The theme of our time in New Mexico is definitely aliens—alien planets, alien landscapes, and aliens themselves (we did visit Roswell, after all). Following the time we spent in the familiar Texas desert, the drive into New Mexico across the Guadalupe Mountains was jarring. This state looked and felt so different from what we’d been seeing. The southern part of the state is actually very flat, and eerily punctuated by the natural wonders we visited. Even though we were sad to watch Texas recede in the distance, we knew we were headed towards meeting up with my parents- our first family visit on the trip thus far. We met them in the town of Carlsbad, with the intention of exploring Carlsbad Caverns National Park over the weekend.
The Carlsbad Caverns park revolves around the 5th largest cave in North America. As luck would have it, the elevator down to the base of the caverns was out of service. This required every visitor to hike down the 2+ mile, 950-ft elevation drop AND back up when finished. This wasn’t an easy hike, but it made us feel super badass and accomplished when we were out.
These caves are completely crazy looking, and are unlike anything we’ve ever seen. It’s funny, because everything around you is so big and alien; the rock formations look like everything from dripping walruses and whales to shrouded curtains and xenomorphs. Details in the caves ranged from a microscopic collection of stalactites (adorably called the “Doll’s Theater”) to the gaping “bottomless pit“. People were taking pictures left and right with their phones and sophisticated cameras alike. Because the caves go so deep underground, there’s a point not too far down where natural light ceases to filter in and everything is lit by orange bulbs. When we got back up to the top, both Carl and my mom were dismayed that their pictures didn’t really capture the depth or scale of the caverns. Take our word for it- they’re massive and insanely cool.
Another major draw of the caverns is the bat flight, where visitors can watch the bats that live in the caves fly out all at once for their night-hunt. The bats that live at Carlsbad fly south for the winter, and hadn’t yet come back north for us to catch this spectacle.
Next was White Sands National Monument. We traveled there by way of Roswell, and to be frank, these wild and weird places seem to be separated by endless flat land with very little in between. We saw so little of the rocky formations we come to associate with Santa Fe and Albuquerque to the north.
Roswell was petite and quirky, and satisfied us well enough with our quick afternoon visit. We went to the UFO museum and browsed the alien merch in several gift shops. We’re pretty sure the alien landing in Roswell is bogus, but it was super fun to explore the town and entertain the crackpot theories.
Our stop at White Sands Monument, though, was utterly gorgeous. A summer/winter hybrid cooked up by the magic of nature, this mountain basin holds a hundred miles of pure white sand dunes made up of tiny gypsum crystals (fun fact, it’s not actually sand!). The ‘sand’ is able to accumulate here because of the lack of water in the desert- under normal circumstances, the water-soluble gypsum would get carried away by the rain. The fine crystals have a cool, velvet touch on your bare feet, and never heat up despite the glaring sunshine.
Sleds are available for rent at the park headquarters. Since we’d researched this ahead of time, we bought our own blue plastic discs at the nearby Walmart. Beware, though, because to really fly the sleds need to be waxed. Luckily, they sold cubes of wax at the visitor center. We tried a few runs without wax, but the friction of the sand is really strong- the wax did the trick to make the sleds glide down the dunes.
We felt like kids again, speeding down the dunes and running back up to the top, out of breath and hearts pounding from fighting the gravity of the deep sand.
This trip is going by so fast- even though we have an entire year, we feel like we’re speeding through it with our jam-packed itinerary. We miss our friends and family dearly, but there are a lot of distractions keeping us busy day-to-day. Spending time with family was a great reminder of how much we miss them. While it was good for our souls to spend time together, it did make us miss Minnesota that much more. I cried like a dang BABY when my parent’s said goodbye. It was fun to get to share the USAnywhere adventure with our parents; luckily, Carl’s will join us sometime soon in the coming months.
After my parents left, we went up to the northwest corner of the state (or the Four Corners region as it is commonly known, since Utah, Colorado and Arizona all intersect with New Mexico here). We ran into some bad luck with weather (and some unfortunate roads that poor Miss America just couldn’t make it on), which caused some hiccups and delays. Even though we only spent a short time there, the Bisti De-Na-Zin wilderness area was super cool. The space is huge and wild, and we hope we can make it back someday (preferably when there isn’t a violent windstorm ;P) . We soldiered on to Colorado travel-weary and emotionally drained, but ready (more or less) to take on a new state.
More next week on our travels in Colorado!
US Anywhere is a year-long, cross-country documentary project by newlyweds Carl and Anna. They are taking the 52 weeks of 2016 and are using them to travel the country and make short films about all 50 states (plus Washington, D.C.). The project will seek to illuminate the states and the hugely diverse urban and natural landscapes of the US. They hope to inspire others to dream, travel, explore, and connect with the United States.