A Travellerspoint blog

Day 166 - Caves & Cacti (Photo's Added)

We visited Colossel Cave just east of Tuscon, then Saguaro National Park, also east of Tuscon.

storm 62 °F

First things first, the brakes were fine. Seems they just squeek a little when they get hot. So we didn't have to spend half the day at the car shop and were able to hit the road earlier then we expected, leaving time to sightsee afterall.

The first major brown sign we passed was for Colossel Cave Mountain Park in Pima County. Mom asked me to pull over so we could go through it. Throughout this trip, Mom has repeatedly told me how much she hates caves and will not go in one. She suggested that if I wanted to visit one, that would be fine, but she'd wait in the rig. I don't know why, but after we left the car shop this morning, she seemed especially 'up' for doing some sightseeing. I thought she was joking, but she really wanted me to turn off for this!

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This is a county park on the east side of Tucson that contains a large, dormant underground cave. When we got to the gift shop/ticket office, they told us a tour was just leaving if we wanted to join it, but that there were 363 steps involved and about a 1/2 mile walk. I expected Mom to say she'd wait at the gift shop, which was fine. But she said she thought she could make it. After I recovered from shock, off we went down into the cave... The lady at the gift shop said that if she found she couldn't continue, to let the guide know and he'd make sure she could get back out. Once she got inside, she was a bit apprehensive, but decided to continue anyway.

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This wasn't a very difficult cave as caves go. Between 1934 & 1938, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) installed lights, walkways, steps and handrails to make this accessable. They also built the main administration and entrance buildings in the top photo.

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Our guide for the tour was Dave. He carried a flashlight, which he occasionally used to point out various formations and features of the cave. He was very well informed and didn't seem to mind having Mom on the tour, although it occasionally slowed the group down a bit. He said she did much better than some other guests he's had from time to time!

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Here is Mom descending down one of the stairs. If you look closely, there is a slight glow to the left of the step she is on. This is one of the lights. The wiring was initially installed by the CCC in the 1930's, now the fixtures are covered with fiberglass that blends in with the cave walls quite well, leaving enough light to safely explore the cave but not too much to take away from the feeling that you are in a (somewhat) dark cave.

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Some of the rooms and passageways in this cave are relatively large for a cave. It was hard to capture this in a photo, but if you look closely at this one, you can see some of our group at the bottom of this opening - giving you some idea of the scale.

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This is a dormant cave, meaning that it has been dry for centuries so water is no longer contributing to the formations. However, they are still quite impressive as you can tell from the following series of photo's.

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Mom made it all the way through the cave without help! I think she even enjoyed it (some), but was sure tired by the end. She also said she does not want to be stuck in a cave in an emergancy. She also does not want to try one of the more difficult tours they offer (I'm not sure why!) If you look carefully at the following picture, there is a ladder leaning against the wall on the left. This is part of their 'Ladder' tour, participants climb up and down ladders such as these, traverse some passageways on their knees, and generally follow much more difficult passageways. Of course, you are welcome to sign up for one of these tours!

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After we finished the tour, Mom wanted me to take a picture of this giant prickly pear cactus that grew just outside the cave entrance. As you can see, she's still standing (but barely) after her caving ordeal. She pretty much took it easy the rest of the day (but I think she'd earned it).

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The Saguaro National Park is about 7 miles north of the Colossel Cave, so we visited it also. They have a nice visitor's center (of course), which has a cactus garden outside (so we learned the names of a few more cacti). We also learned a lot about Saguaro (pronounced saw-WAH-row). These only grow in the Sonoran Desert, mostly in SW Arizona and western Sonora, Mexico. Scientists estimate there are more than 20 Million Saguaro in this area.

Outside the Visitor's Center is an 8 mile loop drive through the NP, which we took. Here is an example of a hillside with a Saguaro 'forest'.

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On the west side of the park, you can sometimes see the suburbs of Tucson beyond the Saguaro NP and mountains on the far side of Tucson.

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Here's a similar view, but also with some of the loop road. The Saguaro don't always grow this close to the road, but you don't have to leave your car to see them up close and personal!

