rock.  The trail circled up the outside of the volcano until it reached the side where the the cone had collapsed and the lava flowed out.  It was a very windy day and the path was steep–probably the most strenuous thing we’ve done on this trip so far–but it was worth seeing. I’ve never been inside a volcano before. It was black and barren. Hardly anything grew inside. Eerie and other worldly.

After lots of pictures (and a mad dash by Bob to retrieve my new Solar Observatory hat when the wind blew it off), we returned to the little store and began the journey down the other path to the ice cave. Even in the middle of a burning New Mexico summer, the 20 foot thick ice sheet in this cave never melts. The cave is actually a collapsed lave tube where water naturally collected. Because of the prevailing winds, the shape of the cave, and the insulating properties of the lava, the cave never gets above 31 degrees, no matter how hot it is only 20 feet away.  We had to walk down an old wooden staircase to see the ice cave and that was an adventure in itself.  Of course, my healing calves weren’t happy, but what’s a vacation without sore legs?

You can see all our pictures here.

Acoma Pueblo

Acoma Pueblo is a very interesting place.  In the picture above, it’s hard to see the village, but it is sitting on top of the bluff.  It is inhabited by the Acoma people (pronounced Á-cō-ma).  In fact, the peublo has been continuously inhabited for about 1,500 years, making it the oldest city in the United States.  It even survived sieges by the Spanish in the 1500’s.

The Pueblo rises 350 feet above the desert floor and there wasn’t a road to the top until the 1960’s.  Before that, only 5 staircases (and I use that term lightly) accessed the top.  These stairs are so completely hidden from view (probably because they barely exist) that the Spanish never found them when they layed siege to the Peueblo.  Interestingly, they (and many other Indian tribes in the area) are matrilineal, with the youngest daughter in the family inheriting the family’s house on the Pueblo.

The only way to see Sky City (another name for the Acoma Pueblo), is by guided tour.  On the tour we were assaulted by little bugs (that luckily didn’t bite) that just wanted to land on us and hang on.  I’m not sure what they were, but they were about 1/4 inch long and very tanacious.  Whenever we would pause in the tour for the guide to point something out, Bob and I felt like monkeys picking nits off each other.  It was ridiculous!  The guide has lived on the Pueblo his  entire life and he said he’s never seen the bugs before.  Maybe they are the result of the really mild winter.

Only about 15 families currently live on the Pueblo.  There is no electricity or plumbing on the Pueblo so we saw many Port-A-Potties and outhouses.  Many more families routinely use their homes on the Pueblo during ceremonies and other special occasions.  Many occupy their homes during the day but have homes elsewhere for the night.

Pottery is a big thing for them and they have many very talented potters.  We saw some incredibly decorated pottery that took quite an artist to create.  Traditionally, the pottery from this area is white with black, intricate markings.  Fragments of this pottery have been found as far away as Maine.  The trade routes of the ancient indians were quite extensive.  On the Pueblo, they have found macaw feathers from South America and shells from the coast of Baja.  This is true throughout the region.

At the end of the tour, the guide offered to let us walk down one of the ancient staircases, or we could drive back down with him.  Bob and I decided to walk.  The guide explained that the stairs had been “improved” for use by the public, but that the stairs were much like they have been for over a thousand years.  Before the 1960’s, this particular staircase was the only route for anything the Indians needed in the Pueblo. Everything had to be hand carried up and down the stairs The guide warned that it was a quick 3 second descent should we fall.

Oh, My, Goodness, the “stair” was GROSSLY overexaggerated.  It was barely more than a suggestion in the rock.  It was quite a challenge and gave us a whole new appreciation for how agile the peole who lived her must have been.  If you ever visit Acoma Pueblo, don’t miss the chance to go down those steps, but be warned!  Bob and I were the first of our group to go down and we were followed by a family from Paris.  The mom and dad were very slow and the kids got ahead of them so we ended up helping the two kids down.  Of course, the boy (about 10 years old)  LOVED it!  It was quite an adventure (and thank God Bob could speak enough French to communicte with them!) Then again, the tone of voice used by a parent to convey danger and caution is universally understood.

Take a look at all our photos here. 

Acoma Photos

In all the years we’ve driven Highway 40, we’ve never stopped at Acoma, though we’ve seen the signs.  I can honestly say I’d never want to live here, but it was very interesting to see.  Take a look and see what you think!



