Oct 22, 2023 – Amarillo, TX
The coolest thing in the Amarillo area may be a state park about 25 miles south of the city. We decided to find out.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park is both the largest and the most visited state park in Texas. It contains the second-largest canyon in the United States after the Grand Canyon. Roughly 120 miles long, it has an average width of six miles. Cutting deeply into the Caprock Escarpment, its depth is around 800 feet but ranges up to 1,000 feet. Although it was formed less than a million years ago, it cut through rock that was deposited during the Permian period, up to 250 million years ago. The strata that were exposed create a beautiful display of colors.
Unassuming Park Entrance
Canyon Extends Deep Into Caprock Escarpment
Rainbow of Colors were Everywhere
It was interesting that our drive to the park on the top of the escarpment was across land as flat as a billiard table. The first hint that we were about to see something different was about two miles from the canyon when the beginnings of one of the side canyons first appeared.
Spanish Skirts Possibly Named by Coronado
Formation Named Capital Dome
There is one road in the canyon that descends to the bottom and then makes a long lollypop loop, altogether a beautiful, nearly a 20 mile long drive. There are several nice campgrounds (we liked Sagebrush Campground best) and many trails to hike. There are also event pavilions for rent and a couple of small stores that serve food and sell memorabilia. And, near one of the stores there are a few air conditioned “glamping” tents you can rent.
Texas Sized Fly Swatter to Combat Hordes of Them in the Canyon
Glamping Tent has Kitchen and Cleaning Service
The canyon has been continuously inhabited for at least 12,000 years by people attracted to the water and to the protection from the weather afforded by the canyon. Charles Goodnight purchased most of the land in 1876 to develop the first commercial cattle ranch in the Texas panhandle.
It gets really hot in this area of Texas, especially down in the canyon. Hikers and bicyclists are continuously warned to carry plenty of water. We did a one mile, easy hike. Bright sun and temperature ranging above 100°F told us that was enough! We did stop for picture taking and to walk to the entrance to a small cave but otherwise limited our outside activities.
100 Degrees … but it Was a Dry Heat
Small Cave Entrance Attracts Hikers
So, is Palo Duro Canyon cool? Well, yeah, but it’s damn hot, too!
Oh, did I mention the wind? It’s been really windy here, enough to affect highway driving. The dry climate and clear skies cause it to cool off rapidly when the sun sets and, combined with the wind, we’ve actually been uncomfortably cool in the evenings and overnight.
We stopped to purchase some sundries on our way back to the campground. Then it was time for showers and to head out to use a gift certificate at a Texas Roadhouse for dinner.
Oct 23, 2023 – Amarillo, TX, to Roswell, NM
We finally turned south off of I-40 onto four lane ordinary highways like US-60 and US-70. It was almost hard to tell the difference. Straight and flat was still the word. The big difference was that traffic was very light. Often there would be no other vehicle in sight.
One thing the drive illustrated was the enormity of the operations that feed us. In the Texas panhandle part of the drive, grain fields bordered the highways most of the way. Large grain elevators were everywhere. As we approached the New Mexico border we began to also see beef feed lots and a couple of packing plants. The feed lots were huge, invariably surrounding feed operations. We saw excavation equipment moving silage into dump trucks as part of the operation to feed the cattle. Crossing into New Mexico, we saw mostly endless grazing land.
One of 20 Hereford Grain Corp Elevators
Cattle Make Up the Dark Swath with Feed Operation in the Middle
Every Town and Places In Between Boast Grain Elevators
Then came the trains, freight trains that is. Yeah, a few were carrying commodities like grain, etc. But most were 50 to 80 cars long carrying double decker JB Hunt Intermodal containers. Typically they were pulled by three engines and some had additional engines in the middle or at the end of the train. Second most common were Amazon Prime cars and then there was the usual mix of other kinds of cars. Scheduling all of these trains must be crazy.
We Passed Many JB Hunt Intermodal Trains Like This
Rail and Grain Elevators Usually Side-by-Side
Reaching Roswell we were a bit surprised. We knew that it would be more than the desert crossroads still pictured in UFO crass site photos but, today, it is a thriving community of 50,000 with a vibrant arts community. Except for humanoid aliens pictured in signs for some businesses, there is little of that legacy to be seen today.
