Valles Caldera National Preserve & a Spring Blizzard in New Mexico!

May 2017 – While hanging out in the Los Alamos, New Mexico, area with our RV and visiting the cool pueblo cliff dwellings at Bandelier National Monument, we made a day trip to visit Valles Caldera National Preserve.

Selfie at Valles Caldera National Preserve New Mexico overlook

The “Valles Caldera Overlook” – Great spot for a selfie, and the only view til now!

This is a brand new National Preserve managed by the National Park System.

The land was originally a huge ranch that was privately owned under a Spanish Land Grant, that is, a gift of land from Spain to a Spanish citizen as part their effort to colonize and control their territory, New Spain, in the 1700’s before America began its westward expansion.

Valles Caldera National Preserve New Mexico

Valles Caldera is a new National Preserve managed by the National Park Service (Dept of the Interior)

When America’s New Mexico Territory was formed, the US Government recognized and upheld the Spanish (and more numerous Mexican) land grants. The Valles Caldera land was operated as a ranch and passed from generation to generation. In the year 2000 the US Government purchased it from private owners to form the Valles Caldera National Preserve.

Buildings and fences at Valles Caldera National Preserve New Mexico

The Valles Caldera ranch was so big there was a settlement of homes and buildings
for the ranchers and their employees.

Valles Caldera National Preserve New Mexico

Valles Caldera is a 13.7 mile wide volcanic caldera – a crater formed when a volcano collapses into itself.

It is a beautiful tract of land that has wide meadows, plentiful wildlife, and thick forests on the surrounding hills. A cluster of houses that the ranchers and their employees used up until the property was sold now stand vacant.

Log cabin Valles Caldera National Preserve New Mexico

This would have been an amazing place to live!

Old log cabin windows Valles Caldera National Preserve New Mexico


The land was hotly contested in court for many years because multiple groups wanted portions of the land, including the local Indian tribe, the Jemez Pueblo.

There are dozens of websites describing the issues that were at stake and the roles played by the members of government, tribal leaders and lawyers who made the legal cases for each side.

Skull found at Valles Caldera National Preserve New Mexico

As we wandered the roads on this huge ranch, we found some unusual things like this skull!

I haven’t chased them all down, but the folks in the Visitors Center were thrilled the National Park Service had finally become the manager of this land. It had been under the control of the US Forest Service for a dozen or so years prior to the NPS taking over.

Because the NPS has a much bigger budget than the USFS, the hope was that the land will be developed for public use — and prepared for the inevitable throngs of visitors — in a thoughtful way. Debates are ongoing now about the number, size and placement of campgrounds, issuance of hunting permits and wild stock grazing permits, creation of hiking trails, etc.

In the past, quite a few movies were made on this land, and we came across the remains of a movie set.

Movie Set debris Valles Caldera National Preserve New Mexico

The land was leased out to the movie industry in the past. This is all that is left of an old set.

Wandering around Valles Caldera and returning to Bandelier National Monument, we saw quite a few flowers.

Yellow columbine flower


Wildflowers Los Alamos New Mexico

Spring has sprung!!

One of our favorite wildflowers is the Milk Thistle. We didn’t know what it was called and had nicknamed it the “fireworks flower” because of its wonderful shape, but a friend recently told us its real name and said in some places it’s considered a noxious weed!

Beautiful yellow milk thistle wildflower Valles Caldera

Milk thistle — one man’s gorgeous wildflower is another man’s noxious weed!

Valles Caldera is quite high in the mountains of New Mexico, and we woke up one morning in our spot in the woods to find that spring had fled and old man winter had returned with a whollop!

Spring snowstorm in an RV in New Mexico

What??? Snow in late may? Maybe Spring hasn’t totally sprung just yet!

Winter wonderland Los Alamos New Mexico

Old man winter returns…

The flowers that had warmed their petals in the sun the day before were now covered with snow crystals!

Snow on wildflowers Los Alamos New Mexico

The wildflowers had been basking in sunshine the day before!

Pine cone in snow Los Alamos New Mexico


As we wandered around taking photos, suddenly the snow began to fall again — thickly!

Spring snowstorm photography New Mexico

We had such a blast running around getting photos of this beautiful storm.

Snow storm in the woods

It’s a blizzard!

What a hoot it was to go from spring back to winter in just 24 hours!

5th wheel trailer RV in snowstorm


We had blizzard conditions for about an hour, and the snow kept piling up.

Snow storm in an RV in the woods


Photography in a spring snowstorm

The white stuff is sticking!!

Up on the roof of our trailer, the solar panels were completely covered.

RV solar panels in spring snow storm

Snow buried our solar panels.

Mark cleared the solar panels off so we could get at least a little charge for the batteries from the ambient light.

Thick snow on an RV roof

The snow piled up quite deep.

He built a snowman while he was up there too!

Snowman on RV roof with solar panels

After clearing off the panels Mark built a snowman on the roof of our trailer!

New Mexico is home to the mysterious city of Roswell where space aliens have taken up residence since a strange UFO crashed nearby back in 1947.

The aliens even have their own craft beer — Alien Ale — a yummy brew we always enjoy when we visit New Mexico. What better way to chill it down than to stand it in the snow on our truck!

Icing down an Alien Ale in snow

What a great way to ice down an Alien Ale!

Inside our rig the shower became the “wet locker” for our dripping jackets after we came in to warm up.

Wet jackets hanging in RV shower

Our jackets dripped in the shower. Our boots dried out by the door!

We didn’t run our furnace or blue flame heater overnight, so even though it was 75 degrees inside when we went to bed, when we woke up the next morning it was 38 degrees downstairs in our living room. Brrrr!!

Sometimes it seems that we get our seasons mixed up in this traveling lifestyle, going to tropical places where it’s 90 degrees in January and then playing in the snow in late May. But that’s part of the fun of it too. We never know what to expect!

38 degrees inside our RV

It was a little brisk inside our rig the next morning, but our heater warmed it up in no time.

This spring blizzard was a wonderful little interlude, but all the snow was gone by the end of the next day, and temps climbed steadily as we headed down from the mountains and into the valleys of south eastern Colorado!

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Bandelier National Monument – Fun Pueblo Cliff Dwellings in New Mexico!

May 2017 – A priceless jewel of antiquity lies just west and north of Santa Fe, New Mexico, not far from Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. It is the classic ancient pueblo ruins at Bandelier National Monument.

Ladder to cliff dwelling Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

Bandelier National Monument is a “hands-on” (actually “feet-on”) kind of place!

We’ve visited lots of cliff dwellings and pueblo ruins over the years at Tonto, Wupatki and Montezuma’s Castle in Arizona and Aztec Ruins in New Mexico, but the glimpses of the past and the evidence of the ancients’ ingenuity at Bandelier National Monument makes this place my personal favorite so far.

One of the most wonderful aspects of Bandelier National Monument is that the National Park Service has installed lots of replicas of pueblo ladders for visitors to use so they can get a closer look inside!

Ladder climb Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

We loved climbing up and down the ladders
to peek into the cliff dwellings.

The Ancestral Puebloan people lived here between 1150 and 1550 AD. They lived not only in the caves in the cliff walls but also in adobe brick dwellings. A large group of buildings very similar to those at Aztec Ruins National Monument fills a field and is called Tyuonyi Village. Other adobe brick buildings were built as extensions off the cliff dwellings in the cliff walls.

Rebuilt cliff dwellings Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

The Ancestral Puebloans took advantage of the huge bubbles in the volcanic rock,
building out from there with adobe brick.