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We could get close enough to see the ends of the branches looked like they had a white coating. We thought it might be a pre-flowering stage, but the reading material I bought at the gift shop says they don't flower until April. Also, they don't necessarily flower at the ends, so maybe this is related to growth instead?

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We also learned that freezing can cause damage and even death to the Saquaro. On the left is an example of a healthy Saquaro, at 15' tall it is probably in the range of 70 years old. On the right, the sagging branches occur when frost affects the joint between the branch and the main trunk. This doesn't necessarily kill the plant, but certainly doesn't help it.

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Finally, thought it was time to introduce a new type of cactus (for this trip anyway). Mom thought these looked a lot like miniture tree's. They are called Chain Fruit Cholla Cactus, or Jumping Cactus. Lots of variety in the desert!

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By the time we completed the 8 mile scenic route through the park however, it was too late to make it to Phoenix tonight (especially since we were battling a very strong cross wind). So we're camped in a Flying J (similar to Wal-mart, they allow RV'rs to stay overnight free - large, well lit parking lots, but too many noisy trucks so I doubt if we'll do this again!). We plan to be at Raul Jr.s Friday, Mom wants to visit some friends of hers that moved to Mesa from Shelton Saturday, then Raul's mother Sunday.

Logistics:

Miles Driven - 122, Cumulative - 16,317
Camped at Flying J Truck Plaza near Casa Grande, AZ

Provisions secured: Gas $30.36 for 10.125 gallons at 126,095
..... Lunch at Colossal Cave Mountain Park

Posted by jl98584 21:26 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (3)

Day 165 - Tombstone, Arizona (Photo's Added)

We visited Tombstone, road in a Stagecoach, and enjoyed Buffalo Burgers (Mom anyway).

sunny 75 °F

Since our campground was only 22 miles from Tombstone, we decided to go ahead and visit it today. I had also thought about visiting Bisbee, another 16 miles to the south - but we had so much fun in Tombstone, we decided to just spend the time there and not continue on.

So much for taking a day off to get some chores done. I'll have a little more downtime this weekend, so may get caught up a bit then. We have an appointment to get the brakes fixed tomorrow morning, so I'll also play around with my chores while that's being done. Sightseeing is just too much fun to stop for those pesky chores?

Anyway, Tombstone was founded in 1879 after a local prospector, Ed Schieffelin, found silver ore in the local hills. He named the town Tombstone since when he set out, a soldier told him the only thing he'd find in this dangerous area was his own Tombstone.

As we approached the town, the first thing we saw was the Boothill Store. The old cemetery was laid out in 1878, even before the town. It was the burial place for the town's first pioneers and was used until 1884 - during some of the roughest years in the community. The city now owns the cemetery and runs the store, which is also the entrance to the cemetery. The cemetary earned the nickname "Boothill" because of the many violent deaths in the early days ('They died with their boots on').

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The cemetery is actually on the side of a low hill overlooking a valley. It sat neglected for many years until interested townsfolk spent years to research it and perserve & restore the main part of the cemetery as it is today. They checked information with all available sources to compile the information on the headstones. This is also in a very informative booklet, "Boothill Grave Yard: A Descriptive List" that is available from the store. These are just a sample of what the cemetery looks like and a view across the valley.

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The 250 graves are organized in 11 rows. As an example, here are the descriptions for the people in Row 1 as described on on Page 1 in the guidebook:

- Rodriguez Petron, Stabbed
- Unknown, found in an abandoned mine, 1882. He was found at the bottom of a 60 foot shaft of the Minute Mine. He was well-dressed, indicating he was not a miner. No identification of any kind.
- Pat Byrne, 1882, Pneumonia
- Eva Waters, Age 3 Months, Scarlet Fever.
- Florentino, Murdered, 1882. Florentino was found dead with several bullet wounds in his body. Sometimes called Indian Charlie.
- Van Houten, Murdered, 1879. He was beaten in the face with a stone until he died. Trouble was over his mining claim, which he had not recorded.
- Tom Waters, Shot 1880. He was the father of Eva Waters and likely the same "T.J. Waters" that was shot over the color of his shirt.
- Chas. Helm, Shot 1882. Shot by Wm. McCauley. Two hot-tempered ranchers, who disagreed over the best way to drive cattle, fast or slow.
- Johathon Barton, 1881
- Louis Davis, 1882
- Halderman Bros. Hanged Nov. 16, 1900
- Thos. Gregory, 1882
- Gregory, 1882. Small son of Thos. Gregory, who died of meningitis.
- Holo Lucero, 1882. Killed by Indians.

