August in New York, Minus the Humidity

The view from our home for two weeks.

Instead of crickets, horns. Instead of late-night revelers around a fire, late-night stumblers struggling to turn their key and escape into their box in the sky. Instead of hikes through lush woods or up mountains, walks on pavement through a canopy of skyscrapers. But the food and the friendships are so much easier to source here. After two weeks in Manhattan, I grew weary of the city life and was eager to spend much of September hiking through the early fall leaves of the Green Mountains. But I enjoyed every minute of being there (minus those ten minutes mistakenly walking through Times Square that I can’t get back), especially those spent with wonderful and dear friends. That those times were spent over delicious foods that are harder to find in other parts of this beautiful country made it even sweeter. I only had a few points on my agenda before we arrived – see several friends that I haven’t spent time with for way too long, visit the 9-11 Memorial, explore the High Line, listen to my favorite band in Central Park, and eat lots of ethnic food. Before long, our agenda filled up with all of that plus five live music shows in as many days, lots of time wandering the neighborhoods south of mid-town, watching the little guy get braver on the nearby playground, taking the boy on a boat, and using the gym like a normal person with a home and a routine.

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Van’s favorite playground in the city – Madison Square Park

As our two weeks drew to a close, I penned a few words of advice for those visiting Manhattan:

  • Unless you’ve never been to Times Square before, skip it.  I’m not a city person, but I absolutely love New York City.  However, if all of the city was like the area around Times Square and Rockefeller Center, it would be one of my least favorite places in the world.  Yuck!  It’s worth seeing once (maybe – it’s debatable), but make it a quick trip and then start exploring the rest of this city.  It can take lifetimes.
  • Whatever you do, don’t skip the High Line – it’s magical.  I spent much of my pregnancy taking long walks through Central Park to get my nature fix, but I really should have been up on the High Line.  The beautiful (and distinctly not city) smells are reason enough to spend an afternoon.
  •  If you visit the 9-11 Memorial, don’t skip a visit to St. Paul’s Chapel.  I’ve been half a dozen times in the last ten years and it never fails to make me cry.  It is a personal and beautiful testament to the best in people.
  •  Spend time in the city’s living rooms (and dining rooms, but hopefully not bathrooms) by enjoying at least one full day in one or more of the city’s great parks.  Central Park is an obvious choice, but there are so many.  I made my first trip out to Governor’s Island on this visit and can’t recommend it enough.  Especially with kids.  We took an early boat out (the first couple of boats out are free!) and spent several hours exploring with my dad before Van was beyond ready for a long nap.
  • Eat, eat, eat!  But not boring food.  Eat the kinds of food that are harder to find elsewhere.  Eat the kinds of food that satiate you and your sense of adventure.  After checking out many different eats around the city during our visit, Van proclaimed Korean food to be his favorite.  And I will admit, that was an amazing meal.  Thanks, Dad!
  • Put on your walking shoes and just wander.  I could write this advice for just about anywhere, but I think it’s particularly applicable to such a walkable and large city.  There is no better way to experience the city (other than living there) than walking through its various neighborhoods.  Though we didn’t conquer any epic walks (Alan’s longest pre-kid NYC walk in one day was about sixteen miles), we bypassed public transport a number of times and walked many, many miles to explore neighborhoods we hadn’t seen in a while.
Grandpa and Van enjoying a car-free Park Avenue for a day of strolling.

Grandpa and Van enjoying a car-free Park Avenue for a day of strolling.

I must mention that we lucked out when it came to the weather.  I wouldn’t normally recommend that a NYC visitor plan a trip in the middle of August, but I really wanted to spend some time there before we settle somewhere new and the timing worked well for us.  I could not believe how amazing the weather was – seventies with low humidity.  Where was I again?  It was bliss!

One more shot of the view - I can't resist!

One more shot of the view from the balcony – I can’t resist!

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White Sands National Monument

White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

Truth be told, White Sands was one of the places I was most looking forward to visiting when we came up with this crazy idea to travel so extensively with a two-year old.  Although we were not able to camp in the monument, our visit did not disappoint.  I was so looking forward to camping on the white sand, but the monument only has limited back country camping.  We were a little puzzled as to why we were not able to camp there.  Once we arrived, it all made much more sense.  I guess the Federal Government prefers that family campers don’t set up camp in the middle of an active missile range.  I knew that the monument was near a missile range, but I did not realize that it was smack dab in the middle of the missile range.  In fact, the monument and the main highway leading to it had been closed earlier in the week when testing activities were being conducted.  My understanding is that this can be a weekly occurrence.

Lucky for us, the only activity we were caught in the middle of was yet another immigration checkpoint, well inside the borders of our country.  We were waved through once we told them we were on our way to White Sands, but we couldn’t help but think of all the folks doing exactly what we were doing who would have to stop and answer many more questions simply because of the color of their skin.

Our first stop at White Sands was the visitor’s center.  Van ran in with his passport in hand, eager to collect yet another stamp.  I picked up his junior ranger’s packet and off we went, ready to explore the park for the day.

