I entered New Mexico on Route 380 just east of Tatum on November 20th. At elevation 3,990 ft above mean sea level (AMSL), Tatum boasted a population of 798 in 2010. The town is surrounded by vast areas of open range, much of which is being used for grazing and to pump crude oil. According to the internet, Tatum receives, on average, 5” of snow and 267 sunny days per year! Many storefronts looked boarded up and others were in need of substantial attention. My guess is that most residents own or are employed by the obvious industries mentioned. Its main street is just about an eye blink in length. I was taken with one Main Street building whose east facade welcomed travelers with a mural of the area’s iconic landscape, almost as if to say that the town itself was only a mirage.
I’d already been on the road since 8 a.m. and it was now approaching 1 p.m.; I still had at least another hour before arriving at Bottomless Lakes State Park where Mae and David had been camping for the last several days. By the time I arrived and settled in, there was just enough daylight left for a quick walk around the park. On one side of the access road were outcrops of beautiful rock hills; on the other seemed to be a drainage catchment area. Largely dry land, a drainage swale cut through this area providing a home for birds and other ground critters. The sun was setting and its light shimmered against the grasses making them appear afire.
Few campers were registered in the park; the hunters who used this park as their staging area outnumbered the recreationists by almost double. But then, it was getting late in the season. The air was cooling down fast. I was happy that I’d stopped at the Seminole Texas WalMart to purchase a small electric heater.
It was wonderful being in the company of friends especially with the knowledge that we’d spend the winter months together. This thought provided a huge sense of relief. After a lovely dinner prepared and served by Mae and David, Nuttah and I walked to our RV site not far away. The sky was brimming with glittering diamonds like I’d seldom seen. The temps were dropping fast so I added water to my tank and disconnected the hose from the water source to avoid its rupture by what would surely be expanding icicles inside the hose. I plugged in my new electric heater and set the Rpod’s propane heater on 50 so that if the electric heater did not live up to its promise, I would still have some heat to get me through the night. At campgrounds that include electrical hookups, I learned it was best to use the electric power source provided; this extended the life of the propane. The night was very cold!
Our plan had been to leave early the next morning and drive through the Sacramento Mountains between Roswell and Alamogordo on Route 70. This route bisects the Mescalero Reservation and a number of other small communities on either side. It was to be the first mountain crossing while hauling the trailer; I was a bit nervous not knowing how steep some inclines might be or how my car would respond. When I got up, it was still dawn. Donning mittens and multiple layers, we walked the grounds as I watched the cotton candy pink clouds announce the glorious day. After Nuttah’s business was taken care of, I showered and closed up ‘shop’. By nine a.m. we were rolling. We gassed up in Roswell and drove to Ruidoso before taking a break and topping off the tank. Up to that point, the mountains rose gradually and the hills and curves were long, sweeping and gentle. Neither vehicle was apparently worse for the wear.
Between the Mescalero village reservation and Tularosa, I saw a large roadside sign painted across which was the word BELIEVE. I so wanted to stop and take a photo because it mirrored my trailer plate but there was no easy place to pull over. Fortunately, my companions were behind me and Mae snapped a photo just as I was driving past it. Tularosa was at the foothills on the west side of the Mountains; I liked it! It was truly a western town. From there it was only a short drive to Alamogordo.
When hauling, drivers always look for a nice big parking lot and entrances that allow for sweeping movements. I had received a text from Mae with a reminder to take the I-70 turn up ahead; thinking I had missed it already, I pulled into a roadside fireworks store that also sold jewelry, hats and other local crafts. After getting our bearings, I opted to see whether the store might be selling a hat like one I had been looking for. There were many on shelves; after about 10 minutes, I selected one that fit and was priced right. I was now officially in cowboy country!
Continuing on I-70, we drove past White Sands National Monument and through the Holloman Air Force Base. I actually felt like I was in an altered state while driving through this area; I don’t have a great sense of connection to the history of this place but I did know that nuclear experiments occurred here. There was potency to this place that was more palpable than anywhere I’d driven thus far. I was not tempted to stop.
The White Sands National Monument, actually gypsum sand dunes, is at the base of the San Andres National Wildlife Refuge, a unique and narrow range of mountains; here the mountains rose more abruptly than in Ruidoso but the pass short. As we crested, the City of Las Cruces and points west provided a panoramic view of where we were heading. From there we took I-25 south toward El Paso for one exit and then merged onto I-10 for another hour before reaching our destination in Deming.
All along the I-10 from Las Cruces to Deming were signs warning drivers of frequent winds mixing with the sands causing white-out conditions. Huh, nothing I expected! Signs also cautioned against pulling off the side of the highway during one of these wind storms, not unlike the hazard of pulling off the side of the highway during a blizzard. That’s a sure way to cause rear end crashes and multiple vehicle pile ups, not to mention potentially great risk to life and limb.
We drove in to the Dreamcatcher RV park in mid afternoon. The park is located just off the easternmost exit for Deming and had a few small trees disbursed throughout the parking aisles. Otherwise, it was a barren parking lot with a rough gravel surface. It was a sunny day and the wind was blowing! The wind blew for 10 of the 12 days we were there. It was not a location where I could erect my tent awning. I tried to layout the RV rug but it blew across the yard even with stones as makeshift anchors at each corner. The surface of the Park lot was packed crushed stone; not a great surface for the pup to lie on. So his bed came out every day.
I could see Mountains in all directions. This was the country I had dreamed of seeing! The Florida Mountains to the south really caught my eye those first few days! At night we heard the traffic and trains; thankfully the cold nights required windows closed, so the noise was somewhat muffled.
