First, the good news for those of you who have been unable to sleep from the horror of the passenger seat malfunction preventing Therese from putting her feet up while enroute – Saturday evening, I went to the nearest Lowe’s and bought a multimeter. With that, I was able to determine that the seat was not getting power from the coach. So, I decided to look harder for a blown fuse. Sure enough, hidden behind the black cover in the picture below, there are more fuses, including one for the passenger seat.
Sunday morning, I bought a replacement fuse (and some spares, of course) from a nearby Autozone. So Therese’ Mother’s Day present was a functional seat. Now you (and sometimes Therese, while on the open road) can sleep easy.
Our destination today was the American RV Resort, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which about 240 miles north of Las Cruces. Almost the entire trip was on Interstate 25. We proceeded at a leisurely 65 mph, 10 mph below the 75 posted limit. Traffic was light, and in particular there seemed to be far fewer trucks than usual. We took a few pictures on the road this time, which we haven’t been doing. The terrain is very different from what is considered scenic on the east coast – desert with almost no trees to speak of, but with impressive mountains in the distance.
The few towns that are on the way look like they are dying out – probably most young people there can’t wait to grow up enough to escape to someplace a bit more lively.
About 10 miles outside Albuquerque, we filled up the rig (7.0 mpg this time). Traffic picked up near Albuquerque, which of course is a pretty good-sized city. American RV Resort is on the southwestern side of it. When we pulled into our campsite, the odometer read 4174, so we covered an easy 242 miles. The campground is pretty densely packed, but we liked the fact that they have planted trees (practically the only ones for miles around) between the sites. The trees are a nice mixture of species, and they look to be 15 years old or so. The park owners must have their hands full keeping them alive in this arid climate.
Sunday evening, we got together Dawna Prahl Haley, an old friend from West Chester, where her son Ian and our son Thomas were in preschool together. About 10 years ago, she moved to Santa Fe, which is about an hour northeast of Albuquerque. We went out to dinner at a local Mexican restaurant that was quite good, and we had only a short wait despite the fact that it was Mother’s Day. It was great to catch up with her, and to hear her resident’s view of New Mexico and its quirks.
Monday morning, we set out for a day of sightseeing, in absolutely perfect weather conditions – mid-70’s, sunny and breezy. Our first stop was the Petroglyph National Monument. There, on an easy three-mile hike, you can see where indigenous tribes (and later, Spanish settlers) scratched designs and pictures into basalt volcanic rock. Some are purported to be three or four hundred years old, which they can apparently tell from the level of oxidation of the scratched surfaces.
To tell the truth, I’d skip this stop if we had it to do over. Trigger warning: skip the rest of this paragraph if you are easily offended by non-politically correct speech. To me, the Petroglyphs were about as impressive (actually maybe less so) than modern day graffiti. The signs say they have deep cultural significance to some of the tribes, but if that is the best they could do for artwork, then I hope they were better at something else. This is well after Michaelangelo sculpted the Pieta, and they’re scratching rocks? I personally suspect that these were either actually done by the young hooligans of the tribe blowing off steam as young hooligans have done since the beginning of time, or some hoax has been propagated on the unsuspecting public to make these things look old. Look at the pictures and judge for yourself. If you’re visiting the area, my advice is to spend time elsewhere.
We had a bit of a mishap at Petroglyph – in an attempt to take our daily allotment of one selfie, I nearly dropped the camera. I caught it, but in the process squished the lens in a bit. It is still working, but making a bit of a grinding noise when focusing and zooming in or out. At this point, we’re not sure whether it’s going to go the distance.
After Petroglyph National Monument, we went to El Malpais National Monument, which is about 70 miles west of Albuquerque, on Interstate 40 near Grants, NM. By the way, as far as I can tell, I-40 coincides with what used to be the famous Route 66, since we saw signs proclaiming “Historic Route 66” both in Grants and Albuquerque. But the road itself has been swallowed up by I-40, I guess.
El Malpais (which means “The Badlands” in Spanish) reminded us that if you get a choice between seeing something produced by nature or something produced by humans, pick nature every time. The visitor center was very nice (nearly deserted on this weekday in May) and the enthusiastic young attendant started up a really spectacular video about the northwest quadrant of New Mexico just for us in their comfortable 40 seat theater. The geology, and thus the scenery, in this area is astounding. It’s all a mile or more above sea level, with amazingly diverse desert scrub, lava flows, and sandstone escarpments all popping up seemingly at random as you drive around. El Malpais is quite large, and the most accessible part of it is along highway 117, four miles to the east of the visitor center off I-40. After about 10 miles on 117, you come to the Sandstone Bluffs Overlook, where you see one of those huge sandstone escarpments from the top. It looked like about 300 feet straight down, much too scary for us height pansies to get right up to the edge (where there were no railings or “keep off” signs, relying on visitors’ common sense and self-preservation rather than the usual nannying).
There were spectacular views in every direction. We were there – we saw it. You can look at the pictures, but you have to visit it yourself to get the real effect.
Next, another 10 miles or so further down Route 117, was La Ventana Arch – the largest accessible arch in New Mexico (there’s one larger, but it’s on an Indian reservation and you can’t get in to see it). A short trail gets you to within 500 yards of the arch, but that is as close as they allow visitors. It’s an impressive sight – it is basically carved into a sandstone cliff that is probably 300 feet high. There are both horizontal and vertical fissures that make you a little uneasy standing near it, but it held up at least for today.
Continuing down Route 117, you pass “The Narrows” on the way to the Laval Falls Area. You travel on the desert floor quite close to sandstone cliffs. A road sign depicts a car with rocks falling onto it. Luckily, that didn’t happen today.
At the Lava Falls Area, there is a hiking trail onto the youngest lava flow in the area, which is 2000-3000 years old. The contrast between that surface and the surrounding desert is quite remarkable. The rock is black, with deep cracks and some sinkholes (?) It is a porous, sharp edged stone to walk on. We spent about a half an hour on the lava, and then decided that while impressive, there wasn’t a lot of variety to it, so we headed back.
Finally, in another 10 miles or so is the Chain of Craters Backwoods Byway, which is a dirt road that runs by a bunch of volcanic craters. It was pretty rough, and after we followed it for about six or seven miles, we decided to turn back, having proven the “off road” capabilities of our Jeep Grand Cherokee. At least we can say it’s been off the pavement, probably 90% of the ones they sell never get further off road than a mall parking lot. Unfortunately, the thorough cleaning we gave it a few days ago has been completely negated, both by the dust from the dirt and gravel roads, and the sudden bug storm we drove through.
That was enough for one day, so we headed back to the campground. Despite the desolate beauty of New Mexico, I am not sure why anyone would choose to live outside of the major population centers. It must take a more hardy-than-average person to put up with the dryness and isolation. Most of the housing in the towns (if you can call them that) along I-40 appears to be house trailers and manufactured housing, or makeshift tumbledown shacks with corrugated steel roofs. There are also quite a few buildings that appear to be abandoned in rural New Mexico. It is probably hard to find a way to make a living out there in the middle of nowhere. There are some large ranches that probably do ok, but the grazing area for cattle is so dried out that it must take 20 times the acreage per cow than it takes in Pennsylvania or some more moderate climate.
Tomorrow, we’re leaving for a comparatively short drive to Holbrook, Arizona to take a look at the Petrified Forest.