Van working on his junior ranger packet

Van working on his junior ranger packet

We all had a great time running around the surprisingly cool sand.  Unlike the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado, this sand is made of gypsum and is very cool to the touch.  Bare feet for the win!

The best part of the day was watching Van examine all the crystalline-like sand structures and spotting tracks of various small critters.

Our long and fun day at White Sands was capped off with our very last night of tent camping on the trip.  We drove to nearby Alamogordo and slept at a local campground, but given the low evening temperatures (it had been dipping into the 20s), we decided to finish out our stay in New Mexico at rustic cabins, local motels, and two lovely nights at the home of friends in Albuquerque.  Though it was sad to pack up our tent and realize that it would be staying in the car for the foreseeable future (and has since been replaced), sleeping in the relative warmth of an uninsulated cabin was heaven.

What Do Truth or Consequences, a Veterans’ Home, and a Classic Car Show Have in Common?

You may think that because my posting hiatus began while I was posting about our time in New Mexico that I was not a huge fan of the state.  That couldn’t be further from the truth.  We loved so many things about New Mexico, chiefly the food, the people, and the gorgeous landscapes.

After leaving Silver City,we took a circuitous route to Las Cruces so that we could check out the interestingly named, Truth or Consequences.  For those not familiar with the history of how the town received its unique moniker, the town of Hot Springs renamed itself in response to a marketing ploy by the game show, Truth or Consequences.  Given its location, I was expecting a sleepy little town.  Instead of just a quick trip through the decidedly awake town, we stayed for the day and took part in the local (and very popular) car show at the local VA home.  My vote went to a sublime cherry red pickup from days long ago (surprise, surprise), while Van was very attracted to the many, many Mustangs.

We eventually pried ourselves away from the festivities and headed south to one of the nicest places we stayed on this trip, a Days Inn in Las Cruces.  As we pulled up to the hotel, Van started pointing and saying “Idaho, Idaho.”  We went back through our memory banks and realized that we had only stayed at one Days Inn on this trip before Las Cruces.  And it was, in fact, in Idaho.  Twin Falls, to be exact.  What a memory this kid has!

We spent one full day in Las Cruces soaking up all the culture we could at the excellent New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum.  If you’re ever down in Las Cruces, it’s a must see.  Highlights included a private demonstration of separating milk from cream, watching the process of making a nail from start to finish, a history of New Mexico license plates, and a stunning photography exhibit on Pie Town.  The two most interesting facts I learned that day?  That the state actually had to add USA to its license plate at one point because too many people in the rest of the US didn’t realize that New Mexico is actually part of the US.  Write this down as reason number 56,323 that travel is important.  And secondly, that nails were so valuable before mass production that some settlers would burn down their houses before moving so that they could take the nails with them.  After seeing the process of making just one nail, I have a much greater appreciation for the many modern conveniences that allow most Americans (ourselves and just about everyone we know included) to lead such luxurious lives.

Las Cruces Farm and Ranch Museum

New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum,   Las Cruces

Emerging from Hibernation

It may seem as if we dropped off the face of the earth, but I can assure you that we have not.  After New Mexico (which I have yet not finished blogging about), we’ve been staying with friends and family to celebrate the holidays, escape the cold nights, and plot our next move.  We spent Thanksgiving in Colorado with Alan’s family, spent another week in Denver with our dear friend, Andrew, drove out to Michigan to visit with my family, and then have spent much of the last three months in New York with my parents (THANK YOU, MOM AND DAD!!!).  Between lots of grandparent time for Van, we also spent a couple of weeks down in the DC area to see friends and (drumroll) have spent some time house hunting and visiting friends in our intended new home of Western Massachusetts.  Yup, after traveling the country, we are winding up right where I used to live fifteen years ago.

For those of you following our journey offline, you know that we had put an offer in on a house that was accepted.  Unfortunately, the results of our inspection demonstrated that instead of buying a serious fixer upper, we would have been buying a tear down.  Back to the drawing board for us.  To make our house search easier and to get to know the area better, we rented a partially finished room in an unfinished basement of a lovely and lively artist.  She described it to us as camping indoors and almost wouldn’t show it to us since she didn’t think it would be suitable for a family.  Little did she realize that we’d been living out of our car for the last year.  Camping inside?  With access to running water, heat, and electric lights?  Sold!  It’s a temporary situation, so if we don’t have a new home by the summer, we’ll have to find a new temporary home.  But, the thought of not having to move every few days makes this dark basement seem like a luxurious retreat.  And the area around the house couldn’t be more beautiful.  The views from her studio are stunning, and there are multiple hiking trails that leave within a quarter-mile of the house.

And through all that awaits us, I look forward to continuing to share it right here.  But, before I start writing more about what we’re up to right now, I’ll be walking back a few months in time and writing a couple more posts about our wonderful month in New Mexico.  Easily one of the highlights of our trip.