Adolph Bandelier first saw the ruins in 1880. Then, in the early 1930’s, CCC workers created a huge camp to house themselves as they set about stabilizing and reconstructing the ruins. A reconstructed “Talus House” has been rebuilt and was easy to see as we passed it on the Main Loop Trail.

Renovated cliff dwellings Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

This reconstructed building is what all the buildings looked like at one time.

Bandelier National Monument is so popular that visitors arriving during the prime daytime hours between mid-May and mid-October must take a free shuttle bus into the park. The free Atomic City Transit bus picks people up in nearby Los Alamos, home of the secret Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb in the 1940’s.

We wanted to see the ruins without the bus crowds, however, so we were at the gate with our truck when they first opened, before they close the parking lot to private cars. We ran out on the trail and discovered to our delight that we were the only people there.

Ladder to cliff dwellings Bandelier National Monument New Mexico


Being at the ruins in the quiet morning air was fabulous. We scampered up and down the ladders in sheer delight.

Climbing ladder to cliff dwelling Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

Going for a peek inside!

The astonishing highlight of the Main Loop trail is the very long Long House. This is a huge expanse of sheer rock cliff that has dozens of indents and holes in it where the Ancestral Puebloan people anchored their homes.

The Long House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

The Long House is a series of apartments that were built to butt up against the sheer cliff walls with adobe brick construction extending out from there.

The cliffs are part of the Jemez Volcanic field, and the bubbly nature of the cooling lava is readily apparent with thousands of one- or two-person sized holes and crevices lining the stone.

Long House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

Each indent is the end of a room. Holes bored in the rock supported tree trunk beams
that were floor joists and roof trusses.

The ancients used these holes — and carved others — as rooms or as ends of rooms. They also bored holes in the cliffs to support the ends of wooden beams. These beams supported ceilings and floors and second and third story rooms.

Ancient pueblo Bandelier National Monument New Mexico


What amazed me as I looked a little closer at these ruins along the cliff face was that these people of 500 to 900 years ago took the time and had the inclination and ingenuity to decorate their interior walls.

They kind of plastered the walls and impregnated them with colors. The cracked and faded “plaster” is readily visible today.

Cliff holes for timer ceilings Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

Dozens of rooms are lined up along the cliffs. The structures were two and three stories tall.

They also created rectangular holes in the cliffs, perhaps for storage purposes.

Pueblo ruins Long House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

A kind of colored “plaster” decorated the interior walls.

I was really taken by this idea that the ancient puebloans decorated their walls.

Pueblo fresco wall art Long House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

The “fresco” walls are peeling but are clearly visible.

Some of the indents in the cliffs were deeper than others, and many seemed to have been decorated with a kind of wainscotting. The plaster on the lower half of those walls had been painted, while the upper half of the walls and roof were black from soot and smoke from their household fires.

Pueblo architecture Long House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

Some walls had a kind of wainscotting with the lower half decorated in colored “plaster” and the upper half black from soot. A bullseye petroglyph adorns the wall of top floor.

Wall fresco Long House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

A closer look at the “wainscotting.”

One of the indents was decorated with an artistic gemoetric pattern. The National Park Service has black and white photos of this wall from years ago where a ranger was pointing it out to visitors, right up close.

Now visitors have to stand far back from the cliff wall and the decocrative pattern is covered with a protective covering so it doesn’t vanish too quickly in the elements.

Fresco art pattern Long House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

One wall with a particularly vivid pattern is protected from the elements.

The Long House goes on for a very long distance with room after room lined up along the cliff face. It seems that the adobe brick structures that fronted these back walls extended out about two room’s width from the cliff wall, and the buildings were generally two or three stories tall too.

Ancestral Pueblo ruins Long House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

The Long House is very long and the trail wanders alongside it.

Holes in rock walls Long House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

Some holes, or caves, are natural but others are rectangular and very obviously man-made.

We saw only two petroglyphs, but there are probably more. A bull’s-eye was pecked out of the cliffs in an upper story in one area, and an unrecognizable animal was pecked out high up in another.

Petroglyph rock art Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

Some strange animal…

Eventually, leaving the Long House behind, the Main Loop trail took us through a ponderosa pine tree studded woodsy area. Pretty wildflowers looked up at us.

Wildflower Bandelier National Monument New Mexico


Then we arrived at Alcove House, a massive natural cave that lies high up on the cliffs. The ancients must have used ladders to get up to this cave, and the National Park Service has placed ladders leading up to it for us modern visitors to use.

Alcove House ladders and cave Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

Alcove House is reached by two very long ladders and a third shorter ladder.

Climbing ladder to Alcove House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico


What a climb!

Long ladder to Alcove House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico


Climbing ladder to Alcove House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico


The Alcove House cave is huge and may have housed all kinds of rooms and other things. There are remnants of a circular kiva which has been restored but can’t be entered.

Alcove House Cave Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

The cave at Alcove House is very deep and must have offered great natural protection.

We liked the two person-sized openings that went into very small closet-like rooms!

Storage rooms in cave at Alcove House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico


After getting our fill of these ruins (for one day), we returned to the visitors center where we saw a very cool RV parked in the parking lot. It had animal tracks painted on one side and Chinese letters on the other and sported a German flag by the door.

Ironically, as I write this post a month later, we saw the exact same rig parked in Custer, South Dakota, earlier today. It is a small world!

Unusual rugged RV

Back at the Visitors Center we saw this unusual rig…and then saw it again a month later 700 miles away!

Another day we ventured out to Bandelier National Monument’s waterfall which lies at the end of the mile-and-a-half long Falls Trail.

Waterfall Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

A beautiful waterfall is the reward at the end of the Falls Trail.

There are ancient ruins all over America’s southwest, and various groups of modern day Native Americans believe they are descended from certain ancient cultures in different locations.

Interestingly, the modern Pueblo Indians who claim descent from the ancient people who built the Long House and Alcove House at Bandelier National Monument are the Cochiti Puebloans who live a ways away near Cochiti Lake and Tent Rocks.

The modern Pueblo Indians who live closest to Bandelier National Monument, the San Ildefonso Puebloan people, claim descent from the unexcavated ruins that lie just outside Bandelier at Tsankawai Ruins.

The hike through Tsankawai Ruins began with a ladder climb as well, but it was totally different in nature because the ruins don’t back up to a massive cliff face and they are hard to spot on the grassy plateau since they haven’t been dug up yet.

Tsankawai hike Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

A ladder at the beginning of the Tsankawai Ruins Trail.

Unlike all ancient archaeological sites where the ruins have been studied, thoroughly excavated, stabilized and rebuilt, the Tsankawai Ruins site is an explorer’s dream because some artifacts are still lying around.

I was shocked when Mark pointed to a rock that had some pottery shards lying on it. It didn’t take long for us to find a few others in the grass and dirt nearby.

Obviously, we left them in place so the next visitors could enjoy the same surprise as we did, but how fabulous it was to see the finely painted decorations on these centuries old bits of pottery.

Pottery Shards Tsankawai Ruins Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

Painted pottery shards on the Tsankawai Ruins Trail.

The Tsankawai Loop trail can be done either clockwise or counterclockwise, and we chose to go in the clockwise direction (taking a left at “Loop Trail” sign). After crossing a high plateau where the ancient ruins lie sunken into the dirt, the trail seemed to end. After a little scouting over the edge Mark noticed a ladder going down, so down we went.

I wonder how many people simply turn around at that point not knowing the trail continues down the well obscured ladder! Going in the counter clockwise direction, this ladder would be very obvious as the trail leads right to its base.

Tsankawai Ruins hike Bandelier National Monument New Mexico


We skirted along the edge of a sloping hillside with wonderful views to one side, and rounded a bend to find some petroglyphs on a rock wall next to us.

