Hiking Above Bisbee, AZ

Naco, AZ

We had intended to do some exploring around Silver City, NM, but the weather was just too cold and snowy in the higher elevations.  So when we left Las Cruces, we headed southwest to Naco, AZ.  Naco is a little community right on the Mexican border, just south of the town of Bisbee.  We made plans last year to meet Dave and Sue (Beluga’s Excellent Adventure) here on February 1st to play golf for a week, so we just got here a few days early.  We are staying in a small park called Turquoise Valley Golf and RV Park.  The RV park is small but nice, and the golf course is right across the street.

Dave and Sue next to us in Naco

Mexican mountains in front of us

The first day of our visit to this area we went into nearby Bisbee to get a little exercise. Bisbee is a former mining town that is now a funky, artsy community filled with ex-hippies and free spirits.  Most of the residential buildings have been constructed on the sides of the steep hillsides surrounding the small downtown area.  These houses are usually above or below street level and are accessed by steep steps.  Each year the town conducts a race up and down the steps called the Bisbee 1000 Stair Climb, a 5K run through the city that traverses 1,034 stairs.

Starting point for the Bisbee 1000

Looking back down the first 155 steps

A bit of sculpture next to another set of stairs

Message in the concrete next to the rose sculpture

The next day we decided to hike up a trail leading to a cross and shrine on top of one of the hills overlooking downtown Bisbee.  We did this hike two years ago and thought we had driven to the end of OK Street to the trailhead.  But when we drove up there (about a half mile from the downtown) we discovered there was no place to park.  We then remembered that you have to park downtown and walk up to the trailhead.  So back down the narrow OK Street we went.

Fortunately, no one drove up at us!

Guess someone was raining on their parade wall

Hiking back up OK Street

The trail goes up pretty steeply

View from the top with Bisbee below

The cross on top is visible from the downtown

Lunch with a view

The other side of the cross and shrine

Hiking back down the trail on the other side of the hill we found someone had been busy clearing the trail and adding more small shrines along the path.  Someone painted a picture of Che Guevara, an Argentinian physician who became a Communist revolutionary and Fidel Castro’s right hand man, on a rock wall.

Che Guevara

A religious shrine along the trail

Buddhist Shrine

The Dali Lama

Buddha Statue

Heading back down

We’re looking forward to enjoying some golf and a few meals in some of Bisbee’s many restaurants for the next week.  Then we’ll move a short distance up I-10 to one of our favorite cities, Tucson.

More on that later . . .

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Last days in Las Cruces

Las Cruces, NM

In the final couple of days of our stay in Las Cruces we did a bit of touring and visited a couple of “interesting” restaurants in nearby towns.  We often make a point of touring college campuses during our travels, using our bicycles to see as much of a campus as possible.  We planned to bike around the campus of New Mexico State University but cool temperatures and high winds force us to limit our visit to a drive through the campus in the Jeep.  One structure of interest to us was the design of the football stadium.  From the parking lot the stadium appears to be a bit small.

View of the east side of the stadium

View of the west side of the stadium

But when we went inside the stadium we found most of the seating and the playing field are below ground level.

When we traveled through Ft. Stockton, TX earlier this month, we were astonished by the huge statue of a roadrunner (OK, maybe astonished is a bit strong, but it was pretty big).  But that big bird is only the second largest in the world, so when we found that the largest was just a few miles west of us along I-10, we just had to drive out to check it out.  Made of refuse from a local dump, the roadrunner is 20 feet tall and 40 feet long.  It sits on a rock next to a rest area on the eastbound side of I-10 that has a great view of the Las Cruces area and the Organ Mountains to the east.

We were fortunate during our stay in the Coachlight RV Park to be joined by two other couples we have grown to know during our travels:  Paul and Marsha of Where’s Weaver and Bill and Jodee of On the Road Abode.  One evening the group drove across town to Farley’s Watering Hole to enjoy a meal and some conversation.

John, Jodee, Bill, Paul, Marsha, and Pam

The next day (Wednesday) we planned to go to the town of Hatch with Jodee and Bill for lunch at Sparky’s, the restaurant we mentioned in the previous blog.  But not only was it closed on Monday when we first planned to eat there (we hiked instead), but we found that it is also closed on Tuesday and Wednesday.  Luckily, Jodee and Bill had an alternative restaurant that they promised was even more “interesting” than Sparky’s.  So we all jumped into their Jeep and headed west on I-10 for lunch at Adobe Deli.  As we approached the town of Deming we exited the highway and took a side road into a parking lot.  Jodee announced that we had arrived at the restaurant, but John kept saying that he couldn’t see it.