This is the pueblo from a distance. The city sits on top.


Another view from a distance.


See the buildings on top? That’s Acoma.


All visits to Acoma begin with the visitor’s center. It’s located a distance away from the pueblo. Once the tour begins, they heard you onto a bus for the drive to the top.


Here are some views down the streets of Acoma.


The big ladders lead to the kivas–the places of worship. Usually they are large circular rooms dug into the ground, but here, that wasn’t possible. Since traditional kiva’s are entered through the roof, here there are ladders to the roof and you enter the kivas from there.


Another kiva ladder.


The round object is an oven. There were several community ovens on the pueblo.


A view from the top. There’s no guard rails, or warning signs to stay back from the edge. If you’re stupid, you pay the consequences.


There’s no electricity or sewers on the pueblo. So it wasn’t surprising to see modern porta-potties to solve the problem. Otherwise, it’s a long way down every time you have to go. 🙂


More views from the top.




All parts of the structures were used. Here, a staircase leads to the roof. The kid’s scooter reminds me that kids actually live here.


More street views. Not all the front doors are at ground level.




Here you can see the visitor’s center in the distance.


Believe it or not, this is where the staircase down the side of the pueblo begins. Don’t see it? Neither did I. It was more than a little scary to step over the edge and trust you wouldn’t fall.


Here’s what the stairs look like from the top. Yikes is right!


They are barely carved into the side of the rock. Here, there’s nothing to hold onto.


Be careful!


They weren’t too bad here. Obviously, these stairs have been made for modern tourists. In the 1500s they were so primitive, they weren’t obvious to the eye as stairs at all.


Okay, now we get a little dicey. This section is more like a ladder. See the hand holds dug into he rock by centuries of hands grabbing on?


Is this even passable?  I had my doubts!


It was crazy!




It’s really hard to even see the way. All you’re sure about is you need to go DOWN.


Our well-deserved reward. We found Navajo Tacos for lunch at the diner in the visitor’s center. I’m a fan.


This is the little piece of pottery we bought in the gift shop. It’s only about 3 inches across. The detail in the tiny black lines, and how close together they are, is amazing. Also, I love the butterflies because the wings are three dimensional.

Catwalk Photos

This is another of my favorite places.  The catwalk was just cool, and weird.  Why put it there in the first place?  I really enjoyed it.


Entrance to the park.


The trail was rough and steep in places.



Here the catwalk crosses the bubbling stream below.


By its nature, the canyon is shadowed. Here, the sun hits this tree just right.


More of the catwalk. It snaked around every twist and turn of the rock face.


Another view of the trail leading to the catwalk.


Looking down on the lower levels of the trail.


Perhaps the catwalk was once fastened here instead of where it is now?


Another view of what lies below the catwalk.


Click on the picture to enlarge it. Then you’ll be able to read the sign. Very interesting stuff!


Another perfectly illuminated tree. Of course, that unique spring green color always pops.


Bob on the catwalk.



All the views from the catwalk were spectacular. Here are a few.


This was the equivalent of a viewpoint on a highway.



Tight squeeze. Bob made it through 🙂


Here’s a bunch more of the scenery.








The sky in New Mexico can appear really blue.


I loved these white branches agains the blue sky. The trees were just on the verge of leafing.

The Catwalk

After a morning of cliff dwellings, we traveled to a very different part of the Gila National Forest. In Whitewater Canyon is a trail called the Catwalk. It’s a place where the river canyon narrows, sometimes to only 20 feet wide, and a catwalk about 1/4 mile long has been welded about half way up the canyon wall. Bob thought it was kind of ho hum, but I loved it. It was different, weird, and such an interesting kind of experience.

Spring is a perfect time to be out in nature and it was just beautiful.  Enjoy the pictures, it was really awesome.  By the way, the catwalk, and many of the stairs, bridges and other access points to the things we saw throughout our trip, were built by the CCC in the 1930’s.

After all the exercise, we decided we were entitled to some pie in Pie Town, NM.  We started to head in that direction, but after consulting Fodor’s, we discovered the pie places were already closed for the day and there wasn’t really any place to stay the night.  So, we diverted to Albuquerque for the night.

