Friday, October 24, 2014

Two Wedding Triangle Trip

There's nothing like a good adventure to finally spark a new blog post.

We've just returned from an epic 5,000 mile adventure that included 13 states, two weddings, the Balloon Fiesta, and one lesson learned the hard way.  I can't wait to tell you about it.

First, we headed to my Grandma and Granddad's house, in Fort Worth, TX.

Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge
Fort Worth, Texas

"Everything is bigger in Texas" isn't a phrase I would use to describe the trees in Texas.  Short and scrubby is our family favorite description.  The Fort Worth Nature center is a haven much different than the typical  Texas topography.  It's a real forest, with tall trees, and actual shade. A refuge for prairie dogs, buffaloes, bobcats, and owls; the animals are really just a bonus to the lush vegetation.

In the visitor's center is a modest display of newspaper articles from the summer of 1969 when the infamous bigfoot goatman  was spotted on the nature center's own Greer Island;  an event  now celebrated every year in October with the Lake Worth Monster Bash.

After a short break to deliver Grandma to her hair appointment, we headed back to the nature center to explore Greer Island. There, we found a nice cluster of persimmon trees.

No other cars in the parking lot. The city sounds were far away.  Not another soul in site.  We felt brave for tromping past the "no molesting the alligators" sign.   Yes, very brave and adventurous until a hearing large splash not far from us.  Lake Worth Monster? Alligator? We weren't sticking around to find out.  We finished exploring the island with haste. 

Before leaving the Fort Worth area, we scored a front row parking space at my cousin's cowboy wedding.  My uncle hoped the cows wouldn't bother us too much.  No worries there.  We were charmed.  Besides, I'm almost convinced they were mooing so a certain little girl would come and feed them bits of hay from her hand.

Cows, horses, she's not particular.  I heard a rumor that she saved carrots from the wedding reception to feed to my cousin's horse.

Our cowboy wedding over, we hitched up our wagon and headed west toward Guadalupe Mountain and Carlsbad National Parks.  We'd been warned about how monotonous the drive through west Texas might be.  "The sun is risen, the sun is set and here we is in Texas yet."

Speed limits signs with larger numbers than we'd ever seen, strange buildings and trucks of oil industry importance, a place new and interesting to us, this wild wild west.  We weren't bored!

We were awed by oil industry sprawl, mile after mile!  In Midland (a Texas oil mecca for certain) we stopped for coffee, at Starbucks.  Bulletin board flyers advertised whole fracking crews for hire.  "Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore."

Sometime after Midland, and after Pecos I started to feel unsettled about the amount of gas in our tank.  We were about to turn onto the 652 road, a 58 mile road with no services.  Already, we saw few vehicles, all of them connected to the oil industry.  There was oil everywhere but not a drop to guzzle!  Just before our turn we noticed a fleet refueling station that was open to the public.  Whew!

Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Carlsbad, New Mexico

For our visit to Carlsbad, we stayed for two nights at Guadalupe Mountain National Park's Pine Springs campground. Pine Springs is about 35 miles south of Carlsbad Caverns. 

It was still plenty dark outside at my east-coast morning time. What an amazing sky full of stars!  Even a shooting star.

Guadalupe National Park, you're just showing off with that sunrise.

Then back to the trailer to change for our day at Carlsbad. 

Before we could get from the car to the trailer two different neighbors wanted to know all about our trailer.  We talked to them for quite a little while then left for Carlsbad (an hour behind schedule, gasp!)

Just outside of the Carlsbad Park entrance, we stopped at the only restaurant in town to try our first breakfast burritos. 

White City is a one horse town by any definition.

In spite of trailer tours and breakfast burritos, we somehow managed to get in all of the cave tours we planned for the day (Natural Entrance, Big Room, King's Palace and evening bat viewing.) 

Taking the self-guided Natural Entrance Tour we made our way down...


...until finally there was only a sliver of outside light.

In the "lunchroom" (a bit of a misnomer these days) we rested while the girls worked on Jr. Ranger books.

Then, the self-guided Big Room tour.

One interesting thing to note about this photograph is the green light in the background.  There were no colored lights at Carlsbad but this anomaly photobombs many of my Carlsbad pictures.

After the ranger-led King's Palace Tour, we exited though the lunchroom.

Up the elevator. 

I can't quite get over the strangeness of an elevator in a cave but I sure like the convenience. 

Early visitors to Carlsbad were lowered into the cave in buckets.  Not just any bucket, but buckets formally used for mining bat guano.  (No thanks.  We'll take the elevator.)

From the visitor's center, we explored the nature trail leading toward the natural entrance where we watched a whirl of bats begin their day.

No photographs or electronics of any kind allowed.  A rule enforced by a uniformed officer.

Monday night, back at Guadalupe, Brian and I stepped out of the trailer and another (new) neighbor quickly came over.  He was from Decatur, GA.  It's a crazy small world sometimes!

Guadalupe Mountain National Park
Salt Flat, Texas

Tuesday we hiked at Guadalupe before heading back to Carlsbad.

Devil's Hall Trail
Such an amazing place. 

Such an unforgiving desert.

This place reminds us that we are tiny and insignificant.  

Two days before our arrival this trail was still closed because of flooding the week before.

How much water was left when we hiked?
Only two small pools of water.

This might be the desert.

After our hike, we hitched up and headed back to Carlsbad for one last ranger-led tour.

At Carlsbad, Brian and I grabbed some coffee at the visitor center (actual) lunchroom, when we noticed a group of people with name tags.  We snagged a table close by and introduced ourselves to the WBCCI folks as fellow Airstream owners.   "Oh, is that your shiny trailer in the parking lot?  We wondered who that belonged to."  They weren't on their way to the Balloon Rally in Albuquerque like we assumed.  In fact, they were on a bonafide WBCCI Caravann, a tour of Texas (in New Mexico.) What a nice group of people who seemed like they were having a great time.  We didn't have much time to chat though.  We had to rush off for our tour.
We're so glad we saved the "Left Hand Tunnel Tour" for last.  Candle lanterns, a natural cave floor, and stories about the first cave explorers made this tour a real treat.

Until next time, Carlsbad.

White Sands National Monument
Alamogordo, New Mexico

White Sands National Monument only has camping for backpackers, a topic of much discussion before our arrival.  It was discussed so much, in fact, that we brought our camp mats "just in case." Nevermind that the four of us haven't slept in a tent together since our trip to Hawaii four years ago. Is sleeping in the middle of the desert a good idea? We knew it could get pretty cold at night.

After talking to the ranger Wednesday morning we decided to get a backpacking permit.  We bought sleds for riding the dunes then loaded them up with our stuff for the night.

Up and down, up and down.

The mile to our campsite was an unexpected workout.

Indeed, our tent was a little more cozy than the last time we all used it but not enough to be a problem.  Our winter sleeping bags kept us plenty warm.  So glad we decided to stay the night!

It's only possible to slide down the east side of the sand dunes.  That meant that heading back to the parking lot in the morning was much easier.

What's making those interesting tracks?

It's a stick bug!

Home again, home again. Jiggity jig.

Off to the Balloon Fiesta we go...