The community building was great; a smaller ‘card’ room just off the office that led to a larger gathering area where potluck meals were shared. The back side of the building was divided into two areas; one served the laundry facilities and the other provided rest room and shower facilities.
After being there a couple days, a large coach pulled up beside David and Mae’s unit. It’s license plates were well known to use and we became a trio of Maine RVers. Roger and Becky were from Kennebunk. Her was a retired Navy Seal and Becky was a fabric artist turned entrepreneur, also retired. What are the odds that we’d be in the same park? We enjoyed their company until the day we left for Tucson.
Within the 10 days we were there, we celebrated Thanksgiving and my birthday. We also visited several area attractions:
Rockhound State Park was near the Mexico border. This looked to be a great camping area with a small trail network. On our return, we stopped in to New Mexico’s Saint Clair winery. We treated ourselves to a wine tasting and of course, brought some with us for auspicious occasions. One of the wines I purchased was a cab with a hint of chili! Deming happens to be near Hatch, the chili capital of the world.
The City of Rocks State Park was just about an hour to the north; it was a sight to behold. We watched a short film about its geology and history and marveled at the way time and weather wore away the mountains into such interesting forms. Mother Nature is a great sculptor! This Park seemed to have a wonderful camping area as well. This was also where we were conditioned to the idea that rattlers might still come out if the temps reached 80 during the afternoons. This meant keeping a close eye on Nuttah’s interactions with nature. I don’t think he’d get that he shouldn’t hunt them.
Still further to the north of that park was the Gila National Forest. David, Nuttah and I were up for an adventure and drove from Deming to Silver City. From there, the ride along Route 15 to the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument was nothing short of a thrill. The first part resembled a neighborhood street. The closer we got to the National Forest, the more the locals worked to attract passers-by. My favorite was a larger than life plaster statue of Michael the Archangel in the yard of a home adjacent to a church and cemetery. This was so unexpected and the crude awesomeness of this statue actually caused me to stop, turn around go back to take another look, despite the road’s narrowness and limited turning area.
As the route meandered deeper into the forest, it followed the terrain’s contours often narrowing to just a bit more than two lanes; this pattern prevailed all the way to the Cliff Dwellings, sometimes on ridges where few guard rails were in place. I don’t like fast or topsy turvy carnival rides but the experience of driving on narrow, steep and winding mountain roads was absolutely intoxicating! I’d get queasy when I thought of how easy it would be to make a mistake or lose brakes and then I’d feel elation at the miraculous natural landscape that displayed itself like a painting before me. The only way I can describe this is being 6 emotionally and middle aged mentally! The scenes along this road were glorious! Near the Cliff Dwellings, there was a hot springs campground and resort along with several gated drives. The National Monument itself hosted a campground!
The Cliff Dwellings Visitor Center had small store, rest rooms and an interpretive center. On the way back to the parking lot, I noticed a monument. It was for Geronimo and his birthplace on the Gila River. I remember being in awe of this. I felt as if the energy of that man was imprinted on the every tree, every rock and every drop of water. I remember thinking that the beautiful Native Art greeting cards I’d purchased were also deeply imprinted by this warrior’s fierce love for the land. I wondered how many other visitors had a similar awareness and whether the energy generated by an appreciation of such grandness could affect not only the people who visited the Dwellings but also their friends, families and acquaintances. I was spellbound!
From there we were directed to drive to another location, past another small campground to the Cliff Dwellings trail head. There, I had the option of leaving Nuttah in a kennel provided by the park or in my car. The day was bright and sunny but rather cool so I opted to leave him in the car. We estimated we’d be on the trail exploring about an hour.
The Cliff Dwellings were a short hike across a bridge and in through a small canyon, where the brook was narrow enough to allow its fording with nothing more than a hop.
The water that flowed there was so clear; David drank first and I followed. From the other side of the waterway, we climbed the side of the Cliffs on a trail that had been develop most likely by the WPA. There were stairs in places. A few docents were located strategically at the ruins to give visitors a sense of history and orientation. This was a fascinating place that must have taken quite some time to modify but was only used for a very short time. No one knows why it was abandoned. I’m guessing it was the ascent or descent every day at all hours of the day. Not for the faint of heart!
Deming has an awesome little museum. Well, it was not really little. It was full of nostalgia…Americana throughout the decades. It also had a wonderful crystal collection from all areas of the country. Besides the museum, the area had a couple grocery stores, and the typical strip development of chain stores. The downtown still had great bones and many buildings remained occupied. A couple nights before leaving we dined at the “China Restaurant” for my birthday celebration; tons of good food, especially broccoli!
Back at the Park, we ended up celebrating Thanksgiving with our fellow travelers. The Park owners provided the meats and the residents/renters brought pot luck. No one left hungry and we were all invited for left overs the next night. We estimate that some 50 people shared this meal together with most returning the next evening. There is nothing like food to bring people together.
While the stay was pleasant enough, we were not sorry to leave Deming’s unrelenting wind. We also sensed there was more awaiting us. All the way to Tucson, the peaks rose and fell all around. I thought about the pyramid structures that many early civilizations have built; it was easy to see how early builders might be fascinated with the conical shape and attempt to find ways to replicate it nearer to their villages.
As we approached Arizona’s 2nd largest city, the iconic cactus of the southwest began to take over the landscape. The Saguaro (locally pronounced So-war-ro) cactus can grow to be 30 feet tall with any number of shoots (arms) off the main trunk. The interesting thing is that the first arms do not sprout until this cactus is at least 75 years old. So when you see a Saguaro with multiple arms whose diameter is similar to the size of the main trunk just imagine how old this plant really is! We were truly in the home of the Saguaro National Forest.