Except for a spiral, the imagery was nothing like other petroglyphs we have seen elsewhere.

Petroglyphs Tsankawai Ruins Bandelier National Monument New Mexico


We continued on and were absolutely floored by the many very narrow foot trails that have been carved into the rock.

Hiking the Narrow Carved Trail Tsankawai Ruins Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

The Tsankawai Ruins Trail includes some very cool skinny and curvy paths.

These were very clearly man-made and not the work of water or wind. But they weren’t made by the National Park Service either!

Skinny groove trail Tsankawai Ruins Bandelier National Monument New Mexico


In another spot, we looked up along the rounded rock hills and noticed a little staircase that had been carved out of the rock.

How ingenious of the ancients to make these trails and staircases, and what a wonderful way for us to be transported back to a time centuries ago.

Strange stairway Tsankawai Ruins Bandelier National Monument New Mexico

In the footprints of the ancients…

If you are traveling in New Mexico with your RV — or if you find yourself anywhere near this area without an RV! — Bandelier National Monument is a true jewel that is well worth visiting.

For the Main Loop Trail to the Long House and Alcove House, be sure to get there early on a weekday if you want to see the ruins without the crowds. The Falls Trail and Tsankawai Ruins are much less visited.

More links and info below…

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Tent Rocks National Monument (Kasha-Katuwe) – Hiking Slots & Spires!

May 2017 – While casting about for beautiful places to visit in New Mexico, I came across some images from Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument near Santa Fe. Unusual looking, perfectly conical rock peaks stood side by side against the sky. We just had to go check it out!

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

A photo op with a “tent rock” (but this one isn’t real, lol!) .

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is a small park between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was a 230 mile drive to take our RV there from Aztec Ruins National Monument.

Spires Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

The beginning of the hike.

This is an extremely popular National Monument with loads of visitors coming out on weekends from nearby Santa Fe to hike the fun trail that goes through a slot canyon and emerges on a plateau with a great view. So, we were told that arriving at the tiny parking area before 9:00 am during the peak seasons of spring and fall is a really good idea or they won’t let you in!

Beginning Slot Canyon Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

The beginning of the slot canyon.

The hike is an out-and-back trail that starts easily enough by wandering in and around the bases of many unusual and towering rock peaks. But it is the slot canyon that is the most fun!

Slot Canyon Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico


Slot canyons can look a little claustrophobia inducing in photos where hikers are slithering between towering rock walls.

Hiking Slot Canyon Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico


But they are loads of fun, and you don’t feel particularly confined because the walls often spread apart as they rise up on either side, or they open up completely, and there’s a clear view of the sky up above.

Hiking Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument slot canyon


Sharing a narrow slot canyon with crowds of weekend hikers can be a crazy experience. Lots of families were out on the trail with us that beautiful May morning, even though we had started early. It was Mother’s Day weekend, and it seemed that everyone had decided to take Mom out for a hike to celebrate!

Crowded Slot Canyon Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico


In some places the slot canyon got really skinny and it was one-foot-in-front-of-the-other type of hiking. But in other places it widened a little and we made our way between large rocks that were strewn in the trail.

Slot Canyon Hike Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico RV trip


The undulating walls of the slot canyon made beautiful shapes.

Slot canyon Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico


Once we got through the slot, the hike started to head dramatically uphill. Family after family came down past us, and all of them said the view up top was well worth the climb.

Busy hiking trail Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico


As we ascended the trail, the “tent rocks” filled the view alongside us.

Tent Rocks Selfie Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico


The trail was a bit of a scramble here and there, and as we got higher the tent rocks got a little lower.

Spires at Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico


Finally we were near the top of the trail looking down at the unique conically shaped tent rocks.

Overlook Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico


I don’t recall seeing a collection of stone cones like this before. What cool rock formations these are!

Closeup Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico


The trail goes out on a long “peninsula” that offers a view back towards the tents.

View from the top Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico


It was a perfect place to grab a quick selfie.

Selfie at Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico


Spring was busy springing all around us. We saw Indian paintbrush flowers at our feet and lots of cacti had big vibrant flowers on display.

Indian Paintbrush flowers


Cactus flower


Cactus Flower


Some folks came prepared to enjoy the view for a while. Tucked behind one tree we saw a fellow uncorking a bottle of wine, and moments later his wife — the Mom and guest of honor — was sipping a glass of wine in the shade, enjoying the spectacular surroundings!

A picnic and wine at Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico


Heading back down the way we came, the tent rocks slowly began to rise up around us.

The Tents at Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico


Mark got a kick out of playing Atlas under a huge tree that had fallen across the trail, pretending to hold it up for folks that passed by.

Holding up a log at Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico


And then we were back in the very cool slot.

Skinny slot canyon hike Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico


By now it was midday and the trail was getting very crowded. Logjams formed in the trail as people took turns traversing the skinniest parts. It made me think of the traffic jams that were going on up on Mt. Everest at about the same time as hikers from around the world converged on the mountain in valiant efforts to make it to the summit.

Crowds on slot canyon hike Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico


But if we hung back and waited for the crowds to pass, we were still able to find quiet times where we had certain curves in this beautiful slot canyon all to ourselves.

Hike the slot canyon at Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico


Hike Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument slot canyon


Hiking the slot canyon Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico


Near the end of the trail we passed the most fabulous ponderosa pine that was perched high above its very cool exposed roots.

Ponderosa Pine tree and roots in kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico


The next day we returned to do the other hike that forks off the Tent Rocks trail and goes to a cave. This was a short and easy hike, although the cave was surprisingly small and not nearly as exciting as the tent rocks and slot canyon!

The Cave Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument New Mexico

The Cave.

The tent rocks, however, were very cool and well worth seeing. Just be sure to get there early because the tiny parking lot fills up fast. Also, only the shortest truck campers, Class C’s and vans fit in the lot.

Nearby Cochiti Campground is a nice place to stay.

Fifth wheel trailer RV at sunset

Sunset at Cochiti Campground.

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Aztec Ruins National Monument – Whispers from the Ancients in New Mexico!

May 2017 – After spending some quality time with the alien eggs at Bisti Badlands in New Mexico, we took our RV about 50 miles north to Aztec Ruins National Monument near Farmington, New Mexico. We’ve visited a lot of ancient Indian ruins over the years, but this site was astonishing because of its sheer size.

Aztec Ruins National Monument New Mexico


The “Aztec” ruins are not Aztec at all. Those people were way down south in today’s Mexico City. The name was given by early discoverers of the New Mexico site who may or may not have known better.

These ruins were actually built by the Ancestral Puebloan people about 900 years ago.

This particular site is startling because it contains as many as 400 rooms! Most of the rooms are square or rectangular and abut each other, however there are quite a few circular structures too, some of which are thought to have been ceremonial.

Aztec Ruins National Monument Map

The layout of the many rooms at Aztec Ruins National Monument

The first thing we saw as we entered Aztec Ruins National Monument was the Great Kiva, a large round structure that has been stabilized and renovated several times since the 1930’s.

Great Kiva at Aztec Ruins National Monument New Mexico

The Great Kiva has been stabilized and renovated several times.

It is now a very modern feeling building, and as we walked through it Indian sounding music played softly in the background to give the place a certain air.

Inside the Kiva at Aztec Ruins National Monument New Mexico

Inside the Great Kiva. Indian music was playing as we walked through.

Ceiling of Kiva at Aztec Ruins National Monument New Mexico

The ceiling in the Great Kiva.

After walking through the Great Kiva we passed several more round structures.

