Thursday night, we called another audible. (When she read the previous post, Therese had no idea what “call an audible” meant. Now that she knows, she’s become quite fond of the expression and of calling them). We had planned to go camp near Carlsbad Caverns, in the southeast corner of New Mexico, but being that we have already been to one cave on this trip, we decided to visit Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument instead, which is in Las Cruces, in southwestern New Mexico. We called Hacienda RV Resort; they had a space for two nights, so we enthusiastically signed up, blithely sacrificing our deposit at Carlsbad KOA. Only then did Therese check her trusty smart phone to discover that it’s a 600 mile trip from Marble Falls to Las Cruces. So we set our alarm and got up early enough to be all hitched up for travel by 6:49 am – a new personal best.
All but 20 miles of the drive were in the great big state of Texas. The first part of the trip was through the Texas hill country on route 281 and then route 290. Both are nice drives through picturesque peach orchards and wineries, with a few small towns (Therese declared Fredericksburg, in particular, was “cute” – I’m sure the town fathers are thrilled with that description). Both roads were mostly 4 lane, with a few 2-lane sections, and very little traffic. There was some construction going on in Fredericksburg, and I think I owe them for one smooshed traffic cone. They can put it on my tab along with the fine for the traffic light where I may have stretched the yellow a little thin. In Texas, they post high speed limits, and for large parts of both 281 and 290, it was 75 mph. That’s a little fast for the motorhome, but there are plenty of pickup trucks and cars that take full advantage of it.
Then we got on Interstate 10 west, and stayed on it for the remaining approximately 530 miles. The speed limit on I-10 is 80 mph, and there is very little traffic through the western part of Texas. You can see why – it is totally desolate. Scrub mesquite (I think) trees about 10 feet high, with fairly steep 200-400 foot flat topped hills, maybe a half mile long scattered about. I don’t know what geologic condition created those hills, but they repeat over hundreds of miles. The population density must be in fractions of a person per square mile, since for miles you can’t see any evidence of human habitation at all. You are also continuously climbing. Marble Falls is about 800’ above mean sea level, and our GPS altitude displayed as high as 4600 feet msl. That, combined with a stiff headwind for part of the time, and higher travel speed, resulted in our worse gas mileage to date when we filled up in Fort Stockton, 6.35. That’s pretty pathetic compared to the 7.3 we had recorded on the way to Marble Falls in comparatively flat terrain.
About the only thing that looked like a profitable use of the western Texas land was planting windmills on top of the above-mentioned hills, and there were hundreds of them. We also happened to see three trucks carrying what I am pretty sure were the blades of one of those windmills. They were at a rest stop on the other side of the interstate, so we only got a brief look as we went by the other way, but they appeared to be about 75’ long, with a wing chord of 12 feet or so. They have an interesting twist to them also, much like an airplane propeller. You don’t get an adequate sense of their scale when you see them turning on the top of hills.
The difficulty of driving the Dutch Star is highly affected by winds. If there is a significant crosswind, you really need to pay attention to keep it going where you want. When the wind dies down, as it did in the afternoon, it is much more stable. Luckily, not only was the traffic light for most of the drive, the winds died down after lunch and it was a pretty easy drive. We kept it between 69 and 72 mph, which it was able to hold for all but the steepest uphill parts.
The lack of traffic came to an abrupt end in El Paso, which is near the Texas – New Mexico state line. We got there about 3:20 (we gained an hour as we transitioned to mountain time about halfway), but it was already busy. They are also doing construction on I-10 through there, so the lanes were narrow, there were lots of big trucks to the left and right, and it was white-knuckle time for Barry, while Therese blissfully slept through it, oblivious to possible disaster.
Las Cruces is right past the state line, and we arrived at the campground at about 3:45, with the odometer reading 3932, Those 599 miles shattered our previous record of 545. The campground is pretty nice – the sites are pretty close together as you can see from the picture, but it is run like a well-oiled machine.
We had our first motorhome malfunction today. The passenger seat moves up and down and front and back electrically, and there’s also a footrest that comes out, recliner-style, that Therese likes to put up while we are on the road, since her short little legs otherwise don’t reach the floor. It was working in the morning, but inexplicably all motion stopped mid-day. So far I haven’t been able to find a fuse that is blown, or anything else obviously wrong. I put in a call to Newmar, but it was after their business hours and I declined to have it forwarded it to their “emergency” line. The hardships we are enduring can only be compared to those of the pioneers crossing the same ground in their covered wagons. It was 90 degrees by the time we got to Hacienda RV Park, so I certainly hope our air conditioners don’t give out on us.