Enchanted Already: Our First Few Days in New Mexico

On the High Road from Silver City to Gila Cliff Dwellings in New Mexico

On the High Road from Silver City to Gila Cliff Dwellings in New Mexico

What seems like ages ago now, we rolled into New Mexico after our week in Arizona.  We took a circuitous route, heading southeast from Tucson instead of east.  We drove through Tombstone, opting not to stop in the overly touristy town, and instead headed further south to the arty (and super cute) mining town of Bisbee and the border town, Douglas.  We passed numerous Border Patrol vehicles and one checkpoint for cars heading the other direction a fair distance from the border.  The highlight of our route was the gorgeous western scenery we drove through when we took much smaller roads northeast from the border towards New Mexico.  We were one of the only non-pick-ups on the road, over half of which were marked Border Patrol vehicles.  To say there was surveillance going on would be an understatement.  In addition to the numerous trucks out on patrol, there were a number of small buttes that we passed on which a truck was parked next to portable surveillance equipment.  The area was beautiful, but we could never escape the feeling of being watched at all times, even when there were no homes, cars, or people for miles around.

Our first stop in New Mexico was in Silver City.  This was one of the places I was most looking forward to, and it didn’t disappoint.  We kicked off our New Mexico culinary tour with some of the best sauces ever (red and green enchilada sauce and red and green chile sauce) at The Jalisco Cafe.  We weren’t sure which sauces we wanted, so they brought us generous cups of each of the four sauces to enjoy.  We were in heaven!  Besides getting our feet wet with some New Mexican cuisine and chatting up a fellow camper with a homemade camper trailer rigged up on a flatbed trailer with blue tarps, pvc pipe, a heater, and a tv, we spent a day each at Gila Cliff Dwellings and City of Rocks State Park.

Gila Cliff Dwellings, New Mexico

Gila Cliff Dwellings, New Mexico

City of Rocks State Park, New Mexcio

City of Rocks State Park, New Mexico

New Mexico!!

New Mexico!!

The drive from Silver City to Gila (pronounced Hee-La) Cliff Dwellings National Park is best done during daylight in mild weather.  It’s narrow and windy with crazy gorgeous views of mountain forests.  One of the most magnificent roads we traveled, it reminded us of being back in southern Colorado, which given its location, shouldn’t be all that surprising.  Once we arrived at Gila Cliff Dwellings, we were treated to a stunning hike through a canyon to reach the legendary dwellings.  The scent of water was in the air and leafy trees provided shade.  We hadn’t experienced this in quite a while!  When we reached the dwellings, we joined in on a tour that was being filmed for training purposes.  Now future park rangers and volunteers can see our shining faces peering into the cliff-side homes.

Gila Cliff Dwellings

Gila Cliff Dwellings

View from Inside

View from Inside

Notice the soot-darkened roof of the cave, blackened from decades of fires from the ancient inhabitants.

Evidence of Ancient Fires

Evidence of Ancient Fires

We were also able to spy a number of dramatic petroglyphs and pictographs in the main dwellings as well as in other areas of the park.

Pictograph on the Rocks in Gila Cliff Dwellings National Park

Pictograph on the Rocks in Gila Cliff Dwellings National Park

The homes, like many other ancient sites, had been the target of looting and damage in the past.  The park service has done quite a bit to shore up the structures, even rebuilding a few before that was frowned upon.  There are now very sensible rules in place to help ensure that visitors don’t further damage the structures.  We were disappointed to see a couple of long-distance backpackers balk at the rules and speak condescendingly to a park ranger, but I reminded myself that it was the first time we’d seen such disrespect on our trip.  And we were extra nice to the ranger to try to make up for the difficult visitors that came after us.

While we were visiting the park, all three of us worked on ranger packets.  Van worked on his special junior ranger packet geared towards pre-schoolers (the first park we’ve visited that had curriculum specifically geared to this age group) and Alan and I worked on a senior ranger packet (also the first park we visited that had this sort of curriculum).  We were really impressed with the program and were happy to walk away with an enhanced understanding of the park along with patches, and a badge for Van, that certified our achievement.

Junior Ranger Van

Junior Ranger Van

After a chilly night in the tent, we spent the next day clambering around the boulders in City of Rocks State Park.  The landscape we drove through to reach the park provided no clue that anything like this would even exist in the area.  But then, out of nowhere, stood what can only be called a city of rocks.  They are a jumbled mass of very large boulders in an otherwise flat desert-like area.  In addition to the rocks and some fantastic camping spots, the park is known for its stargazing parties.  We were there during the day, however, so we stuck to exploring and climbing up and around the rocks.

City of Rocks State Park, New Mexico

City of Rocks State Park, New Mexico

I could see how this place would be an absolute ideal place to explore with older kids who could spend hours (or maybe days) just climbing all over the rocks.  Though we enjoyed the rocks, the mighty large grasshoppers were quite the draw.

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"Can I touch it?  Please, please!"

“Can I touch it? Please, please!”

Especially the mating ones…

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Enjoy a few final photos of our time in City of Rocks and the views of the beautiful New Mexico horizon.