Ceremonial circle Aztec Ruins National Monument New Mexico

There were several circular structures. Some were ball courts.

Aztec Ruins National Monument New Mexico


Aztec Ruins National Monument is called a “Great House,” and when it was first discovered several of the rooms had quite a bit of pottery in them as well as grain. It is thought that some people lived here beacuse there is evidence of smoke from fires in some of the rooms. But it is also thought that it was a ceremonial gathering place.

Round walls at Aztec Ruins National Monument New Mexico


As we walked through the rooms, we passed through a “T” shaped doorway. This reminded me of the “T” shaped windows we saw in the Mayan ruins in Palenque in southern Mexico and the “T” shaped doorways we saw in the ancient Khmer ruins in Cambodia (I haven’t posted those pics yet).

Rooms in Aztec Ruins National Monument New Mexico

A T-shaped doorway.

T-shaped doorway Aztec Ruins National Monument New Mexico


Although the ancient Khmer people were building Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples in Cambodia at about the same time the Ancestral Puebloans were building this site and many others in the American Southwest, the Mayan structures in southern Mexico actually pre-dated them by about six hundred years.

Walls at Aztec Ruins National Monument New Mexico


Even though these ruins are not on a scale of complexity or size that is anywhere near those in Cambodia or southern Mexico, it is still fascinating to walk from room to room and contemplate what life might have been like back when it was being built and occupied.

Window and room at Aztec Ruins National Monument New Mexico


This stuff definitely gives me a thrill, but Mark doesn’t get quite as excited about it.

We both had to laugh as we remembered visiting exotic Monte Alban outside Oaxaca Mexico when I wondered out loud about the communities that had lived there and the succession of builders who had created the mammoth temples.

I mused that first there were the Zapotecs, and then the Mixtecs, and later the Aztecs… after which Mark had joked that next came the Discotecs followed by the Village People.

Double windows at Aztec Ruins National Monument New Mexico


Stone walls at Aztec Ruins National Monument New Mexico


I love traveling because it allows us to share a moment in time with people from all over the place who are living in the same world but have very different backgrounds and histories than ours. By the same token, I love seeing ancient ruins because they allow us to share a place, if not a moment in time, with a culture and group of people who stood in the exact same spot many centuries ago.

Ironically, we also share the spot with all the discoverers and archaeologists who have examined these same ruins in the light of their own cultures and personal histories, whether it was the mid-1800’s when “Aztec Ruins” was first uncovered, or the 1930’s when it was studied yet again, or today.

If only the walls could talk.

Walls and grass at Aztec Ruins National Monument New Mexico


Overgrown walls at Aztec Ruins National Monument New Mexico


I always find it kind of amusing, though, that so many aspects of ancient cultures get attributed to ceremony and spiritual beliefs. It sometimes seems as if the archaeologists believe that ancient people lived largely in the spiritual realm and not so much in the here and now.

A work camper at Tonto National Monument surprised me when she mentioned that a modern archaeologist was pursuing a line of thinking that much of the exquisite pottery that was created by the Ancestral Puebloans throughout the Southwest was actually made just for trading purposes. She said the thought was that perhaps the pottery was manufactured in large quantities, and stockpiled, and warehoused for distribution. Apparently there is evidence in many ancient sites from the American Southwest on down into Mexico that this could have been the case.

I love this idea because it gives the ancient people a kind of sophistication and practicality and accessibility to our own culture that is often absent when everything they built or pecked out of rock walls is seen solely through the lens of ceremonial spirituality.

Brick wall construction Aztec Ruins National Monument New Mexico


Rooms and walls at Aztec Ruins National Monument New Mexico


Back in 4th Grade, I remember my teacher reading a document to our class about a very strange group of people who had extraordinary ceremonial body grooming customs that they performed on a daily basis in a very special shrine they found in every home. They were the Nacirema People.

Low doorways Aztec Ruins National Monument New Mexico


Log beam at Aztec Ruins National Monument New Mexico


Our class was studying ancient Greece, and our teacher wanted show us the challenges that archaeologists and anthropologists face as they study various cultures both current and ancient.

As she read this anthropological study to the class (link below), the Nacirema seemed very odd. They had a very involved “mouth-rite” that they performed daily because of a strongly held belief that if they didn’t do this ritual their teeth would fall out.

As we listened to our teacher we kind of shrugged because we saw weird stuff like that on National Geographic shows on TV fairly often. It seemed perfectly believable.

Walls with doors at Aztec Ruins National Monument New Mexico


Original ceiling beams Aztec Ruins National Monument New Mexico


She read to us about the Medicine Men who would visit certain members of the Nacirema tribe who spent all day lying in beds in a special temple called a latipsoh, and she read to us about a very painful ritual where the Medicine Man jabbed tribal members in their arms with a needle.

We also learned about the unusual witch doctors who were “listeners” that encouraged tribal members to pour out all their woes, going back to early childhood.

It was only as our teacher got near the end of the document that a few brighter buttons in the class began to snicker. I wasn’t one of them.

Series of doorways Aztec Ruins National Monument New Mexico


When our teacher finished reading to us, she stood up and put the word “Nacirema” on the blackboard, writing it from right to left. Then she put up the word “latipsoh” and wrote it from right to left as well.

The light bulb suddenly went on for the whole class, and we were all in stitches. She read the whole essay a second time and we were all doubled over in laughter throughout.

Ever since then, I’ve been a little skeptical about attributing too much spirituality and religious ceremony to the various relics that the ancients left behind!

Looking at Aztec Ruins National Monument New Mexico


No matter what the fabulous buildings at Aztec Ruins National Monument were used for — whether it was housing, product warehousing, or spiritual gatherings — it is a terrific site that evokes a thousand questions and answers very few.

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Eggs & Aliens in Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness (Bisti Badlands)

May 2017 – There’s a wonderful natural treasure to be found in northwestern New Mexico at the Bisti Badlands — or Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness — just 40 miles south of Farmington.

Bisti De-Na-Zin Wilderness New Mexico Photographing the Eggs

Hanging out with the alien eggs at Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness in New Mexico

We had a very magical experience in this exotic location five years ago and we wanted to get back once again.

Exotic Landscapes Bisti De-Na-Zin Wilderness Bisti Badlands New Mexico

There are all kinds of hoodoos in the Bisti Badlands

The Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness is a huge area filled with crazy rock formations that resemble everything from spacecraft to furniture to alien eggs. Because it is a wilderness area, there are no trails and no vehicles are allowed either. The only way to see it is to walk on in and start exploring.

The hoodoos and colorful mounds make for a great day of fun just getting lost in a maze of crazy shapes, and on our last visit we roamed all over the place climbing up and over red and black and orange striped conical hills that easily stood 50 to 100 feet high.

Bisti-De-Na-Zin Wilderness Bisti Badlands New Mexico

There are no hiking trails in Bisti Badlands, but walking in any direction takes you to cool rocks!

But the “prize” in Bisti Badlands, if there can be such a thing, is the tiny group of stones that look like alien creatures emerging from their cracked egg shells.

Cracked eggs Bisti De-Na-Zin Wilderness New Mexico

In one corner of the Bisti Wilderness there is a collection of rocks that look like alien eggs or pods.

Alien eggs Bisti De-Na-Zin Wilderness New Mexico


Cracked egg Bisti De-Na-Zin Wilderness New Mexico


This is a favorite area for photographers, and we headed out in the late afternoon as the shadows were getting long.

Alien egg Bisti De-Na-Zin Wilderness New Mexico


Some of the rocks look very much like eggs sitting on a dish or embryonic alien life forms emerging from the shell.

