Like so many other spots we’ve been, Santa Fe was one more place we hated to leave. Return trip is a must – at this rate, we’ll spend the rest of our trips forever revisiting spots we’ve been to one time before. How will we ever see anything new?
Naturally, we decided to take the roundabout way to our camping destination. So, our first stop was Fort Union National Monument, a US Military post in NE New Mexico from 1851 to 1891. Perched right on the Santa Fe Trail, its huge storehouses made it an important supply depot. The only hospital for miles was also located here, with non-military patients paying $.50/day for treatment. Preservation began in the 1930s, although much of the huge site had deteriorated by then. It was an interesting morning in a lightly-traveled spot.One of the things I loved most about this site was that we could see the ruts of the Santa Fe Trail, although wagons had been gone for decades. Unfortunatey, none of the photos I had picked these up, although they were clearly visible with the naked eye. We were amazed that the wagon path could still be detected over a century later.
Our find of the day perhaps was the National Park System Map we picked up for $1.75. Now we have a visual guide for all the National Parks and Monuments – an actual map with the locations pinpointed. We are happy map people. Sometimes you just need a paper guide. Going to try to hunt them all down. Too many are lightly traveled – like this one.
Armed with our new map, we discover that we can go only 60 miles or so out of our way to visit the Capulin Volcano National Monument. Off we go. Along the way, see piles of lava rocks alongside the road in one of the most eerie landscapes ever. Bright blue skies with puffy white clouds, bright golden fields of prairie grass, and an absolutely flat surface, save for the occasional extinct volcano scattered around. It’s bizarre. Who knew that New Mexico had an entire line of volcanos? Capulin is the most recently active of these – erupted 50,000-60,000 years ago. We watched the movie at the Visitor Center and perused all the exhibits. But, in order to take the scenic drive to the top, we would have had to unhitch the Fireball. We agreed that if it would have been bare volcanic rock – we would have done it. But this particular site has already grown over with shrubs, pinon pines, and other high desert plants. We grabbed a brochure and headed on our way.
At this point, the wind was picking up, and we were getting biffed furiously around. The bonus to this was that we passed an area where we saw an updraft that was completely filled with tumbleweeds. A tumbleweed tornado. By the time I grabbed my camera, we were passed, and it was gone, but we had an amazing sight for 20 seconds of a huge cyclone of tumbleweeds, high above the ground. You’ll just have to take my word for it.
Clayton Lake State Park was our destination for the night (and for Sunday as well). Formed by a dam, Clayton Lake is a fisherman’s dream. We watched several boats on Saturday afternoon pull out, having caught their limit of trout (5/person/day). The two other campers there were both frying fish for dinner. We hung out with pathetic looks and empty plates, hoping for a dinner invitation, but it was not to be.
Sunday morning, we decided to explore the Dinosaur Tracks(!) at the Park. After the dam was built, the spillway was bulldozed. The spillway floor eroded, exposing dinosaur tracks that are 100 million years old. From an overhead viewing station, there’s a good view of the entire area, and a boardwalk around the edge gets us up close and personal. One particular three-toed track really captured our imagination. We dangled our binoculars out next to it to capture the enormous size. Amazing.
Winter weather warnings have us concerned. During the day, we battled 40mph wind gusts, which are not uncommon in the Southwest spring. But, there’s a winter storm warning. The only other campers here abandoned their big 5th wheel trailer, and headed to Dodge City for the night and a warm hotel room. We’re here by ourselves, and it is roaring outside. We can barely open the door. We disconnected our water, put antifreeze in our toilet, and are hunkered down for the night. This shot is about 6pm, out our porthole window. It’s blowing snow straight sideways. Prediction is 4-6” of snow, with temps in the 20’s or teens. We’re hoping we can get out in the morning. It’s uphill between us and the Visitor Center, and uphill again to the road out from there. Ugh.
Monday morning, we awoke to this.The Park Rangers (with their 4-wheel drive trucks) tell us that we have NO CHANCE of getting out of here with our 2-wheel pickup, trailer, and puny tire chains. Pure ice! We resign ourselves to a solitary day/night. It’s still whistling outside, and the windchill is -19 (according to the one radio station we can get). We resign ourselves to the day – hiking up for a mile to the one point where we have a bit of cell service to send a text message to folks who might wonder where we are. Freezing, but beautiful. Snowy tumbeweeds are everywhere, less of a nuisance when frozen than not.Hey, New Mexico sun! Thanks! By 1pm, the dark pavement has de-iced itself, and we decide to bust out and head to our next destination in Dodge City, KS. We see snow nearly all the way there, and it’s cold. But, we’re not stranded.