On Saturday, we headed out at about 8:45 for a day of tourist activities in the vicinity of Las Cruces. On the way to our first stop, Dripping Springs Visitor Center of the Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument, we were on the lookout for a car wash because our Jeep was really disgustingly dirty from being towed behind the rig in the rain. We spotted a little sign for one of those sports team $5 car washes and circled back to give it a whirl. If your car is only ordinarily dirty, those things generally make it worse, but with the level of filth on the Jeep, it could only get better. We gave them $15 on the theory that we had 3 times as much dirt as an average car, and in hope that they would take a little more than the usual slapdash care. And in fact it came out looking at least reasonably clean – a huge improvement. Unfortunately, part of the road to the Dripping Springs Visitor Center was gravel, so it got a little dusty, particularly in back. But even so it was much better than before. I’m going to dry-wash it using Optimum No Rinse this evening to get it looking good, at least until the next rain.
Organ Mountains Desert Peaks was designated a National Monument in 2014. It is composed of almost 500,000 acres in three or four discontiguous parcels, showcasing the southern Rocky Mountains. The part we went to, Dripping Springs, is north east of Las Cruces, and I think it is the most popular part.
The OMDPNM is run by the Bureau of Land Management, and they man the visitor center. There are a number of trails from there, and we took the 3-mile Dripping Springs trail, which is a well maintained gravel trail with an elevation gain of 500 feet (from about 5400’ to 5900’). It is at the foot of the Organ Mountains, which rise steeply from the relatively flat Las Cruces (elevation 3900’) to just over 9000’.
The late morning hike was great – the scenery was fantastic (out pictures do not come close to doing it justice), and the weather was a picture-perfect sunny 77 degrees with a pleasant breeze. I haven’t said much about the weather in these posts, and that’s because I haven’t really had to. We had some rain one day when we were travelling, but otherwise it’s been remarkably pleasant. Austin and San Antonio were cloudy with rain threatening, but it never materialized. Most of the other days have been clear or scattered clouds. The temperatures have been 70’s and 80’s and very comfortable. May must be one of the most pleasant months to visit the southern states.
The springs were indeed dripping, but just barely, as this is a dry time of year around here (in fact, they get only 10 inches of rain a year, most of that coming in the summer months). Near the springs is the ruins of the Van Patten Hotel, a tourist destination in the late 1800’s. It was pretty small, but I guess was something reasonably special in its day.
Several different varieties of cactus and what Therese declared to be Yucca plants are in bloom this time of year, so we got some pictures of them.
On balance, we were really glad to have gone to this lesser-known National Monument rather than Carlsbad Caverns, which surely would have been far more crowded on a weekend day.
From there, we drove the 45 miles to White Sands National Monument, which is managed by the National Park Service. This is a much more well-known destination, and there were quite a few people there. The White Sands are gypsum, formed by minerals dissolving in rains from nearby mountains, flowing down to a flat-bottom pool, and then evaporating during the dry season. The mineral deposits are fairly fragile and not very heavy, and when the wind gets up to about 15 mph, they start blowing around and bang into each other until they are quite white very fine grained sand. The dunes are very new in geological terms, only 10,000 years old. They are continually shifting and reform, particularly the more recently formed dunes. Adaptable vegetation stabilizes the older dunes and then they don’t move as much.
Unlike almost all others, White Sands is a “please touch” type of park. They let you freely roam around on the sand dunes, since they know that your footsteps will be erased in the next strong breeze. There were people “sledding” down the edge of the dunes on round discs, but it’s a pretty short ride, since the tallest dunes are about 30-40 feet high. The shape of the dunes is interesting – the wind is generally from the southwest, and they slope fairly gently from that direction until they get to a point where the opposite face collapses fairly steeply down to the underlying ground. You can cause a mini-avalanche by stepping on the peak, and the sand flows smoothly downward, sometimes all the way down to the bottom. There’s an eight-mile drive through the dunes, with about 5 miles paved and the rest plowed through the sand. The sand part is packed down pretty hard except the places where fresh sand has blown onto it. For some reason the fresh sand tends to make a washboard surface that shakes the heck out of your car, but it is still fun to drive on. Unfortunately, our pictures of White Sands didn’t come out well – I guess it was simply too bright for the camera to compensate for.
On the way back to Las Cruces, we considered stopping at the White Sands Missile Center Museum, but it was getting late and we decided that we were touristed out.
We returned to a nice clean motorhome – there’s a guy, Sal, who will detail your rig while you’re staying at Hacienda RV Resort, so we called him Friday night to see if he could do it while we were gone. He did, and it looks great again. It’s a great deal for the $90 he charged. For some reason, we had picked up far fewer bugs driving the 1150 miles through Louisiana and Texas than we did on the 300 miles of western Florida, Alabama and Mississippi, but there were still plenty and they’re all gone now. The wheels are all nice and shiny, and he even cleaned up the tires. Now we’ll have a clean rig until we encounter the next rain.
We went out for dinner to a Mexican restaurant in historic Las Cruces. Quite tasty and authentic enough for Therese’ discerning Mexican taste.
Overall, Las Cruces is bigger and nicer than we expected. There are some very nice parts of it, and it seems to be growing and prospering. There’s also a lot of stuff to do beyond what we could do in one day – I think you could enjoy three or four days here.