• On the Road from Byng, Oklahoma to Alamogordo, New Mexico
I had my customary send-off breakfast with Abby.
Fair weather and good roads but a late start put me in the loneliest part of New Mexico after sunset. I saw a jackrabbit and a dozen or more deer, and stopped only a couple of times to shoot a sign or two.
• Alamogordo area
I hiked the Dog Canyon trail at Oliver Lee State Park. The trail leaves the park and enters Lincoln National Forest after a third of a mile, and ascends the classic Chihuahuan Desert slopes of the Sacramento Mountains south of Alamogordo, New Mexico. I followed the trail about halfway, until I was satisfied I’d had a good look at it, and felt I was running out of time.
The sound from fighter jets at Holloman Air Force Base to the north absolutely filled the air.
I drove north through Tularosa, where I found and bought some New Mexico grown pistachios, along with some New Mexico wine.
I drove the winding, rustic U. S. 82 into the Sacramento Mountains, where I turned south at Cloudcroft on the road to the National Solar Observatory. It was quiet and a little chilly at the 9200-foot Sacramento Peak. The short walking tour of the telescopes was nice and made a few pictures.
I made it down to White Sands National Monument by about 2:30. I hiked around for a little while, but the light was grey and shadowless. I decided to attempt to join the 4 pm ranger-guided Sunset Stroll, which was kinda fun. The clouds finally broke and the sunset imaging was satisfying.
• Alamogordo to City of Rocks and Silver City, New Mexico
I had a very early breakfast, then hit the road west. My first stop was the White Sands Missile Range Museum and Missile Park. Despite a cold wind, I had beautiful sunshine and good light, and the visit was both interesting and photogenic.
I was stopped at a huge checkpoint west of Las Cruces, where I was asked to show ID and asked if I were a U. S. citizen, which I am. The vehicle in front of mine was detained.
I continued west though Las Cruces and Deming to Lordsburg, where I learned that the Shakespeare Ghost Town was on its winter schedule, and was closed. It was only a half hour out of my way, but still annoying.
I turned north and drove a spookily lonely stretch of New Mexico state highway 90.
I continued to Silver City, where I had a bite of lunch, then drove down to City of Rocks State Park about 30 miles southeast of Silver City. On the internet it always seemed like it would be fun to explore, but today I discovered it could be aptly renamed Richard Barron’s Playground. I started with the 3.25-mile hike that circumnavigates the park, which cut through a beautiful open slice of Chihuahuan desert. Then as sunset approached, I dove into the heart of the boulder field, climbing and leaping and hiking and making tons of images as I went.
• Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
The 44-mile drive from Silver City to Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument was both challenging and stressful, since much of the southern end of the route is very narrow, with dozens of tight turns and elevation changes, and no centerline. I saw some mule deer on the way up, then on the way back I was able to photograph dense smoke from a prescribed burn going on just to the west.
The Monument was sparsely attended; I saw about 10 other people, including rangers. I met a nice volunteer at the dwellings themselves, and she and I had a nice chat while she waited for other visitors. I made some fairly decent images, but nothing I thought was spectacular.
On the way out, I hiked a Forest Service trail into the Gila Wilderness Area, maybe a mile and a half, just because I didn’t feel like I’d had my fill of hiking. The afternoon was cool and clear.
• Silver City to Santa Rosa via the Catwalk and the VLA
Drove northwest out of Silver City toward a landmark I saw in a local travel guide called “The Catwalk.” The road to it, like all the roads in southwest New Mexico, was eerily lonely.
Near the town of Glenwood, The Catwalk trail proved to be a big surprise for the day. At the trail head, I learned that it was Veterans Day (which I guess I already knew), so there was no fee. The trail follows Whitewater Creek for a little more than a mile, along a path originally created by gold miners in the 1890s. In several spots where the canyon narrows, the trail continues on steel catwalks, one long, complex one, and several others as needed, all anchored where the miners anchored their aquaducts. The creek also featured rushing rapids and abundant fall foliage.
I continued east, stopping at the Very Large Array near Magdalena, which I hadn’t seen in ten years. The configuration (the location of the dish antennas along the “Y” of the array) wasn’t the perfect one for pictures. (It was in the “B” configuration for anyone interested). Still, some spooky-ish clouds helped it make a few nice images.
By nightfall I was in Socorro for dinner, then drove to Santa Rosa for the night.
• Driving home
It was cold and grey in Santa Rosa when I left. By the Texas line there was snow on the ground, which I stopped to photograph.
I was happy to be home around 6 pm, where Abby was happy I was home.