Does this look like a restaurant?

Do you see it now?

How about now? Just go through the gate . . .

Finally! Jodee and Tessa show us the way

The “restaurant” is in an old school building that closed in 1977.  The main dining area is in a large room that was probably the gym.  It was cold outside but the room was warmed by two propane heaters (normally used on outdoor patios) and a wood burning stove.

The dining area (it has a stage for bands on the weekend)

The bar with a few patrons in the balcony

Bill, John, and Jodee check out the menu while Tessa keeps an eye on the lady with the dog treats in her pocket

Hall decorations

Waiting for a call from Capt. Kirk

The Adobe Deli may have been the strangest looking restaurant we have ever seen, but the food was delicious!

The next day we finally headed north to the town of Hatch with Bill, Jodee, and Tessa.  We drove two vehicles as we intended to do a hike on the way back.  But we ran out of time so the hike never happened.  Hatch prides itself as being the chili pepper center of the country and Sparky’s, a local restaurant, was reported to have the best green chili cheeseburgers in the world (or at least in Hatch).    Before stopping at Sparky’s we drove through Hatch (it didn’t take long) and continued west on NM-26.  After about 20 miles we turned right on to NM-27 and drove 12 miles to the ghost town of Lake Valley.

The mining town of Lake Valley was founded in 1878 after silver was discovered in the nearby hills.  Almost overnight, the small frontier town grew into a major settlement. Today the mines are played out and all that remains is a ghost town.  The Bureau of Land Management has restored the schoolhouse and chapel.  Other buildings in the town site have been stabilized to slow further deterioration.

The restored schoolhouse

Dr. Beale’s house

The chrome on the headlights still shines!

The last people to live in the town were Pedro and Savina Martinez who resided in the old Bella Hotel until 1994.  Pedro arrived in the town at the age of two in 1904 and lived there all his life.

Bella Hotel

An old sealed mine just above town

An old bank safe sits abandoned along one of the town streets.  It had been located on the second floor of a bank that burned down in a fire in 1895.

The building below served many purposes including a school, saloon, general store, and gas station.

After taking a self-guided walking tour of the old town, we headed back to Hatch for lunch at Sparky’s.

Front entrance of Sparky’s

Odd statues occupy the area in front of the entrance, along the parking area across the street, and in the small parking lot next to the building.

Odd painting on the wall in one of the dining areas

Sparky’s turned out to be a really cool and different place to eat.  And the stories about the green chili cheeseburgers are true, they are delicious!

Well, that wraps up our stay in Las Cruces.  Next up we head to Naco, AZ located right along the border with Mexico.  We will be meeting up with Dave, Sue, and Lewis (he’s a dog)  to enjoy a week exploring nearby Bisbee and playing golf.  More on that later . . .

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Pine Tree Loop Hike, Las Cruces

Las Cruces, NM

One day during our Las Cruce stay we left the motorhome with the intent of driving to the town of Hatch to have lunch at a well-known restaurant.  As we drove through Las Cruces, a check on the restaurant’s hours revealed that they were closed for the day.  OK, time for a change in plans.  Since we were dressed to take a short hike on the return trip from Hatch, we decided to go up into the nearby Organ Mountains and do a hike we had on our schedule for later in the week.

So we headed up US-70 through the St. Augustin Pass to the east side of the Organ Mountains.  Just a mile or so beyond the pass we turned off the highway on to Aguirre Springs Road.  After six miles we came to the Aguirre Spring Campground,  a 57 site BLM facility with no utilities.

As we approached the campground the mountains loomed directly in front of us, so we knew there would be a great deal of elevation gain and loss in this hike.  We parked in a small lot inside the campground and found the Pine Tree Loop Trailhead nearby.

The trail is a lollipop configuration with a short hike up to a junction with the main loop.  We hiked the loop in a counterclockwise direction.  The trail immediately went up in a steady climb through low shrubs and grass.

About half way up the first part of the loop, we entered some snow and the trail became a bit slippery.  Without hiking poles we probably would have turned around before long.

