Thursday, 9/9: Driving
After my workout, I drove down to Houston, dicked around a bit at REI (my candy store) and did some last minute packing. We left the house at 4:30 or so and drove straight to Fort Stockton. We got there around midnight and stayed at a hotel, even though it felt great outside.
Friday, 9/10: More Driving, Carlsbad Caverns, Carlsbad, Cloudcroft
We woke up pretty early, showered and ate, and started the drive into New Mexico. We ended up at Carlsbad Caverns National Park about two hours later. It was around 80 outside, but with the wind and low humidity I was perfectly fine in pants and a long sleeve shirt.
We did both of the self-guided tours through the caverns (natural entrance and big room) which covered about 2.5 miles and took about two hours. I had never been to a cave system that big, so obviously I thought it was pretty neat. It felt great down there too – one of the signs said it was about 56 degrees on average.
After our tour of the caverns, we headed into Carlsbad for some lunch at No Whiner Diner and then finished up the two hour drive into Cloudcroft. The view out there was absolutely spectacular. We were right in the middle of the Sacramento Mountains and the sky was so ridiculously blue. Cloudcroft is a pretty small town with a population of something like 700, but there’s a lot of cool little shops to check out. After a quick look around, we drove a few miles outside of town to our Silver Campground. We found a pretty nice spot and set up camp, made some dinner, and hit the sack.
Saturday, 9/11: Mountain Biking, Alamagordo, Sunspot, Bluff Springs
I didn’t sleep well Friday night, but that’s pretty much the norm for me these days. It got down into the low 40’s and while I wasn’t freezing, I wasn’t exactly warm either.
After a nice freeze dried breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon (and of course some Starbucks Via instant coffee), I put on my mountain bike tires and changed into my bike gear. My mom dropped me off at the Rim Trail trailhead and I was off. Except not really. My front tire was flat. After swapping out the ****ty tube with a new one, I was off for real.
The first two miles of the trail were relatively easy, lots of ups and downs followed by consistent climbing. By the time I hit about 8600′, the view of Haynes Canyon was gorgeous. Unfortunately, everything went downhill at this point. The trail is only marked at each mile, and because I was a bit anxious and excited, I stupidly took the wrong path. I spent about 30 minutes hiking my bike (more like sliding, grabbing roots and trying not to die) about a quarter mile and 200 feet down. While I was starting to suspect that this wasn’t actually the trail, as it was ridiculously steep and poorly marked, I wasn’t completely sure until the little path I was following disappeared entirely.
At this point, I’m thinking FML. I spent the next 30 minutes (at least) attempting to scramble back up to the starting point. Let me tell you, this was not at all fun. It was so damn steep, I thought for sure I was going to eat it. I did eat it a few times and I’ve got the cuts and bruises to show for it, but luckily I didn’t tumble off the side. As I approached the top, I heard voices. After a pleasant chat with a couple of hikers, I set off on the real Rim Trail.
I spent the next few miles going up and down over a somewhat rocky trail. The downhills were exhilarating and the uphills were technical and fun. And then I hit the uphill to beat all other uphills. I spent 1.5 miles gaining close to 1000′ (from 8200′ to 9200′). There were no downhills and very few flats. It was a constant uphill, subtle but challenging, with no breaks. The rocks were much worse along this portion of the trail, and I probably spent just as much time off the bike as I did on the bike.
I finally hit the intersection of 636, which is actually a little dirt road. I decided at this point I was about down with all of this ridiculous climbing business and called my mom to inform her that I’d be at 636 and Sunspot Scenic Byway in a few minutes. A mile later, I arrived. Unfortunately, my mom couldn’t find me. Thinking positively, I decided this was the perfect opportunity for some scenic road riding. Even though I had mountain bike tires on filled to only 30psi, the riding was a lot of fun.
After we made it back into town, I downed some very tasty beef enchiladas from the Western Bar and Grill. We then decided to drive out to Alamagordo to look around the New Mexico Museum of Space History. The drive out took us down 4000′ along one of the most dangerous highways in the state. We were, however, rewarded with astonishing views from all sides. The museum was really neat and we learned a lot of great stuff. I totally aced the shuttle landing simulation on hard difficulty. Yep. And the view of the Tularosa Basin from the museum was very pretty. The desert is such a pretty place, despite what everyone seems to think.
After the museum, we drove back into the mountains and down the Sunspot Scenic Byway to the Sunspot Observatory. It was a bit lame, so we only stayed for a few minutes. We hit up Bluff Springs next, a neat little stream leading to a 50ft waterfall. By now, we were both sick of driving, so we went back into Cloudcroft for dinner at The Pit Barbecue. Delicious. Very creamy mashed potatoes.
I slept much better this time around. I was really dreading leaving the next day, so I stayed up for quite a while reading.
Sunday, 9/12: Trail Run, Hike, Roswell
I was up and going around 6:15am. After a quick snack of peanuts, I took off from the Little Apachhe trailhead. I saw some elk, an animal I had never seen before. After about two miles, I was just about ready to die. I decided to walk for a while because the trail became a massive uphill, just as the Rim Trail had. I ended up passing by several intersections and a couple miles later was very lost and about to **** my pants. Literally.
This feeling left me unable to run, and being so far away from camp, that was no bueno. After much debate, I decided to drop a package a few yards off the trail. This was a new experience for me and I must say, I’m not a fan. Leaves just don’t have the same efficiency as toilet paper.
Feeling quite relieved, I took off back down the trail, the way I had come. I managed to navigate my way back into camp about 45 minutes later. The total time for my run/hike was a little over an hour and a half, and probably something like 6 miles.
Happy to be back at the campground, I walked over to the main area of the camp for a much needed shower. It was wonderful. I somberly packed everything up and we loaded the truck, ready to go. We stopped at Big Daddy’s Diner in Cloudcroft for a filling breakfast and then parked a few miles up at Trestle Recreation Area. We hiked about two miles, checked out some old railroad trestles, and hopped back into the truck to start the drive to Roswell. This portion of the trip yielded the most spectacular views, especially when Sierra Blanco (just under 12000′) came into view. At this point, I know I’m in love with the mountains.
We made it into Roswell around 2:30pm and went straight to the UFO Museum. Although a bit cheesy, this was actually one of the highlights of the trip. We found out some really interesting stuff about the 1947 crash and had a few hearty laughs at the “air balloon and test dummy” jokes. After an hour in the museum, we drove down 285 to Farley’s for lunch. I had some amazing meat lover’s pizza.
Sidenote – The beginning of my around-the-country bike trip next year will start on 285, so it was pretty neat to see the road I’d be spending a few hundred miles on in a few months.
We left Roswell at around 4:30pm and drove back down to Fort Stockton to stay the night. We made it back into Houston on Monday around 4:00pm. Overall, this was an absolutely fantastic trip. I love New Mexico, and I hope to visit again soon.