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.

We Have a New Home!

No, not the kind you’re thinking of.  If only…  What we do have is a brand spanking new tent!  You may remember when I wrote Our Home is in the Mail that I shipped it back to the manufacturer under a warranty claim.  While I did not receive a good answer as to what was going on with our tent, they did agree to replace it for us.  Except for the problems we had toward the end of our trip, I  really love this tent, so I am so happy to be able to continue to use this tent for future expeditions.  Now we just need to get started planning our first camping trip of the season.  And by camping trip, I mean camping outdoors, not camping indoors, which is what we’re currently doing.  For those of you who are wondering, camping outdoors is vastly superior to camping indoors, but at least you don’t have to worry about the sub-freezing temperatures.

Visit Our National Parks for Free – and Camp KOA for Free

There are many things we enjoyed on our trip over this past year.  Second only to visiting with friends and family was spending so many glorious uninterrupted hours, days, weeks in our national parks.  If you live near a national park (and most of you do), I encourage you all to go and explore our heritage and history at these fantastic institutions.  For added incentive, National Park Week is coming up from April 19th to 27th.  In celebration, parks are offering FREE admission on April 19th and 20th.  While not all parks charge admission, if a park you’ve been thinking of visiting does, this is the perfect time to check it out.  Also, April 26th is National Junior Ranger Day.  We’ll definitely have to do something with Van to celebrate.  Maybe we’ll bust out all eight of his junior ranger badges (he just earned his eighth at the Springfield, MA Armory).

Junior Ranger Van

Junior Ranger Van

In celebration of all things outdoors and free, KOA is offering a free night of camping on Saturday, May 10th if you stay on Friday, May 9th.  Funds raised during that weekend will support KOA Care Camps, which allow children with cancer and their siblings to attend special summer camps around the country.  Win, Win!

Even if you’re not up for a visit to a national park or camping, I hope you are all enjoying some time in the fresh air and sun.  Nothing heals better than an afternoon frolic through the woods.

Our Home is in the Mail

Our Campsite in Porteau Cove Provincial Park, BC

Losi 3 Person Tent by Nemo Equipment

This has been our home for much of our wanderings across this great land.  We began to notice something funky with the tent in late fall.  It started to seem as if the tent material had shrunk.  All of a sudden, we were noticing that the poles fit tighter and that the floor wouldn’t lay flat all the way to the edges.  Shortly after we noticed that, the zippers on both the tent and the fly started to separate from time to time.  It would usually zip up just fine, but then it would start to come apart in the middle anywhere from five minutes to several hours after we had zipped everything up.  It only happened periodically at first, but then the frequency increased as time wore on.  Since it was too cold for bugs, we just dealt with it and promised to look into once we were no longer reliant on it for shelter.

And so, I packed up our collapsible home this week and made a trip to the post office with Van.  I’m happy that this is the first warranty claim of the trip (though we did return Alan’s Big Agnes ground pad earlier in the trip to replace it with a much improved Therm-a-rest), but disappointed it’s on the most expensive piece of camping equipment we own.  I’ll keep you posted as we find out what Nemo Equipment will do to replace or repair the tent.  In the mean time, I’ll be dreaming of our first camping trip of the new year once the snow melts and the tent is back in our possession.

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.