December 1st – 9th 2018: Roswell & Carrizozo, NM
Although it had been nice to spend some time in one place, we were ready to get out of the Texas Panhandle before the next weather system came in. We headed off into New Mexico, buffeted by winds, giant tumbleweeds, and clouds of dust. Thankfully, the trailer handled very well, but the drive somehow seemed to get longer and longer.
By the time we approached Roswell, we were tired and the cats were cranky, so we decided to stop earlier than planned. Just as we were pulling into town, the dreaded “check engine” light came on, indicating a problem with the diesel exhaust system. We were grateful that at least it happened near the city, so we could get it into a local dealership on Monday.
Bottomless Lakes State Park, was our next stopover while we waited to get the truck fixed. After several miles of barren terrain, it was a pleasant surprise as the prairie suddenly dropped away beneath us. The final approach into the park descended into a winding, curvy, section revealing multiple sunken lakes – like hidden gems in the crispy, dried-up landscape. The sun was beginning to set, and the skies were spectacular as light reflected off the water and the surrounding golden rocks. Such a treat after the fairly empty, bland, desert ranch-land we’d spent all day driving past – mile after mile, with hardly a creature to be seen.
Our time in the city of Roswell was fairly limited, and mostly business related. First and foremost, we were there to get the truck repaired. That took a couple days, as parts had to be ordered. The good news was that it was covered under warranty, and we were also able to get a multi-point inspection, an oil change, and the tires rotated. Traveling like this put so many more miles on, much faster than anticipated – common sense really, but not something you are necessarily tuned into at first.
Roswell was interesting. They really do play up the alien thing – every hotel, fast food chain, gas station, and restaurant had little green men or spaceships out front, trying to entice customers. It was kind of funny at first, but then it seemed cheesy because it was so overdone. We were almost tempted to go to the UFO Museum downtown, but after reading a review that indicated that it was pretty amateur, and included lots of “pegboard displays, like in your grandpa’s garage”, we decided it wasn’t in our own best health interests. If it was mostly old (moldy?!) documents on display, and a hokey diorama or two – it wasn’t worth the risk. Not to mention – for some reason I always thought that Roswell was associated with Area 51. Nope. Turns out that’s two entirely different things/places.
We were waylaid about 5 days in the Roswell area, before being able to move on to our original destination which was Valley of Fires Recreational Area, in Carrizozo, NM. (Which ranks as a MUST SEE!) We had a relatively late start due to last minute errands and the annoyance of grocery shopping in strange stores. It is so hard to find things when every layout is completely different, and sometimes even nonsensical. Oodles of effort and time gets wasted in the search for brands and items that we know are safe for us, with all the additional food sensitivities we are dealing with. It means searching aisle after aisle for products, and then having to read item after item, if they don’t carry the brands we are looking for. Then after that level of effort, we often come away without the stuff we needed, because the store doesn’t carry a reliable substitute. It’s exhausting and maddening to say the least. Not to mention we both have continued to be highly reactive to exposures in stores, restaurants, and laundromats – causing further symptom flares and exhaustion that affects us for hours and sometimes days afterwards.
By the time we finally got to Valley of Fires, it was already getting late and we had to find a campsite in the dark. Luckily it was mid-week and there were plenty to choose from. In the morning we discovered that we’d happened to get the best spot in the park! Every site had covered picnic pavilions, electric and water hook-ups, as well as a campfire ring. Our campsite was tucked in behind a small hill, so it was more sheltered from the winds, a tad more private, and it had gorgeous views from every window. The park itself was amazing – it gets its name from how it was formed. The entire area – resulting from a volcanic eruption 5,000 years ago – is about 5 miles wide, 160 ft thick, and covers approximately 125 square miles. There was a well-executed, paved, nature trail leading down into the lava beds below, where you could walk amongst the black, swirly, terrain and see all the vegetation up close. It was truly like being on another planet!
Reserving two weeks at Valley of Fires made us excited to finally have a chance to settle in for a bit and get a real weekend to do some sightseeing. So far, we’d been moving on at a fairly steady pace, trying to beat the coming winter. This meant being on the road almost every day, or every few days, for the first month, without much chance to stop for exploration. Any spare time seemed to be taken up with doing laundry, getting groceries, refilling propane, figuring out package or mail forwarding, and staying on top of life in general, which included David being back to full-time (remote) work.
It didn’t take long to discover that Carrizozo was a decent size town, but it was fairly impoverished. There was a small “downtown” section that looked like people had made a valiant effort at recovery, but unfortunately it was off the beaten path so that most people were probably scared off before finding it. Although it was on the main highway, the only grocery store in town was run down, closed up, and for sale. Therefore, we had to backtrack up to Capitan for supplies, where we stumbled on the Smokey Bear Historical Park. Who knew that Smokey was a real bear?! The background and history of forest fire fighting was very interesting – we got only a brief overview though, since we had arrived shortly before closing on a Friday evening. Our spontaneous “night out” ended with some fairly mundane grocery shopping where we got to mingle with a few of the local ranchers.
