New Leaves

Sunset at our fairgrounds campsite

Carlsbad Caverns, NM

Desert Wanderings

Oct 30, 2013 by Bonnie

Unlike the Israelites, we only spent two and a half weeks in the desert. Even so, the terrain often reminded us of our trip to the Holy Land, with lots of wilderness! When we started across I-10 (or “the ten” as the locals say), I wondered how we would find things to see along the way. Surely we had seen the most amazing sights already. But I was in for a surprise! Look at the sample of things that we did after leaving Phoenix!

As we headed southwest out of Phoenix, our first stop was at Casa Grande, prehistoric ruins of a large community built in the desert by the ancestors of today’s tribal people. The main building is three stories tall, and there was a large walled area where other buildings used to stand. The residents not only built this village, they also developed an intricate system of hand-dug canals to provide the precious water needed in this desert area.

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A protective cover over the Casa Grande ruins
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Art & Flat enjoyed exploring a side building

Next we went on toward Tucson, visiting Saguaro (say sa-WAR-oh) National Monument on the way. We had never seen so many saguaro in one place. There must have been millions of them!

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Saguaros are everywhere on the loop road
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This Saguaro is all arms

At Tucson, we did some serious letterboxing out in the desert in Kennedy Park, then camped at a fairgrounds (a first for us!), visited a tiny Baptist church the next morning, and then had a delightful Sunday dinner with old friends Dave and Brenda Isaak in Sierra Vista. Brenda made a delicious stew baked in a pumpkin, and we got to meet some of their children (all grown up now) and grandchildren. Truly a blessing.

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Brenda and David enjoy their grandchildren
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Art with Clinton and his wife

Since there was still some daylight left, we decided to go on to Tombstone, and then on to Bisbee to camp. Unfortunately, we didn’t know that Bisbee is totally built into hills. Arriving after dark, we didn’t find a place to camp, so reluctantly decided to leave Bisbee to see another time, and continued on Hwy. 90 back up toward I-10. Fortunately Brenda Isaak had told us where a good campsite was, and we found it in the dark, totally by faith—it was a very dark night! Imagine our surprise when we stepped out of the van the next morning to find ourselves surrounded by huge rocky crags! It was truly an awesome experience. Thanks, Brenda!

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Tombstone main street
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Boot Hill cemetery
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Can you find our van? It’s the white speck on the right
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Peaks are all arounds us

Continuing on Hwy 90, back up to “the ten,” we entered New Mexico and decided to take a long side trip to see the Gila Cliff Dwellings north of Silver City, spending the night in a free rustic campground about three miles from the caves. It was a good decision. Making that curvy 44-mile trek twice in one day would have been hard. The next morning we went to the cliff dwellings, where Dennis gave us a great tour. Then we headed back down to I-10, and made it to Las Cruces that evening.

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Art & Flat with guide at cliff dwellings
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Bonnie & Flat DID climb down that ladder

The next day, we headed up US-70 toward Alamogordo to visit the White Sands National Monument. It was truly the whitest sand I have ever seen, made totally of gypsum crystals. After spending some time there, we headed across US-82 through the Lincoln National Forest to Artesia, then down US-285 to the town of Carlsbad, planning to visit the caverns the next day.

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Miles and miles of dunes
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It is impossible to describe the beauty and sheer magnitude of Carlsbad Caverns. It is truly the most amazing cavern system we have ever seen. We took two self-guided trails and one ranger-led trail in this immense cavern system. We spent six hours in the caverns, and still felt like there was much more to see. We finished about 4 pm, and decided to stay for the bat flight program at dusk. We are very glad that we did! We weren’t allowed to photograph the bat flight, but Art posted a video we found online. It was amazing to watch hundreds of thousands of bats spiral out of the natural entrance, dispersing in great waves into the sky to begin their nightly hunt for food. What a great way to spend Halloween!

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Delicate formations in the “Dolls Theatre”
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Towering Giants in the “Big Room”