Eggs Bisti De-Na-Zin Wilderness New Mexico


Each one is a little different, and some look as though they might come to life.

Eggs on pedestals Bisti De-Na-Zin Wilderness New Mexico

A creature from afar?

Alien eggs Bisti De-Na-Zin Wilderness New Mexico


As we wandered around the perimeter of these fantastic rock formations and crouched down to see them up close, I suddenly heard Mark yell “Help!”

I turned around and saw his hand reaching out… he’d been swallowed up by an alien egg!

Human eating alien egg Bisti De-Na-Zin Wilderness New Mexico

Oh no!!

Not really, of course, but these little guys were very engaging and we were having lots of fun getting photos of them and playing with effects.

Eggs alien egg factory Bisti Badlands De-Na-Zin Wilderness


Sometimes we couldn’t help but get in the photo in one way or another, even if it was just a shadow of ourselves.

Photography at the Eggs Bisti De-Na-Zin Wilderness New Mexico

With such long shadows sometimes we had to incorporate our own shadows!

Hoodoos Bisti De-Na-Zin Wilderness New Mexico


As the hours went by, one by one, each egg lost the sun’s golden glow. Then the setting sun threw some pretty colors across the sky.

Hoodoos Bisti De-Na-Zin Wilderness New Mexico


One of the things I love most about these alien egg rocks is that each one is decorated with a different pattern on its surface.

Some have a wonderful pattern that seems very deliberate, as if carved by a divine hand.

Exotic egg Bisti De-Na-Zin Wilderness New Mexico

Each egg was decorated with a unique pattern.

Some are very bold, with definite lines and carvings.

Alien shellback Bisti De-Na-Zin Wilderness New Mexico


Others have finer lines and have started to fade in places.

Decorated egg Bisti De-Na-Zin Wilderness New Mexico


And some don’t have any decorations at all.

Egg in shell Bisti De-Na-Zin Wilderness New Mexico


Decorations or no, you just can’t beat seeing one of these crazy egg rocks set off by a pink sunset.

Eggs at sunset Bisti-De-Na-Zin Wilderness Bisti Badlands New Mexico


And then, with a flash from the west, the sun was gone.

Sunset Bisti Badlands De-Na-Zin Wilderness


We decided to stick around to see what this other-worldly place looked like at night.

We’d brought our big flashlight with us which is like a car headlight (review here). We put it on its lowest setting and began playing with it doing “light painting” on the rocks. Cool!

We also had two smaller 1000 lumen pocket flashlights (review here), and we experimented with using them for light painting as well. The smaller, dimmer lights produced a wonderful effect.

721 Cracked eggs at night Bisti De-Na-Zin Wilderness New Mexico

We did a little “light painting” on the eggs with a flashlight as it got dark.

A few stars began to twinkle in the rich light of dusk. The moon was rising and looked like a huge street light above us. Mark was using his favorite wide angle lens and it made a fabulous starburst out of the moon!

Full moon starburst Bisti-De-Na-Zin Wilderness Bisti Badlands New Mexico

The nearly full moon created a starburst in the sky at dusk.

Back at the trailer when we were going through our photos, Mark emailed this cool shot to a friend who’s a video arts and Photoshop expert. Suddenly he got an email back that looked a little spooky!

Full moon starburst Bisti-De-Na-Zin Wilderness Bisti Badlands New Mexico with UFO

What’s that flying over the cliffs?

As a gag, he emailed the revised photo to another good friend who is also a photographer and Photoshop expert, and suddenly it came back looking even spookier!

UFO Full moon starburst Bisti-De-Na-Zin Wilderness Bisti Badlands New Mexico

OMG – They’re shining their spotlight on our rig!

But before we could play with our photos in the rig, we had to get back out of Bisti Badlands in the dark.

I was glad the moon was so bright. Like our old days of sailing on our boat when we made long ocean passages at night, the moon was like a very dear friend in the sky. The eggs around us were easy to see, and it even cast shadows on the ground.

Stars at cracked eggs Bisti Badlands De-Na-Zin Wilderness New Mexico

Eggs by the light of the moon.

Even with the moon so bright, more and more stars began to appear in the sky above us.

Stars at night Bisti De-Na-Zin Wilderness New Mexico

As we hiked out we saw more and more stars.

Hiking out in the dark was quite a thrill. We heard some coyotes very close by and were hoping to catch a glimpse of them, but they must have caught our scent and heard our footsteps because they soon headed off into the night.

Stars over hoodoos Bisti De-Na-Zin Wilderness New Mexico

Stars over the hoodoos.

Every so often we could see the lights of a power plant in the distance, keeping us more or less on track! We ended up scaling a few more deep washes on the way out than on the way in, but we made it out just fine!

Some notes and a word of caution for folks heading to Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness with RVs:

The Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and is a very special place that is well worth a detour to visit.

RVs are allowed to park overnight in the fenced off parking area which can hold a few truck campers or perhaps 3-4 larger RVs. The “RV” end of the parking lot can get very muddy when it rains and the ruts from RVs that had been there during recent rains were quite deep.

This parking area is located about 3 miles down a dirt road off of Route 371. When we went to Bisti Badlands in late September of 2012, the 3 mile dirt road was well graded and it wasn’t difficult to drive on with our fifth wheel trailer.

Now, however, it appears that the road has not been graded in a very long time, and it is absolutely terrible. We drove at 3-9 mph the entire way in both directions, no joke. Not only was everything in our rig badly shaken up but we discovered the locking nut on one of the bolts that goes through the equalizer in our fifth wheel suspension actually fell off. Without a locking nut, the bolt had worked itself almost all the way out during our drive in. Luckily, Mark was able to fix this right there in the dirt parking lot. More on that coming soon!

More importantly, it seems that Bisti Badlands has been “discovered.”

In 2012 we were the only RV there for one night and we had just one companion RV another night. This year the parking area was quite busy every night with cars, vans, truck campers and short Class C’s crammed in, and lots of people came in cars to hike for the day as well.

In 2012 there were no footprints beyond the gate into the wilderness area, and this year there were footprints everywhere, especially leading to the eggs, and there were lots of people out hiking. In 2012 there were a few boondocking areas down the road, but now there are markers at those spots saying “No Vehicles.”

As we were packing to leave Bisti Badlands on a Saturday morning, four cars arrived and joined the RVs that had stayed overnight. During the 45 minutes it took us to drive the dirt road out to the highway, 12 more cars and trucks passed us on their way in. I have no idea if or how all those vehicles could fit in the parking lot!

So…. if you own a bigger RV, it might be wise to leave it in Farmington and make a day trip to Bisti Badlands in the tow vehicle or toad. Mid-week will be quieter than weekends, especially during the peak seasons of spring and fall.

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More info about Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness (Bisti Badlands):

The website for the BLM is undergoing many changes and doesn’t have information about Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness at the moment. We describe how we found the eggs on our previous visit at this link.

Location of Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness Parking Area – Interactive Google Maps

If you go into the Bisti Wilderness with a friend or spouse, it’s a good idea to stick close together or take a set of two-way radios. We used both our radios and a hand-held compass. A hand-held GPS can be a helpful tool too (although we just used our compass). We also used all three of our Lumintop flashlights (reviews HERE (searchlight) and HERE (pocket flashlights).

Other blog posts from New Mexico:

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City of Rocks State Park, NM – RV Camping in the Hoodoos!

November 2015 – Scooting across New Mexico, we left the display of aging missiles at White Sands Missile Range Park and made our way to a place on the map that looked too fun to miss — the City of Rocks. As we traveled, stunning sunrises and sunsets continued to punctuate the start and end of everyday.