But we kept going and were rewarded with a great lunch view of the valley below with the White Sands Missile Range residential area on our right.

Lunch with a view

After a light lunch we continued up the snowy trail through the rocks.

This was our first challenging hike since returning to the west and we were quite pleased with this trail.  It had a bit of elevation gain (1500 ft in a little over two miles) and the snow provided some interesting moments as we hiked across some steep embankments.

We have a few more things to share about our stay here so we have one more post about Las Cruces before moving on.  More on that later . . .

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CPI, Zuhl Museum, and White Sands NM

Las Cruces, NM

Chile peppers are one of the top agricultural products of New Mexico.  The New Mexico chile is a unique group of chile peppers initially developed by pioneer horticulturist, Dr. Fabian Garcia, in Las Cruces at New Mexico State University in 1894 (this blog always has such useful information!).   So when a visit to the Las Cruces Visitor Center yielded a brochure describing the Chile Pepper Institute at nearby NMSU we (or one of us) was eager for a visit.  One windy afternoon we arrived at Thompson Hall, parked in the one spot in the lot reserved for visitors to the institute, and made our way to room 265.

The institute turned out to be one room mostly filled with chili products for sale.  But the person on duty was very knowledgeable and gave one of us a great explanation of the development and uses of the New Mexican Chili plant.

Just a few blocks from Thompson Hall is the New Mexico State University Visitor Center.  Inside the visitor center is the Zuhl Museum, a two room display of the Zuhl Collection containing over 1,800 beautiful specimens of petrified wood, fossils and minerals.

In 1970 on vacation in Arizona from their New York City home, Herb and Joan Zuhl, saw a rancher removing a petrified log from his land.  Intrigued, the Zuhls dug up a log and shipped it home, beginning a new passion and successful business. Cutting and polishing pieces of petrified wood produced assorted museum quality specimens and art objects soon in high demand in their Manhattan gallery. The Zuhls retired to Las Cruces in 1991 and sold their business, keeping more than 2,000 of the most impressive pieces of their collection for themselves.  In 2000, the Zuhls allowed their personal collection to be displayed at the university.

Cross section of a huge petrified tree trunk from Oregon

Petrified palm tree

Amethyst from Brazil

Closer look at the amethyst

Chrysocolla with Druzy Quartz Coating

The day after our visit to NMSU we drove about 50 miles to the northwest on US-70 to visit White Sands National Monument.

The monument comprises the southern part of a 275 square mile field of white sand dunes composed of gypsum crystals. It is the largest gypsum dune field in the world.

Gypsum is rarely found in the form of sand because it is water-soluble.  Normally, rain would dissolve the gypsum and carry it to the sea.  White Sands is in an enclosed basin, meaning that it has no outlet to the sea, and rain that dissolves gypsum from the surrounding mountains is trapped within the basin.  Water either sinks into the ground or forms shallow pools which subsequently dry out and leave gypsum in a crystalline form on the surface.

In the gift shop at the visitor center you can purchase a new or used saucer-type sled to enjoy a ride down the many steep dunes.  We watched several families enjoying a day on the slopes.

The dunes constantly change shape and slowly move downwind.  Sometimes the moving sand creates interesting patterns along the face of the dunes.

Sierra Blanca Peak (11,981′) north of the sand dunes

After enjoying our visit to White Sands National Monument, we drove a few miles north to Alamogordo for a visit to McGinn’s Pistachio Tree Farm.  Who can resist a giant pistachio? (and they have a great sample table!).

We have a few more things on our list for the Las Cruces area so look for one more post from here.  More on that later . . .

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Dripping Springs Trail, Las Cruces, NM

Las Cruces, NM

We’ve been moving across the country fairly quickly after leaving Florida on January 1st, so we decided to slow down a bit and explore the area around Las Cruces.  With that in mind we settled in for a week at Coachlight Motel and RV Park.  The park is a little short on aesthetics, but is just what we need for our stay in this area.

Coachlight Motel and RV Park

Just ten miles east of Las Cruces is a rugged mountain range named the Organ Mountains.  In 2014 the area was included in the newly designated Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.

In one area of the Monument is a small visitor center where you can park and hike up to see the remains of a hotel and sanatorium operated in the early 1900s.  We parked there and hiked the two mile trail up to the ruins.

The nimble hiker is back in her element!