Looks like a pretty good arguement for gun control to me (or stone control in some cases).

Anyway, after we left Boothill Cemetery, we continued driving south on Hwy 80 right into the town. We parked right across from this building, which turned out to be Schieffelin Hall, the largest Adobe building in the U.S.

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Hwy 80 is on an old street that used to be called "Fremont". It is one block over from Allen, the historic downtown area. In fact, the National Park Service designated the downtown area a National Historic Landmark District in 1961 as "one of the best preserved specimens of the rugged frontier town of the 1870s and '80s." They recently started working with the town to undo some changes that weren't historically correct and as far as I could tell, the effort is worth it. The surface of Allen Street is dirt, it is no longer paved. There are wooden sidewalks, and I didn't notice any blinking neon signs. It really looks like a frontier town.

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We very soon noticed horse-drawn stagecoaches driving around town.

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I figured you don't get to ride in a real stagecoach very often, and this would be one way we could see more of the town and learn about it fairly quickly, so we signed up for a ride. Mom got quite friendly with the driver Darren, I liked the two Belgian horses, Ben and Dave.

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One of the hands was even kind enough to take our picture!

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Darren took us on a tour through the town, explaining what many of the houses and businesses were used for in the 1880's. I took pictures, but the Stagecoach ride wasn't quite smooth enough to get very many decent ones. I asked about that, and because the town streets are quite smooth (even though they're dirt), the ride is much smoother then it probably would have been in the 1880's. The Stagecoaches were built by a man in NY who worked very hard to make them as authentic as possible (although they are made out of steel, instead of wood). He did make the wheelbase wider and added more modern brakes to comply with safety codes. So shakey or not, these are from the stagecoach:

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On of the more interesting buildings in town is the Bird Cage Theater (top row, right). If you have time, click on previous link and read up on it!

After the Stagecoach ride, we did a little shopping. Of course, Mom & I usually like different sorts of things, but there's so much to choose from that we didn't have any trouble finding a few things to buy.

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There are several live shows in Tombstone, usually about shootouts or such things. When the actor's aren't doing their shows, they just hang out downtown. Also, some of the shop owners/operators dress in period costume as well as stagecoach drivers and a few other characters. There are quite a few people dressed in 1880's outfits around town at any given time, which also adds to the atmosphere. We decided to go to the Historama instead of one of the live shows, which also got us entrance to the O.K. Corral and it's exhibits. The Historama wasn't exactly great, but it did give a fairly concise history of the town. The bottom line is that the only thing that made it such a big deal in the 1880's was the silver mines. As the smaller silver veins started to fade, the remaining mines also suffered pump failures and flooded. The only major business left was the County Courthouse, which moved to Bisbee in 1929. The town quietly started to fade away also until being revived by tourism.

One of the main tourist draws is the O.K. Corral where the gunfight took place between the Earp's and Clantons. While there were other gunfights in the old west, even several in Tombstone, this one is perhaps the most famous. The Corral today is set up with a museum of sorts leading into it, showing several different types of carriages and buggies. A couple are set up for people to sit in, which of course we did.

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The rest of the buggies are just for viewing, as several are antiques (1880's). BTW - they were called "Buggies" because they were much faster then the older, heavier wagons and carts, so tended to collect dead bugs on the front boards! These are thumbnails, if you want to know more about any, just click.

