After Texas, we entered New Mexico. I had visions of vast nothingness, filled with sand, millions of cacti and the odd American Indian. I was close, but it’s much more beautiful and interesting than that. We started off in the South East at a place called Carlsbad (not Carlsberg unfortunately). Carlsbad Caverns National Park covers 73sq miles and includes 100 underground caves – that’s all we knew before we got there. When we got there I rushed us in, bought 2 tickets and we were off to the cave mouth to do a 2 and a half hour walk down 800ft underground. We hadn’t even got to the cave mouth entrance when we were told that a group of noisy school kids were about to start the walk down and that we might be better off taking the elevator down, doing the loop walk down in the cavern and coming back later. We walked back to the visitor centre and got in line for the elevator to take us down 800 feet!! For those who need a relative distance, that’s as tall as the Stratosphere Tower in Las Vegas or two and a half times of Big Ben – it’s a long way down. Your ears pop and it takes about 15 seconds to get all the way down. Once at the bottom we stepped out and saw the most incredible sight ever. To describe it, it’s one mammoth chamber 1800 ft long and 255 ft high, with lots of big caves and ‘rooms’, and takes around an hour to walk around on a specially laid path. There are amazing stalactites hanging all around you, some bigger than you, numerous ‘lakes’ and even a ‘bottomless pit’ (proved not to be bottomless years after it was first discovered). We did the whole hour loop walk, and were totally and utterly astounded by its beauty and sheer enormity. Because it is underground it is very dark, but it is lit perfectly, is incredibly quiet with wonderful acoustics and all you hear is people whispering and the water dripping creating the incredible stalactites.
The story doesn’t end there though. After we took the elevator back up to the top, I decided we should do the 2 mile walk back down from the cave mouth and take the elevator back up again. The walk down is 2 miles, very steep and windy (lots of curves, not wind!). It’s a tough walk down with lots of smaller crevices to walk through but stunning. Soon after we were at the bottom and getting the elevator to the top. All in all a terrific place and I really would suggest you see it if you find yourself near New Mexico.
The next day, again not knowing much about it, we turned up at the White Sands National Monument. We paid our entrance fee, watched a quick 10 minute orientation video at the visitor’s centre and then jumped into the car to take a drive around the park which is filled with beautiful white sand dunes. The sand is so pure and white it looks like snow, but when you touch it is far more course than you expect. The road through the dunes is quite narrow and covered in white sand and you can stop at various places to take a walk on the dunes, look at the plant life or animals that live on them or just take photos. It is a breathtaking experience and one that we absolutely did not expect. I urge you to look it up online it really is stunning.
Continuing on our journey through New Mexico, we stopped in Santa Fe for a couple of hours on our way north towards Utah. Santa Fe is a wonderful town with lovely Mexican architecture and a great vibe about it. It’s known as quite an arty town and is filled with lovely galleries and lots and lots of jewelry shops selling beautiful turquoise gems. There is a cute little square in the middle of town with street sellers and taco carts and a very pretty church which holds the oldest statue of the Madonna in the USA. Unfortunately though when we went in to see it the church was closed due to a wedding being in progress. The other unfortunate element was the rain that hadn’t stopped since the morning. In fact, so far we hadn’t had much luck with the weather and I was constantly driving through torrential rain.
It did hold off however, long enough for us to be able to walk around for a while before we headed to Taos Pueblo. This little town was built around AD1450 and has been continuously inhabited ever since. It is also the largest existing multistoried pueblo structure in the USA and one of the best surviving examples of traditional adobe construction. Although they charge you to go in to see it and try and sell you all kinds of overpriced souvenirs, it really is fascinating and beautiful and you can’t believe people actually still live there! Their tiny church is just gorgeous too. It’s big enough to hold around 30 people and has stunning glass windows and a minister who visits from Taos to take services each week. We took a quick walk around and lots of photos and decided to get on our way – we had lots to do that day!
Straight afterwards we drove a few miles to see the 2nd highest suspension bridge in the USA – the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. I wasn’t too impressed as we drove up to it, or even as we got closer. But let me tell you, you only get the whole effect when you walk over it!! It was incredibly high up over the gorge and didn’t feel particularly safe as cars were speeding straight past you making the whole thing bounce up and down. But the view is truly amazing and so worth a visit.
After that it was a quick stop at the San Francisco de Asis Chruch in Ranchos de Taos. It was built in the mid 18th century but didn’t open until 1815 for some reason. It was tiny, made out of what looked like just mud and water and was in a cute little street that now had a few houses and a shop on it. All very odd, but incredibly pretty.
Our last stop in New Mexico was the Four Corners National Monument.
If you think so far I’ve mentioned rather a lot of national this and national that’s then you’d be right. In fact there are 8 different national parklands in the USA! Check out the list:
National Recreation Area
National Historic Park
National Historic Site
National Military Park
So, you may be hearing a few of these over the next 6 weeks!