The area right at the base of the mountains is known as Dripping Springs, named for the waterfall fed by a mountain stream.   The people who constructed the hotel built a retaining wall at the base of the waterfall to create a small pool that provided water to the hotel.  The pool is now filled in with dirt but you can see the retaining wall in the photo below.

The hotel built at the site was named Van Patten’s Mountain Camp.  In the late 1800’s, Col. Van Patten, a former Confederate army officer, began construction of the camp.  A stage line from Las Cruces, 17 miles away, would carry guests by stagecoach along the rocky path up to the hotel itself.  In early 1900’s, guests arrived at the hotel by automobile, as well as, by horse and wagon.

The site of the resort is tucked into the rocky peaks at an elevation of 6,000 feet
(which is 2000 feet higher than Las Cruces). In its heyday, the luxurious resort
boasted 2 stories and 14 rooms, dining and recreational facilities, and a gazebo that
functioned as a bandstand.  Many famous people, such Pat Garret and Pancho Villa, stayed  in the hotel

Not much remains of the hotel.  In the old photo above you can see a building on the right with two windows on the second floor.  Below is the remains of that building.

The main section of the hotel is on the left of the old photo.  Below is all that remains of that part of the building today.

In 1915, Col. Van Patten came into financial difficulties. The hotel was closed and
the resort sold to Dr. Nathan Boyd, who turned the hotel into a tuberculosis sanatorium.  Extra buildings were constructed to house some of the patients.

Sanatorium buildings

Lunch with a view on the return hike

The hike up to Van Patten’s Camp was a great re-introduction to hiking for us.  There are a number of other places we plan to explore during our stay in the Las Cruces area.  More on those later . . .

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Hueco Tanks, TX

El Paso, TX

On Monday we left Carlsbad, NM and headed back to the southwest on US 62, the same route we used a few days earlier to get to Carlsbad.  The road provides some great views as you pass down along the Guadalupe Mountains.

Us 62 in the Guadalupe Mountains

After about 140 miles we came to the entrance road to Hueco Tanks State Park and  Historic Site, just east of El Paso.

Hueco Tanks State Park and Historical Site has 16 RV and camping sites with water and electricity, many long enough for a large motorhome.  We just made the decision to come here over the past weekend and the reservation site was closed so we couldn’t be sure of getting a spot.  But we called the office in the morning before leaving Carlsbad and were told there were some spots available.  Once there we found they did, indeed, have a spot that would fit our motorhome.  After registering but before going to our assigned site, we were required to watch a 15 minute video about protection of the fragile resources of the park.  Once finished with registration and the video, we headed into the campground, stopping at a gate at the entrance to the campground section of the park that requires someone to manually open and close it.

The Gatekeeper

We found our site (#3) to be very long, with a covered picnic table.

This small state park is popular for birding and bouldering, and is culturally and spiritually significant to many Native Americans.  It contains over 2,000 interesting pieces of rock art, mostly hidden in small caves under huge boulders.  To protect the fragile environment the park only issues entrance permits to 70 people per day.  Ten permits are reserved for people in the campground on a first come first served basis but campers must present themselves at the park office by eight in the morning.  We had heard that these go quickly so we were up and at the office just a little after seven.  We were pleasantly surprised to find that the sun rises in the east about this time, and apparently does so every day!  Who knew?

There were only nine people seeking permits that morning so we could have waited to arrive until eight, but then we would have missed the sunrise.  Permit in hand, we headed back to the motorhome to enjoy breakfast and wait for the temperature to reach a reasonable degree.

Once up on the rocks our first goal was to find the Cave Kiva, a small, hidden cave with some interesting rock art.  To find the kiva we went to the park headquarters and asked for directions.  We were given a one page set of directions and were required to leave a driver’s license to secure its return.  The paper described two rock formations to follow after climbing a ridge behind a picnic shelter.

First you climb the ridge behind the picnic shelter

Up the ridge we go

After climbing the ridge we were instructed to find the rock formation that resembles a duck.  From there look to the right and find the rocks that look like an alligator.

Duck formation lower left (red arrow), alligator in the upper right (blue arrow)

Climbing straight up from the head of the gator we found the cave entrance under a huge boulder.

A veteran spelunker prepares to enter the cave

It’s a bit tight at first

Just a few more feet!

The rocks are slippery from all the traffic over the years

Once inside there was enough headroom to sit up and, in some spots, stand.  The rock art was on the walls right in front of us.  There were seven faces or “masks” to find.  We found all seven!