It was our plan not to stay in Roswell but to camp in Bottomless Lakes State Park about fifteen miles southeast of the city. The park encompasses a chain of eight lakes that are actually sinkholes or cenotes formed by land that collapsed into water filled underground caverns fed by snow melt from mountains to the west. They are beautiful.
Mirror Lake is One of the Bottomless Lakes in the Park
Lakes are Picturesque
The stop was a good choice! The small campground is on the shores of the largest of the lakes. We chose to add an additional day to our stay here to ride our bikes among the lakes and to clean most of the bug debris and road film from the camper … it’s pretty dirty!
Oct 24, 2023 – Bottomless Lakes SP, Roswell, NM
Another nice day to begin with, but rain is forecast in the afternoon. We’d better get a move on.
First up was a bike ride to see the rest of the “bottomless” lakes. The campground in on one of the largest of them, Lea Lake. It is the only one where swimming is allowed and there is a large, semi-circular shelter along a public access beach area. Beyond the beach is a large picnic area where each table is under a roof for shade. The whole setup is really neat.
Picnic Tables All Have Sun Shelters
Swimming Area in Lake at Campground
Picnic Shelters were Constructed in the 1930s
We rode a mile plus desert trail to link up with a road that goes from lake to lake. All of the lakes in this area are almost completely surrounded by cliffs. They vary in size, depth and color. Different colors are caused by the particular kinds of algae that inhabit that particular lake. One, especially, was distinctly red in color. In this area there are a number of campsites that are not reservable. If you want to stay at one you simply fill in a permit card and pay the $10 per night fee. They’re nice sites, some with tent pads that are level and well drained.
On the Trail to See the Lakes
Flowers Along the Way
One of the Lakes
Each Lake is a Different Color Due to Different Organisms
This Lake is Distinctively Red
This Lake Deeper Into Ridge
Bill Stands at Left for a Sense of Scale
Back at our campsite we began cleaning, Sandy inside and Bill outside. Working from a bucket with Dawn and a rag, the heavy road dirt was easy to remove. Good thing we had bug remover spray for the forward facing surfaces because they were heavily encrusted with bug remains. It’s been two and a half weeks and over 2,000 miles so the mess wasn’t a surprise.
By mid afternoon it was getting hot and none of the parts that needed to be washed were in the shade. So we took a break at the lake where Sandy took a dip while Bill sat in the shade and read. The water was nice; so was the shade! After the break, the other side of the camper was shaded so we washed that part too.
Sandy Takes a Dip
By late afternoon the skies were becoming threatening. So, after showers we abandoned dinner ideas that involved cooking outdoors. We settled, instead, for our remaining frozen chili and sautéed Brussels sprouts. Good thing because it rained for the rest of the evening.
Oct 25, 2023 – Roswell to Las Cruces, NM
We left Bottomless Lakes SP campground fairly early to get a start on a long day. On our way out we drove a different road that had a nice overview of the campground, Lea Lake and the picnic area.
Looking Down at Campground as We Depart
We opted for breakfast at MacDonald’s in Roswell and took pictures of some of the alien themed business signage.
Roswell Businesses Often Feature Alien Theme
Even MacDonald’s is Shaped Like a Flying Saucer
And of Course You Are Greeted by the Saucer’s Pilot
Visitors Like Photos Taken with Them in Saucer
Heading out of town, we passed groves of pistachio trees. A couple of the groves had visitor centers and we stopped at the one featuring the world’s biggest pistachio. After the requisite picture we ventured inside to see more pistachio themed mementos than you’d think possible. The highlight was the pistachio ice cream. It was delicious!
Sandy is Dwarfed by Largest Pistachio
Bill Takes on Alien Persona
We were headed, first, to visit White Sands NP and then would go on to Las Cruces, NM. The drive started straight and flat through desert but eventually turned quite curvy and hilly as we entered the Hondo Valley. Trees and green fields eventually began to appear and the valley became truly beautiful. Our drive then crossed the rugged Sacramento mountains.
