Archive for March, 2009

Carlsbad Caverns

March 29th, 2009

Group Shot - Parks Ranch, NM

I hate to post two stories so close together, but since our internet connection is about to go from ‘two tin cans and a string’ to ‘no one can hear you scream’, I’m going to go ahead and put up the Carlsbad post along with a link to the fancy pictures.

One of the sights we were both looking forward to since we hit the road was Carlsbad Caverns. Neither of us had been here since we were children and while I couldn’t recall anything about the cave, I remember being fascinated throughout the entire trip. Since we’ve taken up caving as a hobby, Carlsbad has taken on the aspect of your run of the mill holy shrine and a required pilgrimage.

We knew our America the Beautiful pass would get us into the Big Room for free, but one day underground wasn’t going to do it. We’re trying to stick to a budget here, so rather than paying for a guided tour of other sections of the cave or other caves in the park, I emailed a couple of people in the local grotto and asked if they had anything going on. It was short notice, but they both responded and took us on two separate trips in two days with two caves each day!

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Gila Cliff Dwellings

March 29th, 2009

Gila Cliff Dwellings, Gila NF

It’s actually been so long ago that when Jenn mentioned she was uploading the pictures from Gila National Forest, I had no idea what she was talking about! Obviously, this post is way overdue. About six weeks overdue actually.

The Gila Cliff Dwellings weren’t really on our way; in fact, I think you could say they aren’t on the way to anywhere, but we took a little detour to see them anyway. By little detour, I mean it was about fifty miles off our route. Did I mention that the last twenty-five or thirty miles were on some pretty hairy mountain roads? That leg alone took around two hours. The signs advised no vehicles over thirty feet! The grades were fairly steep; the turns were sharp and many.

However, it was a very pleasant ride as we weren’t in a hurry to get there and were planning on staying over in one of the many campsites along the way. And there were quite a few campsites. Dispersed camping and a number of actual campgrounds lined the route. Many, if not all, of the forestry campgrounds were free, but memory is a bit hazy. It was nice to see a bit of snow on the ground still, when temperatures were pushing eighty in the desert we’d been driving through just a bit earlier.

The cliff dwellings were quite interesting. They are built inside of natural sandstone caves and have walls built inside of them that are still standing today, despite time, weather and treasure hunters. We were lucky enough to show up just as the interpretive presentation began and had a guided tour through the dwellings. As usual, our America the Beautiful pass covered the cost of the tour, but it was a fairly small price in any event. Don’t quote me, but I think it was in the range of $5 per person. It’s a bit awe inspiring to realize that people have been using the same area for thousands of years and by the way, that’s their house right over there!

If you’re going anyway, by all means check out the displays at the visitor center as well as the nature display at the base of the cliff dwellings. Both are well worth a look. In addition, there are a few other dwellings in the area that are on a smaller scale. Ask the local volunteers and they’ll be glad to point you in the right direction.

Makeout Point!

March 25th, 2009

Makeout Point -  View from campsite in Tucson, AZ

You know that place where all the kids go in the movies and either a serial slasher shows up or someone gets pregnant? Ever wonder just where the heck it is? Apparently, it’s just northeast of Tucson, AZ in the Coronado National Forest.

We were passing through the area and decided we just couldn’t pass up checking out all of the giant saguaro growing in the area. We had planned to hit Saguaro National Park, but as we were coming in late in the afternoon, we decided to just make camp in the Coronado National Forest and hit Saguaro later. As it turns out, there wasn’t much need to go to Saguaro just to see the cacti. You couldn’t throw a rock in the national forest area without being convicted of damaging the endangered saguaro cacti. They were literally every twenty feet or so as far as you could see.

View of road to our campsite in Tucson, AZ.

By the time we finally got close to the top of the first mountain, we knew this was going to be a different camping experience. We passed dozens of cars coming down the road in the five miles or so before we found a nice campsite. We’re used to seeing maybe half a dozen cars over the course of a week in the national forests. As you can guess, we had people diving past our site all night long in everything from Cadillacs to dirt bikes. Still, it was worth it just to camp next to this sight!

With such a movie panorama spread out below, how could we resist? I mixed up a pitcher of fruit juice and ethanol and we climbed on top of the camper with a blanket to ward off the chill. It was a wonderful view and funny to watch people slow down to look at the nuts sitting on top of the camper.

We never did make it to the national park, but we put up with all the traffic and the shooting range just over the hilltop to hang onto the view for a few days.

Lights in the sky

March 20th, 2009

FInally, I get to see the stars the way I remember them as a kid! Since we hit Texas a while back, we’ve been treated to some great night skies. You’ve really got to get away from the cities these days to enjoy the stars. The last couple of nights, outside of Quartzsite, AZ I’ve seen quite a few falling stars streak across the sky. However, none of them compare to our UFO sighting in Phoenix.

That’s right, I said ‘UFO’. Call in the media, the Air Force and my personal head shrinker. At least let me tell the story first though, OK? I’m sure there’s a rational explanation, but I haven’t figured it out yet.

So, we’re out for a stroll in the late evening. The moon is about half full and there are a few clouds in the sky. We’re not talking about a lot of clouds, just enough to create a sort of haze in front of the moon. The moon is at, perhaps, sixty degrees in the sky and backlighting a small cloud bank. At this point, I notice what initially seems to be a searchlight from the ground sweeping through this cloud bank. Then it hits me. The ‘searchlight’ is actually darkening the clouds rather than lighting them up. I say something insightful, such as “that’s weird” and Jenn notices it too. Over the next fifteen to twenty seconds, we watch it continue to arc through the cloud bank and disappear. We stay outside another five or ten minutes, occasionally glancing at the moon, but never notice a repeat of the phenomenon.

Now, common sense would indicate that any light shining up from the ground would work in the usual way and actually light things up instead of darken them. I would expect to see this sort of effect if there were an object between the moon and the clouds, but what sort of object is going to be that high up, rectangular shaped (at least the ‘visible’ portion), move in an arc, and be large enough to obscure light from the moon across the entire height of a cloud bank? Various things in space might fit the bill except for the size they’d have to be to actually be seen from the ground.

Ok, we were in the Phoenix area, which is a pretty large town, but we were on the outskirts. During the time of the sighting, the moon was out over the desert with not too much in the way of developed land in that direction. There is also a pretty large Air Force base in the area that was flying over and around us nearly constantly. So, it could have been anything and maybe nothing more sinister than an optical illusion caused by a ground based searchlight, which is what it most resembled. It’s been nagging at me off and on for a couple of weeks that I can’t come up with a better explanation. Any ideas?

Ridge Walking – New Mexico

March 19th, 2009

The great thing about ridge walking in New Mexico is that there aren’t any trees. Well, at least not in the areas that we were looking for caves. As we drove down many a dirt road in the Guadalupe Mountains, we saw quite a few caves from our vehicle. The bad thing is that they were on mountains across the desert and we were pressed for time to find a place to sleep. Still, its quite a bit easier than on the East Coast. There, we spent hours upon hours searching for caves. In the summer, we searched through dense brush. In the fall, we shuffled through the fallen leaves and turned up nothing. In New Mexico, we could see the caves from the comfort of our truck.

In New Mexico, the mountains were dotted with cave systems. On one dirt road, North West of Carlsbad Caverns, I saw four of them on the same mountain. As usual, Johnny wasn’t able to scout, because he was driving, so I showed them to him. He then pointed out that they were moooving.

Maybe I should wear my glasses more often. That way I wont end up sticking my head in a cow.

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