A young spelunker at rest

Backpacks at the entrance

We climbed out of the cave and made our way up the rocks to get a better view of the surrounding area.

Examples of the tanks that name the park

We were leaving the park the next day but, since check-out isn’t until two in the afternoon, we used the morning to take another short hike up into the rocks using the Chain Trail.

This area is very popular for bouldering, an activity where you just use your fingers and toes to scale the sides of large boulders.  You can identify these people heading out into the rocks as they carry what appears to be a doubled over mattress on their backs.  We sat for a while watching two groups to see them climb, but it is our observation that this sport involves a great deal of standing around talking.  Finally one young lady laid down on her mat, reached up to the boulder, pulled herself up, and quickly made her way to the top.  She was pretty impressive!

We spent some time looking for another small cave that had some artwork.  We had trouble locating the cave at first but spotted the entrance when we heard a group on a ranger led hike talking inside it.  Once they left we made our way inside.  One area had an inscription made by a local named Santiago Cooper in the late 1800s.

Getting a view of some artwork

Getting in and out was a bit of a challenge

Once out of the cave we made our way back to the motorhome, packed up a few things, and headed down the road.  We really enjoyed our brief stay in Hueco Tanks.  We only hiked the North Mountain section of the rocks, as that is the only place open to self-guided hiking.  If you are really interested in rock art, climbing/bouldering, or birding, you can participate in some ranger-led hikes in the West Mountain and East Mountain sections.

OK, enough of Texas!  We are now off to visit Las Cruces, NM.  More on that later . . .

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Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM

Carlsbad, NM

The weather on Saturday was cold and misty, a perfect day to explore a large cave with a constant temperature of 56 degrees.  So we drove about 20 miles back down NM 62 from the town of Carlsbad to the entrance for Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

The entrance road gains a bit of elevation between the highway and the visitor center and we entered a thick fog as we drove up into the park.

Once at the visitor center we showed our OPNPP (Old People’s National Park Pass) and headed toward the cave entrance.  There are two self-guided tours available to visitors (you can also sign up for a ranger-led tour if you want a more extensive tour).  One is the Big Room Tour, a one mile loop accessible by elevator.  The other is the Natural Entrance Tour, a one mile tour that follows the traditional explorers’ route and enters the cavern through the large historic natural entrance.  The Natural Entrance route descends over 750 feet into the ground following a steep and narrow trail through a tall, open passage called the Main Corridor.  This route ends near the base of the elevator where you can then take the Big Room Tour.

The trail starts with a series of steep, winding switchbacks that reminded us of Walter’s Wiggles on the trail to Angel’s Landing in Zion NP.

Going down . . .

. . . and down. See the people far below ?

From early spring to October the area just below the entrance is home to a large number of Mexican free tailed-bats.  One of the most popular activities in the park during that part of the year is to sit in an amphitheater at dusk and watch the bats leave the cave.  But the bats are smarter than us and head to warmer places for the winter, so no bat show for us.

Looking into the bat cave

We spent the next couple of hours exploring the cave.  Pictures cannot capture the beauty we experienced, but we’ll share a few so you get a taste of what we saw.


Twin domes and giant dome


Early exploration ladder

Rock of Ages


As we began our descent into the cave, we volunteered to take a picture of a young lady taking the tour alone.  As we proceeded we engaged in conversation and ended up completing the entire tour with her.  Keishia is a military contractor currently working at Fort Bliss in nearby El Paso.  She works in logistics for the army and is heading for Kuwait tomorrow.  We found Keishia to be a wonderful person and really enjoyed sharing the cave experience with her!

Pam and Keishia

We really enjoyed our experience in exploring the caverns of Carlsbad.  It’s one of those places that everybody should visit at least once in their life.  The place is spectacular!

Today (Sunday) was cold and rainy so we spent the day watching hockey and football.  We leave Carlsbad tomorrow but are not quite sure where we will be tomorrow night.  Hueco Tanks State Park is located just east of El Paso, right on our route west.  We learned from friends that the park has some interesting hiking so we called to see if there is a site available in the campground.  But the campground office is closed on the weekend (we hope they answer the phone on MLK Day) so we’ll try in the morning.  If that doesn’t work out, we’ll continue on to Las Cruces.

More on that later . . .

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