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It's probably appropriate to have buggy's in the corral today, since renting buggies was one of the services provided by the O.K. Corral in the 1880's. These lead back to the small section where the gunfight actually took place. I won't repeat the story, if you follow the above link you can get a better summary than anything I could write up. Once you see the actual location however, you realize that the fight took place in a fairly small area (18' long). Wyatt Earp also drew a map showing where each man was standing when the shooting started - and they were quite close together. This is probably what accounts for how much damage was done. You should note that the Earps were Republican's and part of the business establishment in Tombstone, the Clantons were Democrats and the leader of the 'Cow-boy' faction. Hmm.

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Possibly one of the reasons this gunfight became so famous is that Tombstone had an active newspaper at the time, the Epitaph, which is still in print. John Clum, the founder, said 'Every Tombstone should have an Epitaph', and so named his paper.

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John Clum, a Republican, was a supporter of the Earps, so the initial news reports made them out to be hero's. A few days after the gunfight, he sold the newspaper to a Democrat who supported the 'Cow-boys', so future stories were highly slanted against the Earps. The strong biases in reporting and by many of the witnesses has made it harder for historians to get an accurate picture of what happened. I asked this fellow, encouraging Mom for her spunk, which of the movies he felt was most accurate. He recommended "The Hour of the Gun" starring James Garner (in case you're curious as I was).

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So this concludes our little visit to Tombstone, Arizona. It was fun visiting the 1880's for awhile but I'm glad things are a little more civilized nowdays.

We're still at Benson, AZ tonight (hot tub & pool closed so they could trim the palm trees, ugh)

Should be in Phoenix tomorrow night.

Logistics:

Miles Driven - 47 (RT)
Camped at Valley Vista RV CG in Benson, AZ

Mailed packages home, did laundry

Posted by jl98584 19:28 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (2)

Day 164 - West to Benson, AZ (Photo's Added)

The desert is starting to be fun again, but we didn't find too much to stop and visit. We did see an old ghost town, a SW Roadside stop (tourist) and a Native American museum.

sunny 68 °F

Before leaving Deming this morning, I checked my list of membership campgrounds in AZ (there are several). I made reservations at a campground in Benson, AZ for two nights so we could get caught up on some chores & such before heading up to Phoenix to visit my nephew, some of Mom's friends, and some other family.

The drive across NM & AZ on I-10 was pretty uneventful, but I guess I've finally gotten over whatever was bothering me the last few days as I'm starting to enjoy the wide open spaces of the west again. Maybe we all just go though cycles, can't be upbeat all the time? At least we still try to stop for eagles, hawks and anything else that looks of interest. I actually pulled over on the interstate today for this (which isn't really allowed). I think it's a juvenile red tailed hawk, still in it's light phase.

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We stopped at a tourist gift shop just passed the Continental Divide (named "Continental Divide Gift Shop" - how clever). Mom bought postcards, I bought some turquoise jewelry.

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A little later we pulled over at a dry lakebed so Mom could collect some sand. However, what looked like sand from the road turned out to be hard like concrete, so she didn't get much (I think she has fun collecting the sand whether or not her friend really wants that much!)

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We also stopped at a Steins Ghost Town that was listed on the map, had a great sign on the freeway, but was all fenced off and closed. At least I could get a few decent shots across the fence, it looked like an interesting place. It was a town set up by the Southern Pacific Railroad to support a gravel quarry. But when the railroad didn't need it anymore, it didn't have anything else to support it. It was especially doomed because it had no water source, all water had to be brought in by the railroad. When the SPRR closed the quarry after WWII, they told the town they would no longer subsidize & deliver water but would relocate the towns folk and only what they could carry. Most folks took them up on their offer.

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After we'd been in Arizona for some time, we finally found a visitor's center. This was sponsered by the city of Wilcox rather then the state, but still had info for the entire state. Outside, we ran into a couple who had an older Toyota Warrier similar to ours! This is George and Barbara with their Warrier. It's in slightly better shape then mine, but is one foot shorter, so I think I like the interior layout on mine better - it's small enough as it is! George had several good ideas about upgrades he'd added, which I may look into.