New Mexico Sunset CIty of Rocks

A wonderful New Mexico sunset!

The City of Rocks is a huge collection of massive boulders clustered together in a vast open plain. For miles, all we had seen was wide vistas of nothing, barely a bush and not even a tree. Then we suddenly saw “the city” ahead.

City of Rocks New Mexico

The City of Rocks!

New Mexico has turned this “urban” landscape into a wonderful state park that is essentially a huge campground with hiking trails scattered through and around it.

RV camping City of Rocks New Mexico

New Mexico’s City of Rocks is a little camping paradise.

At the entrance to the park there is an area with electric and water RV hookups.

RV hookup campsites City of Rocks Campground New Mexico

There are hookups if you want them.

The rest of the “city” is filled with charming campsites that snuggle up against the rocks.

RV camped at City of Rocks Campground New Mexico

You can be off on your own communing with the hoodoos!

RV camping at City of Rocks New Mexico

What a neat campsite!

We were enchanted. What a fun place to camp!

Motorhome at City of Rocks Campground New Mexico


We hopped on our bikes and checked out the trail that encircles the whole area. This is a very pleasant trail for walking (it’s just a few miles long) or for biking.

Moutain biking City of Rocks New Mexico

There’s a short trail for hiking or biking.

We had fun taking our bikes around the campground loops.

Mountain bike ride City of Rocks New Mexico

A very fun place for a bike ride!

The trail also climbs a steep hill at one point, and we had a blast bombing down the road.

Bicycling City of Rocks New Mexico

Barreling downhill towards the city.

Early one morning, we spotted a hawk that was surprisingly calm and didn’t seem to mind us too much.

Bicycling City of Rocks New Mexico

A hawk keeps an eye on me but doesn’t get spooked.

Each campsite is unique, and they come in various sizes and shapes.

Camping in an RV at City of Rocks New Mexico

I just love a retro trailer. This one is actually almost brand new!

Some campsites are fairly level and some are very unlevel, but each one is charming.

Motorhome camping at City of Rocks New Mexico


On the Pegasus North Loop you can get away from it all and be quite far away from the “hubub” of “the city.” However, if you want to stay more than one night on that loop, you have to reserve in advance.

RV with solar panels City of Rocks New Mexico campground

On the Pegasus Loop you need to reserve ahead or just stay one night.

We loved this little spot, and highly recommend it to anyone planning a visit to New Mexico. For RV travelers that are headed east-west on I-10, the nice thing is it’s not too far from the freeway — just under 30 miles.

Motorhome RV camping City of Rocks New Mexico campground

A beautiful pink-and-blue sky… I love those skies in the early evening in the western deserts!

The cost when we stayed at City of Rocks was $10/night for dry camping and $18/night for electric and water hookups. The cool thing about New Mexico is that you can purchase an annual State Parks camping permit (currently $225 for non-New Mexico residents and $180 for the lucky in-state crowd) that gives you huge discounts on overnight camping. If you have one of these nifty camping permits, the dry camping sites are free and the electric/water sites are $4/night. More info below…

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It IS Rocket Science at White Sands Missile Park in NM

November 2015 – In our RV travels across New Mexico, we made a fun pit stop at White Sands Missile Range where there is a unique outdoor Missile Park. But before I show you some of the missiles of yesteryear, I have a few more photos to share from our stop in the metal art haven of Tatum, New Mexico.

After 8 months of RVing in the eastern states, it was here that we saw our first really huge, colorful and expressive skies that are so common in the west. Sunsets filled the sky from corner to corner, leaving no part of it untouched by vibrant color…

Sunset in Tatum New Mexico

Vivid color fills the sky at sunset

…on another day, the brooding skies of an incoming storm filled the air with an eerie feeling and then brought a deluge of rain.

Brooding skies in Tatum New Mexico

Dark and mysterious clouds blanket the heavens

And then there were the fun metal art signs, two of which stand on opposite sides of Eubanks Street in Tatum. In the first, a cowboy approaches his mule with a friendly greeting in hopes of getting some cooperation from the stubborn beast…

Metal art sign Eubanks St Tatum New Mexico

Howdy Y’All

In the second, the mule kicks him clear over the moon!

Metal art street sign Eubanks St Tatum New Mexico


The metal art in Tatum was such fun. When we drove out of town, we noticed the back of the “Welcome to Tatum New Mexico” sign bidding us goodbye in Spanish:

Hasta Luego metal art sign Tatum New Mexico

See ya later, Tatum!

Driving along US-380 we saw lots of ranches with cool metal art signs at the entrances. The Johnson Cattle Company has everything from a turkey vulture sitting on a windmill to Wiley Coyote and The Roadrunner on opposite sides of “The Needmore Outfit.”

This ranch was so big that there were several similar signs at different mile markers along the edge of their property.

Johnson Cattle Ranch metal art Sign New Mexico


Another biggie was for LA Ranch:

Carpenter Graham LA Ranch metal art sign New Mexico

The roundup…

As we approached the mountains, we discovered that the rain that had drenched us in the flatlands had dumped a bunch of snow in mountain peaks. This was the first snowfall of the season and looked very dramatic in the distance at the end of our rippling road.

New Mexico snow capped mountains US-380

A first snow covers the mountains

Soon we were passing White Sands where the drifts of sand looked like snow.

Fall color on US-380 New Mexico

The sand at White Sands (is it snow?)

We noticed a sign for White Sands Missile Range and decided to drive down that road, not knowing quite what to expect.

White Sands Missile Range Logo


What fun it was to discover that there is an outdoor missile park at the White Sands Missile Range. Missile testing has gone on at this range for decades. Set out on pads, as if in a rock garden or on a pin cushion, a bunch of old, outdated missiles aim at the sky.

Missile Park White Sands Missile Range Museum

The White Sands Missile Park is a playground full of old missiles that were once tested here.

There are missiles of all kinds, dating from the 1950’s to the 1990’s.

Missile at White Sands Missile Park New Mexico

Missiles come in all shapes and sizes. Some are square and boxy….

White Sands Missile Range Missile Park New Mexico

…others are tall and skinny!

You can walk freely among them, and there is a plaque next to each one explaining what it was and when it was tested at White Sands.

Tank Missile Park White Sands Missile Range Museum

Some have moveable launch pads

White Sands Missile Park New Mexico

And some have sizable fins

Missiles with familiar names like Pershing and Patriot are on display here, along with lots of lesser known missiles. There is a museum too, but we happened to have come on a Sunday which is the only day that the museum is closed. Oh well…Next time!

White Sands Missile Park New Mexico

Yes, it IS Rocket Science here at White Sands Missile Range!

Whenever we visit New Mexico, we always see unusual things, whether it’s exotic rock formations or alien visitors or funky metal art or white sand beaches. The Missile Park fit right into that crazy theme.

But even better was the usual City of Rocks that lay just ahead…

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Tatum, New Mexico – Metal Art Magic

October 2015 – After landing in Paris, Texas, we dodged some serious rain storms as we made our way across the state. All thoughts of dallying in the area evaporated when the world’s strongest hurricane, Patricia, showed up on Mexico’s Pacific coast and decided to join forces with another storm so they could march together across the southern states. We alternated between hunkering down and sprinting until we finally got out of harm’s way in New Mexico. There, the fringe edges of the storm created some spectacular sunrises and sunsets.

New Mexico sunset

What a sunset!

Years ago, when we first started RVing full-time, we crossed New Mexico from east to west on US-380 on our first journey after picking up our new trailer outside Dallas. This road is a wonderful alternative to either I-40 or I-10, and it lies right between them, passing through miles and miles of wide open ranch land.

