The Monkeynut vacations in New Mexico

This summer, we decided to spend a week in New Mexico. Louise spent some time there many years ago, but for the rest of us it was terra incognita. Toni figured she could squeeze it in between a week in Ireland and packing for Cameroon and so we left by car on August 24 and drove to Carlsbad, about a seven hour drive, although we were confounded by the change in time zone, which caused us to believe the trip was an hour shorter than it actually was. We stopped for lunch at the Circle Bar Truck Corral, which was corny, inexpensive and provided basic food for long-distance truckers like us.

Carlsbad didn't seem to be a very charming town and Toni was dismissive of the Best Western where we stayed; although our room was perfectly serviceable, the decorations were hideous. Louise was not feeling up to snuff, so Toni and I went to a fine restaurant called Yellow Brix where we had an excellent dinner.

The next morning, Sunday, we got up early and drove to the Caverns. To our surprise, there were very few people there - later we were informed that the faithful were all at church and that it would get a lot more crowded in the afternoon. My geezer pass got us all in for free, which was a cause for celebration, although later in the day, it appeared that the Park Service was also celebrating something or other and had decided to let everyone in for free.

The Circle Bar Truck Corral, where we stopped for lunch Carlsbad Visitors' Center Our Fearless Leader

My claustrophobia explained to me that I was about to be buried under 700 ft of solid rock where I would certainly be trapped for the brief and agonizing remainder of my life. However, I decided to ignore it. Indeed, the enormous scale of the caverns made it hard to feel enclosed and I ended up enjoying the whole thing immensely. We walked down to the Big Room, which took about an hour of steady descent, but the path was well paved and the sights extraordinary. Once down there, we spent another hour wandering around, eating a sandwich, expressing wonderment and snapping photos before taking the elevator back up to the surface. We also purchased some postcards that were photographed by professionals with fancy lighting, so we have included those below. We didn't actually wait for the bats, which come out at twilight - we decided we're batty enough as it is.

The Approach Down into the Hole Last Chance

On leaving the Caverns, we went for a little hike in Guadalupe National Park which is just down the street. I felt a bit wobbly going up or down, but it was mostly a smooth and gentle trail up McKittrick Canyon. We didn't make it all the way to the trail's end, but it was still a delightful hike. Two successful outings out of two!

We then splashed in the hotel pool and went out to Chilis for dinner. There, we had a surprise encounter with Sam Ellis, who saw Toni and me standing near the bar waiting for a table, came up to us, pointed out a table that was just becoming free and suggested we grab the table together . He was a biker who works in Odessa and who had ridden up to Carlsbad for the weekend. We all ordered drinks and chatted about motorcycles until our table in the restaurant became ready. We said goodbye to Sam and I went over to our waitress and asked her to bring the drinks bill over to our table. After we finished our meal, I saw that the drinks had not been added to the bill - it turned out that Sam had told the waitress that he would cover them. A true gentleman of the road!

Back on the road Monday morning to drive to Santa Fe, stopping in Roswell despite Louise's dire warnings that we would be abducted by massive quantities of alien schlock. Sure enough, we couldn't resist buying a few trinkets inspired by UFOs and aliens, but we were soon back on the road and got to Santa Fe in time for a late lunch. After eating in the central plaza, we took a 90 minute tour in an open bus to get a leisurely introduction to the town, although Toni pronounced the driver/tourguide terminally boring. Later in the afternoon, we returned to the plaza and sat on a balcony and had a leisurely dinner, although Louise pronounced her chili terminally revolting. Santa Fe had a bit of the feeling of a Disney creation from Epcot. All of the recently built houses and stores in the city have to conform with the short, earthen-hued adobe style prescribed by code. My goodness! - could all these structures date back to pre-columbian days and could they be inhabited by members of friendly native tribes? No. But, like Epcot, it is interesting and quaint and unfamiliar to tourists, and so keeps them coming back.

On Tuesday, we split up - I had some end-of-month work to do, so Louise and Toni went back to check out Canyon Road, where all the art galleries are. Meanwhile, I pounded away at my keyboard. My computer began to expire before my eyes - certain keys stopped registering and I had several instances of the Blue Screen of Death - but somehow I was able to limp along until the work was done and I could join my compadres for lunch. We then toured the Santa Fe Basilica and went to the Loretto Chapel to see the Miraculous Staircase which legend says was built by St Francis himself. After drinks, we had dinner at the Shed - wonderful grilled shrimp.

Off to Taos on Wednesday, which is about an hour up the road into the mountains. At lunch, we tasted a new delicacy - green chili beer! Sounds interesting but after a taste we decided to stick to more conventional fare. After lunch, we drove up to the Taos ski area - wonderful sights along the drive, although the cliffs and lush evergreens looked more like New Hampshire than the Southwest.

Thursday - the most spectacular day hike ever, at Tent Rocks National Monument. Here's a description from Wikipedia:

Well, dogs are definitely the losers. We passed through a slot canyon, which was spectacular and which also provided some much-needed shade. Then the trail headed up until we were on a level with the tent rocks themselves. I had to be helped up parts of the trail, but it was definitely worth it (for me, anyway.)

The eyeball sees all Geological explanation Louise in front of Hansel and Gretel's house
We are approaching the slot canyon Toni in the slot Toni resting in root chair
The slot Looking up Louise marches on
I am in the slot Interesting swooshy pattern Toni takes a picture
The tents look down on us I survey the tents Hugs on top

On Friday, we drove down the Turquoise Scenic Byway to Albuquerque to drop Toni off at the airport so she could take a flight to Houston to say goodbye to her frields. The Turquoise Trail is definitely oversold. Our first stop was at Cerillos, a depressing place with no attraction at all. We went into what may have been the only tourist store in town, but the saleperson didn't feel like making any sales and so he went into the back until we left. Then Madrid - delightful, tourist-friendly, where we had lunch and chatted with various folks. Then Tinker-town - bizzarre, interesting, although not particularly friendly. It was a labor of love by its creators who had carved hundreds of little figures and placed them in strange situations. Then Albuquerque itself - we didn't see the tourist spots, so it seemed pretty charmless. But lunch at a good cafe in Nob Hill and then to airport.

Cerrillos Scenic (?) view Ah! Now that's scenic!
Madrid t-shirt Interesting tourist shops Bird with art
No Pity Cafe Java Junction Historic marker
Here is Tinkertown!!!

After dropping off Toni at the Albuquerque airport, we returned to Santa Fe and had a modest dinner at the Bumblebee Baja Grill. Then we decided to leave Saturday morning rather than staying until Sunday and having to take a chance with the Labor Day traffic. We made a fairly early start the next morning and headed south to I40 and east to pick up Route 84, which goes almost all the way to Austin. We stopped in Clovis, near the Texas state line, for lunch. We drove all over town and found two restaurants - Bob's Burgers and Sonic. On closer inspection, Bob's turned out to be closed, so we went to Sonic. Very retro, with servers on roller skates, but serving greasy nondescript food. We had the impression that there was a real Clovis somewhere, full of fun people and interesting restaurants, but damned if we could find it. When we got back on the main road out of town, we passed a steady stream of hotels and chain restaurants to care for the many visitors who come to Clovis to see ... what?

The rest of the trip was pretty smooth - we stopped in Abilene for the night at another Best Western and had a tasty shrimp salad and beer at a local pub. On Sunday, we hit the road again and found ourselves driving into Austin in time for lunch.

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