Gila Cliff Dwelling Photos

Inside Gila National Forest are many interesting things to see.  There are cliff dwellings, the catwalk, the Santa Rosa mine, among others.  Its a beautiful mountainous area and worth a visit.


This is me walking down the trail after visiting the cliff dwellings. It’s a little out of order 🙂


Santa Rosa strip mining operation. You can see how big it is by comparing it to the car on the road.


It was unbelievably huge. It swallowed the entire town and they plan to fill it in once the mining is finished.


This is where we started the walking part of our explorations.



Bob by a little house we passed on the trail. It’s a tiny room made up of the wedge in the rock. The door only goes to Bob’s hip. This place is very tiny compared the dwellings in the pictures to come. Maybe it was a hunter’s outpost, or something.


The view from the little house.


Petroglyphs. There were walls of them.  They’re faded, but they were everywhere.


I liked this little guy.



View from the beginning of the trail that leads to the more substantive Gila cliff dwellings.


The dwellings are in this rock around the corner on the left


Entrances to the dwellings


More entrances. There were 7 caves of dwellings here. If you click on the picture, you’ll be able to see the structures inside the caves.


Steps to the dwellings. Mostly, the path was uneven and rocky.


Some of the dwellins. Many have T shaped doors.


No one knows why the doors are T shaped.


This is the same picture as the one above, but this one gives you an idea of how big it all is.


Smokehouse? Storage? 2 story house? Who knows? I can’t imagine living, sleeping, and raising kids in such a precariously placed home. It’s rock solid, but one slip and fall and you have a big problem.


Bob looking over the wall. These dwellings originally had roofs, even inside the cave.


Lots of the dwellings rely on ladders to get around.


Another of the ladders. These were provided by the Park Service, but the Indians who lived her would have had their own.


Another view of the dwellings.


The view from the cliff dwellings.


The road to the dwellings is curvy and full of switchbacks and other driving challenges. This view gives you an idea of just how curvy. At times, even going 20 m.p.h. felt too fast. It was like a fun house ride.


City of Rocks Photos

City of Rocks is a fun, almost whimsical, place.  There were lots of people camping in and among the rocks, so it felt even more like a little city.  We wandered around for awhile and really enjoyed the fine Spring weather.


Some of the cactus were blooming.  They are shockingly colorful.


The entrance to the City of Rocks,


Bob on the trail.


Lots of fun rocks were everywhere. This one was about 20 feet tall.


More of the rocks. These are building-sized rocks.


Here’s Bob climbing on one of them.


More rocks 🙂






View of the rocks from a distance. It looked like a little city.

City of Rocks and Gila Cliff Dwellings

On our way to Gila National Forest, we passed by the City of Rocks State Park.  Thousands of years ago a volcano erutped and ash and soot fell in this area.  Over years that layer of rock has been eroded to make what look like a city of rocks.  The rocks are like buildings and there appears to be streets between them.  It was a fun place.  We also saw a huge cat slinking around between the stones that we believe was a largely overgrown pet of one of the RV’s staying in the ara, but we weren’t sure.  We had already seen a coyote and several deer run down the road along with our slowly moving car (on separate occasions).   We saw lots of great wildlife on this trip. You can see our pictures of the City of Rocks here.

After City of Rocks, we traveled on to Silver City, New Mexico, the jumping off point for Gila National Forest and the Gila Cliff Dwellings.  We were also near the Santa Rosa pit/strip mining operation which we stopped to see.  It was an unbelievably huge hole in the ground.  I’m glad they plan to fill it back in some day when the mining is done, but it’s gigantic now!  It is so big that it swallowed up the entire town of Santa Rosa. Pictures of the mine are here. 

The Cliff Dwellings are also very interesting.  They were the first we’ve seen.  To get there, you have to travel a narrow mountainous road that goes up over 7000 feet above sea level.  It is twisty, treacherous, full of switchbacks, hairpins, and lots of sharp twists.  It goes on for about 30 miles, but it takes more than an hour to travel.  It was very challenging and, luckily, we encountered very few cars on the road.  In fact, this entire trip was perfectly timed to avoid crowds but still take advantage of great weather.  We were really lucky.  We’ve decided that we will plan all our trips to National Parks in April or October.