Cotton growing and oil drilling in New Mexico

New Mexico has miles of cotton above ground and oil below as well as wind farms in the distance.

What struck me back then was that almost every ranch had a beautiful sign over the gate that was crafted in sheet metal. Each one depicted various scenes from the region, and they gave the landscape a humorous and artsy touch.

When we decided to travel this route once again, I vowed to capture some of these creative metal art signs with my camera as we passed. Unfortunately, the ranch gates come up so fast that after each shot I was moaning, “Darn, this one’s blurry too!” (or cut off, or indistinguishable against the background).

Then we arrived in Tatum, New Mexico.

Welcome to Tatum New Mexico metal art sign


As we slowed down going through town, we noticed that every single street was adorned with a wonderful metal art sign.

Eagle and cactus metal art Tatum New Mexico

Every street in Tatum has a cool metal sign at the corner.

How cool is that?! We climbed out of the RV and began walking around town, admiring the fantastic variety of metal street signs on every street corner.

Howling coyotes metal art sign Tatum NM

Desert sounds…

Some were images of classic desert creatures and plants, with flying eagles, cholla cactus and howling coyotes featured prominently as they did what desert creatures do in New Mexico. But other signs humorously depicted people living their lives and doing what people do.

Antique car and family metal art Tatum New Mexico

Lemme get this cranked up for ya

Metal art street sign oil drilling in New Mexico

These little dipper oil drills are very important to life here in New Mexico

I was captivated by the clever street signs and got a huge kick out of walking up and down every street in town to see what kind of image was on display at the next corner.

Donkey and cowyboy with cactus metal art street sign

Taking a break in the shade of a cactus while his mule smells the flowers

Motorcycle metal art street sign in Tatum New Mexico

When your mule won’t go, take the bike!

Deer metal art street sign on Anderson St Tatum NM

A desert deer family on Anderson Street

US-380 goes right through town, but the townsfolk know the road locally as “Broadway,” and a buffalo marked one corner of this important street in town.

Buffalo metal art Broadway St Tatum New Mexico

A bison guards Broadway

Turning to face another corner on Broadway, I was bemused to see that the letter B had vanished from the sign, and below the flying birds the sign now read, “Roadway.” I looked for the B on the ground all around the sign, thinking that it might have blown off in a windstorm, but it was nowhere to be found.

Birds flying metal art street sign Tatum New Mexico

When you lose your B, you get Roadway

Ths fun metal artwork isn’t limited to street signs. As I walked further afield, I discovered several inviting park benches, each decorated with a different western theme as well.

Metal art on park bench Tatum New Mexico

There were park benches all around, each one unique.

I love it when a town has a theme and has invested in decorating itself with art of some kind or another. But who was responsible for all this funky metal art in this tiny town of 839 people in New Mexico? At the far west end of town, we began to get some clues. We found a big building surrounded with metal art of all shapes and sizes. A sign above the building said, “Metal Art by Tex Welch.”

Metal Art workshop sign by Tex Welch Tatum New Mexico

Tex Welch was the original Metal Art Man in town

I really wanted to meet this guy, Tex, and ask him about the street signs and find out if he was the one who’d made them, and if perhaps he had made the many fabulous arches at the entrances to the ranches we had just passed. Unfortunately, his workshop was closed. We wandered back to his shop a little later, and it was still closed.

Little did we know that winds of change have come to the lively metal art scene in Tatum, New Mexico.

Metal art wind vane Tatum New Mexico


Down at the opposite end of town, at the far east end, I came across a huge American flag made of painted stones set in the ground. Four flags were flying next to it – the New Mexico and Texas state flags, the American flag and the POW flag. Each was made of sheet metal and flew in a perfect ripple. In front of the flags, a group of soldiers were planting an American flag in the ground, reminiscent of Iwo Jima, and beneath their feet were the words: Support Our Troops.


Poor Boy's Metal Art American tribute Tatum New Mexico

A beautiful patriotic display right on the main drag at the east end of town

Behind this nifty scene there was a building surrounded by metal cactus, crosses, cowboys and turkey vultures. A sign on the building said, “Poor Boy’s Metal Art.”

Poor Boy's Metal Art Workshop Juan Manuel Carbajal Tatum New Mexico

Poor Boy’s Metal Art is the new game in town.

I tromped around a little bit, hoping to find someone working outside, when I heard happy whistling coming from behind the building. I went around back, and there was a guy hovered over a workbench, whistling to his heart’s content, as happy as a man can be.

I called out to him, and he introduced himself as Juan Manuel Carbajal. That’s a mouthful! I had him repeat it and spell his last name until I could say it right, rolling “r” and all.

“Let me show you my current project,” he said with a huge grin as he gestured towards his workbench. “This is a little finer than the street signs… it’s more indoor art than outdoor.” The bench was covered with smaller pieces. He picked one up and I couldn’t resist taking a photo. He absolutely radiated happiness as he showed off his artwork.

Juan Manuel Carbajal metal artist Tatum New Mexico

Juan Manuel Carbajal was a sheer delight to talk to.

He told me he was originally from the city of Cuatémoc in Chihuahua, Mexico, but had lived here for decades. He reminded me of our friend Alejandro Ulloa in Ensenada, Mexico, who had done the extraordinary metal fabrication on our boat, creating our solar panel arch with polished welds. He, too, was truly passionate about his work. It isn’t often that you find people who genuinely loves what they do. Juan and Alejandro are two of the lucky ones.

“I apprenticed under Tex,” Juan explained to me when I asked about the metal art workshop at the other end of town. “He’s the one who made all the street signs here. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been well,” he said with a sigh.

I asked Juan if he’d made any of the signs around town, and he said he’s done a few, “And I donated my display with the flags and the troops out in front to the town, so Tatum will have it no matter what happens to me.” How wonderful for the town to be gifted such a unique, patriotic work of art.

Tatum Community Center Metal Art sign Tatum New Mexico


Juan went back to his workbench, and I continued roaming around town. He had said to check out the metal art built into the metal fencing nearby, and there were some terrific images there.

Bronco wrought iron fence metal art Tatum New Mexico

Ride ’em, Cowboy!

Cowboy horse and cross metal art fence Tatum New Mexico

Paying respects…

Horses metal art fence Tatum New Mexico

A-prancin’ and a-dancin’

I think he also has done some of the painted metal art that appears around town.

Mad bomber metal art fence Tatum New Mexico

It’s the Mad Bomber!

Military helicopter metal art fence Tatum New Mexico


Roadrunner metal art fence gate Tatum New Mexico

New Mexico flag with a roadrunner on a gate

I just love it when we come across unusual people and places like this! I had hoped simply to get a few fly-by images of ranch gates as we traveled on US-380 from Texas to Arizona, but instead we found the heart of the metal art magic in this region and had a chance to talk with one of the artists.

RV and sunset in New Mexico

Tatum, New Mexico, is a cool town to visit for RVers heading east-west through New Mexico

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Roswell, New Mexico – Aliens, UFO’s, Spaceships and more!

February, 2015 – Roswell, New Mexico, was the site of some extra-terrestrial activity way back when, and a few aliens seem to have escaped and set up housekeeping in town. When we arrived in Roswell, we found the place was absolutely overrun with little green monsters.

Alien Welcome in Roswell New Mexico

Welcome to Roswell!

As we drove down the main drag, we noticed all the aliens immediately. They were out welcoming us in front of every business in town. Even the Super 8 motel had a little alien doorman standing in front holding a “Welcome” sign.