Next stop was White Sands National Park. Entering the parking lot we saw our first other camper like ours, a Winnebago EKKO, and talked with the owner, Jim. He was traveling from Fairbanks, Alaska and headed to the rally in Tucson like us. And we thought we had a long drive!
We didn’t quite know what to expect of the park other than a lot of white sand. Well, there was a lot of that for sure! An excellent visitor’s center film described the area including how the sands form and move.
Entering White Sands NP
Snow melt and rain water percolate down from the San Andres mountains to the west. Those waters dissolve some of the gypsum in the rock and eventually pool at the base of the mountains. Dry weather eventually evaporates leaving very soft gypsum crystals. Strong winds break some of the crystals which tumble into and break down other crystals. That process repeats, eventually producing very fine, white sand that is blown by the wind forming moving sand dunes.
A road leads into the dunes area beginning at the eastern edge which is largely stabilized by plant growth. But as you enter the main dune area plants become sparse, eventually almost completely eliminated. The road changes, too, from asphalt to plowed asphalt to nothing but hard sand. We walked a couple of trails into the outer area but the main dunes area is too unstable to maintain trails.
It’s Pretty Hilly in Dunes
Flowers Along Trail
Sand Has to be Plowed from Paved Roads
Aluminum Boardwalk has to be Rerouted as Sands Shift
The park personnel plow large parking areas for folks to picnic under shelters and from which to explore the sandy whiteness. People are free to walk the dunes and to sled down some of the steeper ones. We came upon a local family group whose four kids were sledding. Sandy asked to borrow one of the sleds and they graciously let her. One of their young boys tried to show her the ropes. No fault of the boy but it seems the heavier you are the slower the ride. Sandy’s ride was pretty slow.
Large Parking Areas for Visitors to Park and Picnic
In Center of Dunes Area You Drive Directly on Plowed Sand
Look Closely for People on Horizon
Many People Use Sleds to Ride the Dunes
Young Kid Coaches Sandy on Sledding Technique
Overall, it’s an amazing area!
On to our night’s destination, Rio Grande Winery in Las Cruces, another Harvest Host. We drove through several miles of pecan orchards on our way there, eventually entering their vineyard and parking in a large lot with several other campers. The wine tasting area is lovely with a large comfortably furnished room and a large patio in the back. The wine was good as was the IPA Bill ordered but there was no food.
They often have food trucks but not this early in the week. On recommendation of the server, we drove a few miles to La Posta De Mesilla, a Mexican restaurant. Once a stagecoach stop, it’s been in business since 1939. We had one of their 13 dining rooms to ourselves. The food was spicy but good. The place is into decorating for holidays and our room was decorated for Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead. Appetizing!
Day of the Dead Decor in Dining Room
Oct 26, 2023 – Las Cruces, NM, to Tucson, AZ
Our four and a half hour drive today was back to pretty straight and, mostly, pretty flat. We made one stop for a few supplies at a WalMart and to mail some cards.
The most visually dramatic part of the drive was entering a large canyon area east of Tucson. It was crazy looking and seemed like some child had played with huge boulders, piling some of them into unstable looking peaks and just tossing others into the valleys.
Mountains in This Area Just Look Like Piles of Boulders
Even Lower Areas are Huge Boulders
Finally arriving in Tucson, we stopped at a Costco to fill the tank at $3.59 per gallon. (We’d been spoiled by prices closer to $3.00 for the past week.) Then we found a manual car wash with bays high enough to clear our 10 foot 6 inch height. The car wash manager monitored us closely as we entered the bay because he’s had customers scrape the air conditioning units off their roofs and damage his equipment. The wash finally got most of the bug residue off the highest points above our windshield.
The rally of campers like ours was set to start tomorrow morning. It will be held in the group camping area of Catalina State Park just north of the city. We’d gotten a reservation in a regular campsite in the park for tonight so we could be early arrivals the next morning. The park is set at the base of the mountains which makes quite a dramatic backdrop for the campground.