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Across the parking lot was a Cider Store! I would expect to see this in Washington, but in Arizona? Well, it turns out there are several thousand acres of orchards around Wilcox, and yes - they produce Apple Cider, as well as pies. Of course, we picked up some goodies to sample later...

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We turned off again in Bowie, thinking we'd drive to 'Historic Fort Bowie', but when I found out the road was 12+ miles of gravel, there was a 2.5 hour hike to see the ruins, and there wasn't much left except interpretive signs - I decided to skip it. But in this little tiny, depressed looking town was a Wine & Pecan Tasting Shop! I was the designated driver and Mom doesn't do wine, so I just sampled the pecans (tasty) and bought a couple of cook books.

Finally we were getting pretty close to Benson, when we saw a sign for an Amerind Museum. We didn't know what it was but decided to give it a shot anyway. Unfortunately they didn't allow photography... As it's name implies, this is a museum of Native American (Indian) artifacts and history, especially as discovered through Archeology. The main exhibit room is organized by age, beginning with the tribes of Alaska who are thought to have migrated from Siberia about 10,000 years ago. The displays include quite a bit of pottery, organized again by age and peoples. However it also has some rare artifacts made from materials that would normally decay, such as wood and cloth. These were probably preserved by the dry climate in the area as well as being found in caves, so were protected from the sun. They were only open until 4 PM however and we had arrived shortly after 3 PM, so we only had time to do a quick walk through of the first couple of rooms (and the gift shop of course).

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The Amerind Museum is located in the Dragoon Mountains of SE Arizona. These are very rocky and contain a lot of loose boulders perched in odd places (the look like they are ready to fall if shaken a bit). They are very dramatic looking howeer.

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So now we're in Benson, AZ (a little east of Tuscon). The campground isn't all that nice, but does have a hot tub and heated pool (which we took advantage of tonight). I hope to visit Tombstone and Bisbee, but I also have to get the brakes done on the RV again (it's only been a couple years, but I guess the rig is too heavy for the light Toyota truck brakes - either that or my driving is too brake happy). So we'll see what we can fit in.

I called my nephew and he's off Friday, so we'll make sure we're in Phoenix by then. Still working on the other arrangements, and will decide on Grand Canyon later also (I'd say we'll probably go there, but who knows.)

Logistics:

Miles Driven - 177, Cumulative - 16,148
Camped at Valley Vista RV Campground, Benson, AZ

Provisions: Gas $26.09 for 8.817 g @ 125,956. Misc products from Cider Mill, postcards & stuff from gift shops.

Posted by jl98584 21:14 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (4)

Day 163 - Backtracking to Deming (Photo's Added)

We did visit the Rocket & Space Museum as well as the White Sands Missle Museum, then headed back to Deming (long story there...)

sunny 70 °F

I'm sorry I didn't update the Blog sooner, I think I was just a little embarrassed at how many times we change our minds on this trip! When we got to Alamogordo yesterday, Mom started to worry about the weather in Grand Canyon. I checked the forecast on the internet and found that a storm was forecasted to hit on Thursday, about when we'd be at the Canyon de Chelly. So she wanted to head south again instead. I wasn't as concerned about the weather as she was, but was concerned about how far we would be driving around to visit both these canyons since there doesn't appear to be any direct roads between them. Since we were still a lot closer to I-10 then we were to Albuquerque (49 vs 215 miles), I agreed to turn around and go back to the southern route and skip Canyon de Chelly. We can decide whether to visit Grand Canyon or not once we get to Phoenix.

So having made that decision, we decided to focus on Alamogordo. Up the hills a bit from the campground, we had an excellant view of the city and the white sand dunes across the valley. The dunes are pretty up close, but from a distance, it's much easier to see just how big they really are (275 sq miles).

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The reason I wanted to go there in the first place was to visit the New Mexico Museum of Space History. This was on a hill a short distance from where we'd camped and is quite visible from most area's of the city.

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This was actually created by the State of New Mexico. The purpose is to educate people about the history, science and technology of space with a special emphasis on the role of New Mexico in space exploration. I had started off the day in a bit of a funk, maybe a little under he weather. By the time I got done with the museum I was back in business - it really was pretty nice. Even Mom enjoyed it, although she finished it a lot faster then I did (as usual).