Alien welcome to Roswell NM at the Super 8 Motel

Super 8 has a special greeter..

All of these aliens are unique. Some are tall, some are short, some are cute and smiling and others seem distant and a little forlorn. But almost all of them are bright green with big heads and skinny bodies, and they all have large black almond shaped eyes.

Forlorn alien in Roswell New Mexico

This guy looks a little lost!

Some of them still live in their flying saucer spaceships.

Aliens with a UFO space capsule

An authentic alien spacecraft.

Even the local credit union pays tribute to Roswell’s unusual visitors.

Roswell spaceship bank sign

Look what showed up at the credit union.

A few aliens have gotten into the loan sharking business, doing taxes on the side.

Aliens at loan shop in Roswell NM

These aliens have money to loan…and they do taxes too.

A very Japanese looking alient has opened a sushi restaurant called “Galactic Sushi.”

Galactic Sushi in Roswell New Mexico

Japanese aliens serve up yummy sushi.

Down at the local Arby’s, management has figured out that Roswell is now completely overrun with aliens, and they know there is only one thing to do: welcome the aliens with open arms (and provide signage with alien translations)!

Meanwhile, the town leaders have hired a whole slew of aliens to become patriotic lightposts. These obedient aliens are all lined up in a row along the town streets, and they proudly hold the flag of their adopted country.

Aliens welcome at Arby's in Roswell

Arby’s welcomes aliens
— and provides signage in their language!

Alien lamppost with flag

Some aliens carry American flags
and light up the night.

The cutest aliens are all hanging out at the local Walmart. We saw them grinning and waving through the window as we went in to go shopping.

Happy outerspace alien faces at Walmart

The aliens are having party down at Walmart!

It was all quite overwhelming. We’ve never been surrounded by aliens quite like that before. It made us almost feel like aliens ourselves! We caught our reflection next to an alien in a store window that announced: “We’re Here!!!”

We're Here in Roswell New Mexico

We’ve landed…in Roswell!!

How did Roswell, New Mexico, become the alien capital of the world? A spaceship crashed here back in July, 1947. A local rancher was out with his grandson one afternoon, and they noticed some unusual debris scattered around. They returned later to inspect what seemed to be the bits and pieces of a flying saucer, and then the word got out — Roswell had been visited by a UFO.

UFO spaceship crash site of Roswell

Artwork on the side of a building tells the story:
The origins of the aliens-in-Roswell phenomenon was the crash landing of a UFO in 1947

A local media frenzy caught the imagination of the whole country, while little green aliens scampered all around Roswell behind the scenes.

Roswell Daily Record July 3 1947

From the UFO Museum – an original local newspaper from July 3, 1947.

Over the years, local artists have gone to town in this town, and now every sign and every building sports the image of an alien or a flying saucer. The artwork is stylish and captivating!

The alien zone downtown Roswell New Mexico

The alien artwork on the buildings is fabulous.

One artist channeled Da Vinci in a huge mural on the side of a building that depicts an alien’s hand reaching down to touch a human one. In the background, the UFO Museum sports a sign with an alien spaceship on it.

God humans and spaceship

A divine, no, an ALIEN connection…

Even the local coffee shops have gotten in on the act. They don’t sell regular coffee. They have Stellar Coffee!

Stellar Coffee from outer space

This coffee is truly stellar.

Not too far away, the King’s Treasure House sign sports a 3D coffee cup and offers inspirational books that are not of this world.

Flying saucer UFO in Roswell New Mexico

Roswell… not of this world!

We really enjoyed this artsy side of Roswell, New Mexico. The aliens made us feel welcome, and the graffiti and artwork is fun. Roswell is a town that is not only not of this world, it is truly out of this world!

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White Sands National Monument – New Mexico’s Desert Dunes!

February, 2015 – The first thing we noticed when we arrived at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico, was the beautiful patterns in the sand. The wind leaves ripples across the sand, the way the ocean does at the beach, and the patterns wriggled away from us in semi-parallel lines as far as we could see.

Rippled sand of White Sands National Monument in New Mexico

We saw beautiful patterns in the sand everywhere.

When we first were driving towards the National Monument, we wondered where the sand was, becauase all we could see was vast brown landscapes all around us. But as soon as we got onto the Dunes Drive inside the park, the white sand enveloped us on all sides.

Vast landscapes and tiny person at White Sands National Park New Mexico

The landscape at White Sands is vast.

The sand was virgin in most places, filled with patterns that Mother Nature chose. But in some spots we saw the tracks of little creatures and the footprints of people, some wearing shoes and many running barefoot!

Sand Patterns at White Sands New Mexico

Ripples weave across the desert floor.

Animal tracks in the sand

Animals and people left tracks here and there.


There are hundreds of square miles of brilliant white sand in this area, and White Sand National Monument encloses 223 of those square miles. The sand is a crystallized form of gypsum that usually dissolves in the rain before being washed away. But this area is in a basin that doesn’t drain, which leaves beautiful dunes and “beaches” on the earth’s surface.

Standing on virgin sand

This is a unique landscape!

There are many different kinds of dunes, and sand piles, and flat open expanses of sand. Desert plants poke up through the sand here and there, and the light and shadows play with each other on the dune faces as the sun travels across the sky.

Plant and shadow in White Sands New Mexico

Plant and shadow…

Desert plants in White Sands National Monument New Mexico

Desert plants

We were enchanted by the patterns we found everywhere. In some places the sand makes crisp little ridges, and in others the sand undulated in large, soft waves.

Dodge RAM 3500 truck in White Sands National Monument New Mexico

Some of the dunes undulate in large, soft waves.

It was nearly Valentine’s Day, and Mark got inspired, drawing hearts and writing “Sweety” and my name in the sand. We played with making shadow puppets and made two wonderful hearts as we stood side by side. As we looked down at our perfect shadows on the ground, we both said simultaneously, “Now all we need is someone to take our picture!” Oh well, no one was around so we got just one heart shadow instead of two.

Sand swirls leading to a heart

We got into the Valentine’s spirit…

Shadow Puppet heart in the sand

…but with double-heart shadow-play, who takes the photo?


We were both drawn to the beauty in totally different ways, and we ran off in different directions to try to capture it. I turned around at one point and saw Mark lying down in the sand! Luckily, the sand brushes off really easily. His little bit of lolling around on this desert beach yielded some beautiful photos from sand level!

Getting down for a low shot of White Sands National Monument New Mexico

Mark gets low for a shot from sand level…

Blue sky at White Sands National Monument New Mexico


White Sands National Monument is a really FUN park. We watched kids making snow angels in the sand and families sledding down hills on flying saucers they’d rented at the visitors center. The beauty of this crazy sand paradise is that whenever the wind blows, the tracks left by people are erased, and the sand palette is wiped clean.

Brushed and rippled sand with grass plant

Footsteps leading to me in White Sands National Monument New Mexico


Like an old fashioned Etch-A-Sketch, or a sand castle made at low tide, you can leave your mark here, but only for a short while.

Desert plants in the white sands of New Mexico

The road that goes through the park isn’t paved. Instead, the National Park Service seems to use a snowplow to clear the sand to the sides! Some people bring their RVs down the Dunes Drive, but it looked like their wheel wells got pretty sandy.

Curving dunes in the sand in New Mexico

Plowed roads at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico

The Dunes Drive is a plowed road through the sand!!

Our visit was way too brief, and we didn’t get to see the magic hours of sunrise and sunset. Oh well — next time!!!

Motorhome and sand dune in New Mexico

We had a wonderful introduction to this magical place,
and we’ll be back for sure!!

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