Texas and New Mexico Westbound Trip
April 3 to 16, 2014
Continuing the Texas Trip of 2014, heading west from the Gulf Coast of Texas.
This second half of the Texas trip lasted 14 days and I created 239 panoramas (367 total for the entire Texas trip). I camped every night.
(Click any picture to open a larger version.)
From Goose Island on the Gulf Coast I headed inland to Goliad. It was less humid and the air was clearer away from the coast, and I began to feel better. I am used to western climates that are dry when it's hot, and cool when it's rainy or foggy. I once lived in New Orleans for two years, so I know what heat and humidity are like, but that doesn't mean I want to go camping under those conditions. I've also spent time in Hawaii and the West Indies, but they are trade-wind islands, and the continuous air movement makes a huge difference.
The next day was sunny and very pleasant, I rode my bicycle around the park, to the presidio, and into town. Goliad was a perfect combination of a comfortable place to stay, good weather, and interesting things to look at and photograph. I got a little exercise riding my bike, no matter that I clumsily fell into the river.
From Goliad I made my way methodically up the chain of missions along the San Antonio River, the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. I have photographed all the California missions (and others in Arizona, New Mexico, and Baja California), so this was familiar subject matter. There are four Spanish Missions here that are protected and interpreted by the national park service, plus the Alamo, which not a national park property. There is also a mission-era dam and aqueduct, still used to irrigate fields as it has been since 1745.
Early afternoon brought me to the Alamo in the city of San Antonio. It was mobbed and I couldn't find anywhere to park, which was very disappointing. So I reluctantly put San Antonio on my list for 2015, got on the freeway and drove all the way to San Angelo.
It only took an hour to see the sights of San Angelo, I found it to be drab and sort of depressing. The climate-change-denier and "pro-life" billboards reminded me that local culture was far removed from what I am used to in progressive northern California.
I headed west across the Permian Basin oil fields, with a stop in Midland just as a thunderstorm passed over. A few more miles brought me to beautiful Monahans Sandhills State Park.
From Pecos, Texas, I crossed north into New Mexico, and spent most of the day underground - in Carlsbad Caverns. It is a remarkable cave, and an equally impressive human effort to make it accessible. You walk steadily downhill on a smooth paved trail with handrails and lighted interpretive signs until you reach the Big Room, a thousand feet below the surface. (You can also check out a set of headphones and listen to a spoken commentary as you walk, but I hate that.) At the bottom there is a snack bar, and elevators back up to the surface.
First thing this morning I visited the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens near Carlsbad, one of my favorites. Earlier in the trip I had crossed the south end of the Pecos River near Langtry, and decided now to trace its course north all the way to its source in the Rockies. Next stop was Roswell, with its tacky "alien" tourist attractions.
I camped at Bottomless Lakes State Park east of Roswell. The Bottomless Lakes are intriguing, a series of large round sinkholes up to 90 feet deep edging a line of low cliffs. I have wanted to see them since taking a class in geomorphology in college, many years ago.The CCC built elaborate facilities here in the 1930's. After my experience with the weather on the Gulf Coast I was enjoying the low humidity and cool night air.
The newly constructed Bosque Redondo Memorial was interesting, especially the curving mural inside. It memorializes the forcible relocation of Navajo and Mescalero Apache Indians in 1863 and the great hardship they suffered. Nearby is the grave of Billy the Kid and his twice-stolen tombstone.
Following the Pecos River north brought me to the Blue Hole, an amazing artesian spring in Santa Rosa. Strange as it seems, it is a popular destination for scuba diving, with crystal-clear water 80 feet deep.
Heading north into the hills, Villanueva is one of several small towns and villages along the Pecos River founded by Spanish/Mexican settlers before 1800. This is the southeast corner of the fascinating Hispano and Pueblo cultural area of New Mexico.
The campground at Villanueva State Park features stonework constructed in the 1930's by the CCC. Cooking and eating dinner and spending the evening in this stone shelter was an agreeable change from sitting in the camper.
Two highlights this day - first the impressive old town of Las Vegas. It began as an important stop on the Santa Fe Trail, and later the railroad. It developed a double city center, the old one around the plaza and a newer one across the creek near the railway station. There are hundreds of heritage buildings, pleasant and friendly people, and no tourists that I noticed. Renovation of the old depot is about to begin, and there is a huge brick locomotive roundhouse just being used for storage. Las Vegas seemed to me almost like a personal discovery.
The other highlight was the abandoned pueblo of Pecos, which also boomed with the Santa Fe Trail, then withered and died as trade routes shifted and native populations diminished. It was my second visit to Pecos, and just like the first time I arrived barely before they closed for the day. I had just enough time for a tour around, and I got some great panos in the afternoon light. Of all the red rock and mud brick scenery in the Southwest, I think Pecos is the reddest.
I expected to find lots of camping opportunities in the mountains north of Pecos in Santa Fe National Forest, but most campgrounds were still closed for the season. The site I finally found was poorly maintained, noisy with generators, and the toilets were truly shocking. What a shame, in such a beautiful area.
Early next morning I reached one of the goals of the trip, the headwaters of the Pecos River in the snowy Sangre de Christo Range. Ironically, I also found a beautiful empty campground at the very end of the road. But it was very cold, the ground still frozen, so I headed south, all the way to the Gila Mountains.I found a tiny campground in the Black Range, Gila National Forest, forested with Apache pines and alligator junipers, very peaceful.
The morning was spent at Gila Cliff Dwellings, a wonderful remote spot surrounded by wilderness. It was cold in the mountains, so I retreated to Deming for the night.
White Sands National Monument was an easy day-trip from Deming. The gypsum sands there are beautiful, and very photogenic. People are wont to say they are "as white as snow", but I was there in mid-winter 2002 when there was patchy snow on the dunes, and the sand is actually sort of pale tan, compared to the pure white of fresh snow.
It was obvious to me that the rangers at White Sands had been struggling with spring break rowdies, and also too many local people just looking for a place to picnic and let their kids play on the dunes. There were lots of special rules posted, and stopping places along the road were blocked off. Plus they are dealing with staff cutbacks, budget reductions, and deferred maintenance issues. A sad situation - the national parks deserve stronger leadership and Congressional support.
I had closed the loop at Deming and was now headed back west on I-10. I wasn't really in the mood for anything urban, so I just made a few panoramas at the magnificent baroque mission church of San Xavier del Bac, south of Tucson, then continued west.
I didn't stop until I was out in the big empty southwest corner of Arizona, between Casa Grande and Yuma. It was bone dry and very hot, and there was almost nobody else stopping to look around or camp, just a steady stream of through traffic.The amazing petroglyph site at Painted Rocks is no longer a state park, but the campground is still there, run by the BLM.
A few hours on I-8 brought me to Yuma, with its interesting Territorial Prison, then I was back in California. A long haul across the desert positioned me to be home the next day.Owl Canyon Campground near Barstow, one of my standard first-day and last-day stops.
Highway 58 took me straight west across the Mojave Desert and Tehachapi Pass to I-5 in the San Joaquin. This is a major route and really should be re-designated as the continuation of I-40 from Barstow to Bakersfield (or extending on to I-5), and upgraded to freeway where necessary.
Despite my eagerness to finish the trip (I had been out almost a month), I managed to get a panorama with a train winding around the Tehachapi Loop, and visited the new Cesar Chavez National Historic Landmark. I was home in time for a late dinner.