The outside exhibits include a number of rockets and space related equipment. They looked interesting, but to be honest we spent so much time inside that I didn't get to see the exterior exhibits much. The inside of the 5 story building is almost entirely devoted to the museum. Once you buy a ticket, you take the elevator up to the top floor and slowly work your way down. Each of the four exhibit floors is devoted to a different aspect of space history or exploration. There are ramps between the floors which are lined with plaques to honor the different people inducted into the "International Space Hall of Fame".

This picture shows an Aerobee 150 Sustainer on exhibit. These were solid fuel research rockets used between 1947 and 1985 to carry instruments into the upper atmosphere. If you look carefully at the wall along the bottom, you can see some of the many Space Hall of Fame plaques.

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Here is a close up of just one of the plaques, but there were many, including astronauts, scientists and other pioneers. People from many different countries are represented.

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Another exhibit I thought was rather interesting was the space capsule and suit for Ham, the first chimpanzee in space. Ham lived to the ripe old age of 27 and is buried at the Museum.

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Mom also got into the act, playing like she was on a Space Shuttle mission!

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One entire floor was devoted to Satellites, there were several examples of actual satellites used in space and signs explaining the types: Scientific, Navigation and Communications. This giant one was hanging from the ceiling (I forgot to take a picture of the sign, but I think it's a communication satellite.)

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Here is a fuel cell from the Apollo spacecrafts. Note the tags located on various components? The Museum takes its mission to educate very seriously, so the exhibits aren't just on display, but are well labeled or have excellant signage to help the visitor understand the exhibit. This fuel cell was one of three used to power both the Apollo Command Module and the Service Module. They weighed 245 lbs each and provided 28 Volts of 1.5 kW power. They used Cyrogenic Oxygen and Hydrogen to produce electricity, which created a byproduct of Water - also very essential to the Apollo astronauts.

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Some displays didn't contain historic spacecraft or items, but were just to inform. This is part of a large wall mural about different types of rockets. It is just one small example of the types of information available.

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Maybe I should have allocated more than a few hours to the museum? By the time I got to the bottom, I was completely cured from the funk I'd been in earlier and was tempted to go back to the top and start over again. But that wouldn't be very practical, so we headed on out. Before we left town however, I stopped at a quick lube place and had the rig serviced, should be good for another 5k or so.

Since we'd decided to drive back to I-10, we again passed the White Sands Missile Range (WSMR). By this time, my insurance agent had emailed me the missing Proof Of Insurance card, so today we were able to visit the Museum (unlike yesterday). My funk was completely cured by now and I visited just about every exhibit. Mom even went through the museum (she often skips military type stuff). The first thing you notice is an expansive "Missile Park" on the outside grounds. This displays a number of the missiles and rockets that were tested at WSMR. Each one has a large sign which displays quite a bit of information about the item on display.

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The rest of the Museum is housed in two buildings, a smaller one devoted to the V2 Rocket, and a larger one for the main Museum. This is the V2 building, but both buildings have a similar look and style.

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When we went through the main museum, I was surprised to find several smaller rooms devoted to exhibits about the Native Americans, Ranchers and Pioneer Women in the basin before the WSMR was created. These consisted of a few artifacts, but mostly signs and posters such as this.

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Inside the main room were several different types of missiles that had been tested at WSMR. Of course, each item had a sign describing what it was and when/how it was used or tested.

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In addition to missiles, several displays showed more about the equipment and tools used for missile testing. In honor of my dad, I just had to show you this picture of a round slide rule. This was used by German engineers to calculate rocket trajectories prior to the development of electronic computers and calculators.

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There was also this nifty little display that dad would have loved:

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This is an example of the signage and display for Radiation Test Equipment to give you another idea of the type of information available.

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They also have a complete VEGA station set up. This was used to control up to two separate targets beginning in 1973.

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The Museum also has a 1/3 scale model of "The Gadget", the first nuclear device as it looked fully assembled atop the tower at ground zero.