Anyway, to reach the cliff dwellings, we had to hike about a mile over a great paved trail with lots of bridges over the stream that formed the canyon.  It was a beautiful walk, but a little strenuous.

The dwellings themselves were amazing.  They were well organized, well built, and took advantage of every natural resource available.  All alcoves in sandstone cliffs are formed by seep springs, so there is a water source right in the back of the cave.  The cliff dwellers also stored their food by placing it in rooms that were made of rock, plaster, and part of the cave.  Once the food was sealed in, insects and rodents couldn’t get to it.  They could store dried corn for several years if necessary.

Another interesting feature was the kiva.  It is where the Native Americans worshipped.  Basically, it is a large circular room that is sunk into the ground.  There is a roof over the kiva and the top is flush with the ground outside so you could walk over a kiva and not even know it was there.  The only entrance is through a hole in the roof that is directly over the fire pit.  It was accessed by a long ladder.  Kivas are found everywhere throughout Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.  In addition, some of the cliff dwellings had 6 or 8 of them.

It’s clear the cliff dwellers were very resourceful and it was so interesting to walk in their footsteps, if only briefly.  By the way, in the past it was believed that the Native Americans, called Anasazi, who occupied the cliff dwellings, mysteriously disappeared.  We now know this is not the case.  Rather, the Anasazi are actually ancient Peublos who simply migrated on to other destinations as required by their faith, their religion.

I’ll probably mangle this, but, basically, as a people, the Indians believed they are required to live in many different areas that they are lead to by the spirits.  Over generations, they learn about each area, how to survive and grow crops in different locations.  That knowledge becomes part of their oral tradition and then they move on to the next challenge.  Once they have lived and learned all there is no know about each location, they have reached “center” and they are no longer required to migrate.  Of all the indian tribes today, only the Hopi Indians feel they have reached “center.” Maybe that’s why they’ve lived on their plateaus for literally thousands of years.

You can find all our pictures here.

Solar Observatory and White Sands National Monument

Sunday, April 15, 2012

We woke to a beautiful day, the winds had all died down.  However, I could barely walk because my muscles were so sore from our caving adventures.  I managed to hobble to the car and we headed up into the mountains to the National Solar Observatory on Sacramento Peak.

It was pretty quiet on a Sunday morning but we did take the self guided tour.  It was interesting to see the equipment used to map the sunspots (the town all the scientists live in is Sunspot, NM, by the way), monitor solar winds and the sun’s corona, etc.  This location is one of only a handful worldwide that keeps track of solar weather.  It was built in the 1950’s. Some of the pictures I took are here.

We found a really fun local bar and grill for lunch. We figured it was good because it was so crowded we had to park about a block away along the edge of the highway.  I hobbled in.  They were playing twangy Christain music and everyone was dressed up, probably just coming from church.  I loved it.  The food was great, too.   One thing about food in New Mexico, EVERYTHING has chilis or peppers in some form.  Even for a simple hamburger or eggs, you have to request “no peppers” when you order.  I never get to eat food like that because Bob can’t eat peppers.  While he struggled a bit on this trip, I got to really enjoy food I normally wouldn’t.

Next, we headed to White Sands National Monument.  The picture above is of some picnic tables there.  It is an area of NM where the winds blow gypsum down from the mountains, which is pulverized on the way.  By the time it arrives at the bottom, it is as fine and white as talcum powder.  There is just enough moisture there to anchor the sand, so it doesn’t blow away.  Over about 10,000 years, quite a bit of the white sand has accumulated over about 250 miles.  It is so distinct from the surrounding areas that it is visible from space.  It blows around in huge dunes that move a couple inches a day in some places.

It was really strange to see great white dunes that looked like snow, but there were people sunbathing everywhere.  To make it more visually confusing, people were also sledding down the dunes.  In fact, the visitors center rents disc sleds for that purpose.  Also, instead of evergreens, the sand was punctuated here and there with cactus and yuccas.  It was amazing and lots of fun.  We didn’t do any sledding, but we did walk over the dunes.  The sand was hard packed enough that it was like walking on sand at the waterline of a beach.

If you’re ever in the Southwest, add White Sands to the list of things you must do. It’s a unique and interesting place. What’s more, it’s a lot of fun. It’s definitely worth making a detour to see.  Take your kids, you’ll all love it!  See all our pictures here.