Then the weekend was upon us, and we were ready to hit the road for adventure. This was the first time our journey had started to feel almost like a taste of adventure or maybe a slice of vacation, instead of a challenging new way of life – and that felt GREAT! First, we headed into the mountains to see Ruidoso and Ruidoso Downs. Clearly this is where the money is in this county… completely touristy and ritzy in comparison to where we were staying. The crisp mountain air felt good, but as usual, the stores – not so much. We did our best to steer clear of most places, but we did make a quick stop at the horse racetrack to get some pictures. It was really cool to be able to walk right out onto the track because it was off season and no one was around.
Then we headed down out of the mountains towards White Sands National Monument. (Also a MUST SEE!) It was a long drive, but well worth it. We got there late in the day, but because of it, we were able to take advantage of the beautiful lighting at sunset. We drove deep into the park and took a short walk amongst the sugar-like sand dunes, being careful to not get too far in. The park rangers were already on patrol, warning everyone via loudspeaker that they’d be closing the gates soon. Before leaving for “home”, we got some fun pictures of Doug, posing with his reflection in a puddle, like you might see in a GMC truck commercial. Such a spectacular backdrop!
The next day, we got up early and took off again – north this time, and on back roads through some really desolate ranch lands. We went up to the “Gran Quivera” section of the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument. The visitors center exhibits and the walking path gave a really good feel for the history. There had been ancient, thriving, Pueblo Indian settlements and trading posts here – until the Spanish Franciscan Missionaries came in and steamrolled the Natives. UGH. Two large churches were plunked down on top of the kivas, in a blatant attempt to smother the previous culture. Despite the unsettling feelings it brought up, it was really neat to see the remnants of both civilizations. We had finally gotten our old cameras out, but despite being freshly charged, my batteries failed almost immediately, (just like me… lol). David realized that his old camera strap might be affecting him – every time he used it, his symptoms flared.
Time passed far too quickly, and we had to skip the other two local Pueblo Mission sites in order to make it down to the Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge before sunset. We’d heard it was a MUST SEE – due to the bird migrations. It is well known for both snow geese and sandhill cranes, and sure enough we were treated to an incredible sight as the birds relocated to their nesting areas for the night. It felt as if we’d joined a community, as we stood amongst fellow photographers – both amateur and professional – all snapping pictures madly, and gaping in unison at the beauty displayed before us.
On our way towards the exit, bouncing down the bumpy, potholed, dirt roads within the preserve, we heard some clunky sounds coming from the truck. Maybe it was a wheel bearing? It didn’t sound right, but we had just given it a rigorous jouncing, so it wasn’t too surprising that maybe something had been jostled a bit loose. It sounded better on pavement, and then seemed to go away, so we pressed on without giving it much more thought. We drove on as dusk turned to dark, headed back east on US-380. It was about 60 miles to get back to the Valley of Fires, and our home, where the cats were eagerly awaiting their dinner.
The road was dark and lonely, with not a house to be seen for most of the journey. As it turns out, most of what we were passing through was the north end of the White Sands Missile Range, and the Trinity Site – which would totally explain the lack of civilization here. Just as we crested a large hill, still 20 miles out from the campground, things suddenly went wonky. There was a strange noise, and the truck started to shudder violently. Then came a HUGE CLUNK, followed by a dragging, scraping, metallic sound, as we veered towards the side of the road. I held my breath and gripped the seat as David successfully steered us to safety – out of the travel lane, but still on pavement – without going off into the gravel and who-knows-what, beyond the range of the headlights.
We sat there in silence for a moment, blinking, and wondering WTF just happened?! Whatever it was, was really NOT GOOD, and we were grateful that we were still upright and in one piece. When we got out to look, we discovered that Doug’s rear, driver’s-side axle was on the ground. The entire wheel was missing… it had flown off at 70 mph into the surrounding pitch-black desert. A quick walk up the road and back revealed nothing, and David set about trying to access the spare tire. But alas – the spare tire mechanism was jammed up and the tire wouldn’t release.
It was shocking to find that a vast majority of vehicles did not stop to help us. Dozens and dozens of cars flew by without slowing down or even moving over. Eventually a few people did ask if we needed help, and tried to look for our missing wheel for us, but to no avail. We wound up still sitting there, 3 hours later, waiting for a tow truck to come to the rescue. Finally, “Lucky” arrived to save the day, and immediately we knew we were in capable hands. We were exhausted, cold, and hungry, but we were so incredibly grateful that we hadn’t been pulling the 5th wheel at the time. It could have been so much worse – with very serious damage to the truck, the trailer, and even ourselves.