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The separate V2 building has one of the original V2 rockets inside.

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The back side has large area's cut-away to show the fuel tanks and engine.

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The walls are covered with posters about the V2 and the testing program and WSMR. I took a lot of pictures of these, but only uploaded these two as to not overload the blog with such details. Besides, you can follow the link above and learn more from the Internet.

I also took a lot of pictures of the outside exhibits, but will include only a couple to give you some idea of the extent of rockets used at WSMR. Here is a Patriot Missile, which I learned is launched from it's shipping container! There is also an IGOR, used to track missiles after launch, and an Aeroshell 'Flying Saucer', designed and tested as part of the Voyager Balloon System to slow down the missile for possible landing on Mars. This is believed to be the only one 'in captivity'.

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Then we drove through Las Crucius (indulging in some fast food for dinner - a rare vice for us) and actually made it all the way back to Deming! This time, we just stayed at the Wal-mart and were ready to head west again in the morning. So at least we're back west again as far as we were yesterday morning?

Logistics:

Miles Driven - 161, Cumulative 15,971
Camped at Wal-mart, Deming NM

Provisions & Repairs - LOF for RV, Gas $29.31 for 9.163g at 125,824

Posted by jl98584 20:53 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Day 162 - Backtracking to Alamogordo (Photo's Added)

We went backwards a little bit today since I wanted to also visit White Sands and Alamogordo. First we checked out some birds, then a Farm Museum however.

sunny 70 °F

Things don't always work out as planned, today was a great example of that. Before we got to New Mexico, Mom and I had seen an article about Rockhound State Park in Deming, and both of us really wanted to check it out. Mom also wanted to go to Canyon de Chelly in Arizona, which was in the NE end of the state, so we decided to go to Deming first, then head north from there to Albuquerque and then west from there. There is a museum and display at White Sands Missile Range that I really wanted to visit, as well as a Space & Rocket museum in Alamogordo.

However, first things first. When we got up this morning at Rockhounds SP, there were so many birds I just had to stop and take some pictures. (I've seen it spelled both Rockhounds and Rock Hounds, but the Park brochure uses the former). Anyway, we were fortunate to see both kinds of quail that frequent the park, Scaled Quail (left) and Gambel's Quail (right - but click to enlarge).

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We also saw several different kinds of small birds, most of which I'm still having trouble identifying in spite of the very helpful bird books we've picked up along the way. The first one is a Cactus Wren, the second some sort of Finch (possibly a House Finch), after that I'm lost. There were more, but these give you some idea of the variety - all pictures taken within a few minutes of each other.

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In spite of the birds, we did finally leave Rockhounds SP and headed back east. As we drove through Las Cruces, Mom saw signs for the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Museum and wanted to check it out. This is roughly the view of the entrance, including a fairly large equipment display area.

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Just outside the entrance is a very nice Cactus Garden. Unfortunately, the various cacti plants are not labeled so you have to just enjoy them (unless your a cactus expert of course).

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The Museum has a fairly large outdoor area, including various types of animals and farm systems. We caught a ride on a cart while a volunteer drove us around and described the animals and farm & ranch systems. This is a Corriente Bull, from the type of cattle brought over by the Spanish in the 1400's. These are smaller than many modern cattle breeds, but also quite hardy.

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A few cages down from the Corriente cattle were some Texas Longhorns. Many people believe that the Longhorns were descended from the Corriente, which seems quite likely. Texas Longhorns almost became extinct in the 1930's, which might explain why we didn't see any of them on the ranges as we drove through Texas. They are making a comeback now, but mostly on ranches or State Parks that specialize in them. Jim, our cart driver, explained that the horns continue to grow throughout the life of the Longhorn, so the longer the horns, the older the animal is. Mom was tickled to see a newborne with it's mother.

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There were also a couple of display's of old types of transportation, both outside and inside.

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The inside portion of the Museum had displays on Saddle Making and a rather odd assortment of displays (mostly signs) on people during the farming and ranching history of New Mexico. We walked through these sections rather quickly, then visited the gift shop. The most impressive items in the gift shop were Pistacho's - in several different flavors! Of course, I sampled most of the varieties (Mom doesn't do nuts) and picked up a few for later.