Anyway, the Four Corners National Monument is where 4 state corners all meet at one point – New Mexico (South East), Colorado (North East), Utah (North West) and Arizona (South West). When we arrived it was packed. We were mid Memorial Day Weekend so everywhere was incredibly busy for 4 days. We parked up and joined the queue to have our photo taken right on the four corners marker. Quite underwhelming when you actually do it, plus the joy was sucked out of us having read a few weeks ago that they have now discovered that the marker is about 40 miles out of where it should be, so I kinda knew I was standing in the wrong place! However, we did get to try the famous Navajo frybread which is like a popodom shaped fried taco with powdered sugar on top – just delicious! There were also many Navajo people with stalls selling tomahawks, jewelry, dream catchers and other souvenirs which we took a stroll around.
Close by is the entrance to the Monument Valley. Now this place is cool as well as a bit eery. As you get closer you notice that you are driving on an incredibly straight road with flat red nothingness around until you see these huge rock monuments in front of you. They look like huge statues coming out of the ground. Again, to get in and take a drive around you need to pay, which we duly did, and then stopped at the only restaurant to have some lunch and had an amazing view of the valley with stunning rock formations all around us. We took lots of amazing photos and then drove the 5 mile road to take a closer look. But actually, what you realize is that you’re better off seeing it and appreciating it from a distance instead of paying money to be closer. You’re too close to take photos and the potential damage to your car could be expensive thanks to the unpaved dirt track they called a road!
We started driving west towards Zion National Park, our last stop before Vegas, but 10 minutes after leaving Monument Valley we got caught driving through a sandstorm. We’d seen the stereostypical tumbleweeds on the road but this was something else. The wind suddenly picked up, the sand started flying off the ground either side of the road and suddenly you couldn’t even see the bonnet of your car. I was driving at about 3 miles per hour. We also had a huge truck behind us which was comforting as they were obviously used to these types of weather changes and kept driving as well. Unfortunately, a few moments later he over took us and we were suddenly all on our own, a very lonely place in the middle of a desert sandstorm! I’m happy to say though; we made it through and came out the other side wiser and stronger! But it wasn’t pleasant at all.
The next day we drove it to Zion National Park and we weren’t disappointed. As we drove down into the valley towards the town of Springdale we were surrounded by enormous, beautiful white, pink and red rock. The drive winds around miles of the rocks until you reach a one way 3 mile tunnel which goes through the rock to the other side where the actual park is and where you can do all types of hikes and trails and other activities. There are plenty of gorgeous B&B’s, shops and restaurants and a special tram service that takes you from the town and runs through the park dropping you off at certain points for all the different hikes and trails. We picked up a map and drove out to find somewhere to stay for the night and come up with a plan of action for the next day.
We woke up early, put on our stunning walking gear, parked at the visitor centre and hopped on the tram ready to jump off at Zion lodge to do the carefully chosen Emerald Pools hike. You can just ride the 90 minute tram that takes you all through the park instead of hiking, but seeing as we there we wanted to do a gentle but fulfilling walk. The map said this trail was “easy” with stunning views and a waterfall. Two minutes in, I decided that someone was lying when they said it was easy, then realized that I hadn’t been walking in a few weeks, but had swapped that sport with cheeseburger eating instead, so was finding it a bit tough. I eased into it though and a few minutes later it leveled out and we found ourselves a couple of hundred feet up and walking through a great forest area towards a waterfall we could hear in the distance. When we arrived it was beautiful, a big waterfall falling off stunning red rock into one of the 3 emerald pools on the trail. We took some wonderful photos and video footage and then wondered back down the other side of the loop trail. We hopped onto the tram again and stopped off at the famous Narrows trail (the most popular in the park) which took us around an hour to do and then on our way out stopped for a truly deserved lunch where I tried buffalo for the first time (it’s delicious). It’s a shame we didn’t have longer to spend at Zion as you could spend a week there and not see everything, but hopefully we’ll came back again once day.
The next day on our way to Vegas, we stopped off at Hoover Dam. I was very keen to see it as I think it as an amazing feat of engineering. Sally on the other hand couldn’t have cared less. According to Sally it’s a dam – enough said. We paid a ridiculous fee for the most boring and ridiculous ‘tour’ ever. It took 90 minutes and all we saw was the inside of 2 elevators (which took 10 minutes to load each time because they stuffed 50 people into them), the powerplant room and some other room with pipes running through it, and waited in line for the elevators for 30 minutes of the tour, I’m not kidding! It was terrible. But the dam really needs to be seen from the top and from there it’s an amazing sight. We took a walk around the top of the dam took some photos and left for Vegas.
Vegas is a whole other blog so will stop here for today.
Bye for now.