After visiting the Farm and Ranch Museum, we got back on the highway to head to our original destination, White Sands Missile Range. (OK - my destination, I don't think Mom was as enthusiastic about this as I was.) I wasn't too sure where I was going however, on the map was a White Sands National Monument, which I assumed to have something to do with the Missile Range - incorrectly it turns out. There is a Museum open to the public at White Sands Missile Testing Range, but it is inside the secure facility. It is also about 30 miles south of White Sands National Monument (more about that in a minute). Since the public museum is inside the gate, you must have all appropriate documentation to pass through the gate. As I pulled mine out, I found out my vehicle "Proof of Insurance" had expired so we couldn't get past the guards. Ugh. Well, better to find out now and get it fixed before I need to show it for something more serious. So after some fruitless hand wringing and frantic phone calls, we turned around and drove on north - not sure what we'd find (and a little bit frustrated at being turned away, for myself at least).

It turns out White Sands National Monument has nothing to do with the Missile Range other than similar names. The Tularosa Basin, where Alamogordo, White Sands NM and the Missile Range are located, sits between two mountain ranges. What little rain there is here has no outlet to the sea, so just drains into the basin and forms lakes there. The San Andres and Sacramento mountains contain Gypsum deposits that are easily dissolved by water, which washes down into the trapped basin lakes (called Playa's). As the hot desert sun evaporates the water, gypsum crystals form which are then eventually broken down into sand sized particles and blown into dunes by the wind. So the sand dunes of White Sands NM are gypsum dunes. Here is a photo of a small Playa that was along the park road as well as a closeup of the dried bed of the lake.

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These are the largest gypsum sand dunes in the world and are quite rare. Since gypsum is water soluable, most gypsum erosion would just wash into the sea. The desert basin allows these deposits to be captured and the lack of rain allows it to continue to exist in crystal (sand) form.

The sand dunes cover 275 square miles of desert and are always on the move. Here you can see the edge of the dunes as it encroaches on the desert grasslands.

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We were surprised to learn that some types of plants have adapted to the moving sand dunes. For example, Yucca plants just keep growing taller and taller, so what you see as the spiked leaves are really just the top of a very tall Yucca tree - the roots are still in the ground under the sand. (The Yucca is the one that looks like rabbit ears here).

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Another form of adaptation is the Rosemarymint plant. This plant has so many roots and spines that it can grab onto the sand and hold it in place, even if the dune moves away from the plant - leaving a sand pedestal.

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While this is a National Monument (e.g. Park), you are allowed to hike and climb on the dunes along the road. Of course, they ask people to avoid damaging fragile area's such as the spaces between dunes where many of the plants grow. Mom and I decided to check out this unique type of sand (most sand is made of quartz).

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The road into the dunes is about eight miles long and is only paved half way, after that it is just compressed gypsum sand. This is very hard however and provides a fine road surface (except in a few spots where it had a bit of washboard). The deeper we got into the heart of the sand dunes however, the less vegetation we saw. In the middle, the dunes are moving too fast for even the most adaptable plants. There is some grass in between dunes, but mostly we just saw big, soft white dunes (and road). This shot shows how high the wind can drive the dunes - notice the RV parked below?

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I had a lot of fun climbing up the dune to get these shots - I went barefooted and found it to be a very soft sand. In places it was hard enough to walk on top of it, in others I sank down, sometimes quite a bit. Here's a final shot of the 'heart of the dunes' as the park calls this area.

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Alamogordo is just a few miles past the park entrance. We found a nice RV park there and plan to visit the Space & Rocket Museum in the morning, then head up to Albuquerque. I made reservations at one of my membership campgrounds for two nights up there to try yet again to finish my taxes, so we should also have time to get a few other things caught up, including the blog...

Logistics:

Miles Driven - 161 (Backwards!), Cumulative - 15,810
Camped at Roadrunner RV Campground, Alamogordo, NM

Posted by jl98584 20:05 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

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