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31 Oct - 30 Nov 2015 New Mexico - Las Cruces

Saturday 31st October - Happy Halloween!

Clear blue skies this morning, making a pristine autumn day as we departed Durango and headed south. We climbed out of the Animas Valley on the US 550 with wonderful views as we made our way towards the New Mexican border 20 miles away. Over the state line the first town we came to was Aztec where there are Pueblo ruins at the Aztec Ruins National Monument. The landscape became more arid with scrub desert and grassland terrain. We noticed that the oil and gas industry seemed to be active in the area south of Aztec. As we continued south we came to the Jicarilla Apache Reservation and across the plains we saw broken mesas and cliffs breaking up the desert landscape. Just before reaching Albuquerque we skirted the Jemez Pueblo land with high mountains views ahead of us. We crossed the Rio Grande and picked up the I-25 south at Bernalillo, continued past Albuquerque with Los Alamos to the north and Santa Fe to the east. From here we drove through red sand scrub and grass desert with the Manzano Mountains and Rio Grande River to the east with a fertile area running alongside the river. Stopped off for lunch at Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge rest area. A few miles down the road we passed a ranch and saw some real life wrangling. There were a couple of cowboys on horseback in a corral roping a young bull.

Early evening we got to the Hacienda RV Park, just off the I-10 in Las Cruces. A very smart park with excellent facilities but also noise from the nearby interstate. We spoke to Peter and Suzan on the phone, they had been in Las Cruces the week before and told us about another campsite that was worth going to see.

Sunday 1st November

We went over to Sunny Acres RV Park this morning to check it out. They have large sites with shade trees and lots of grass

and a nice dog park for Sandy. The park is in a commercial area but set well back from the road. We decided to move over to Sunny Acres and have booked in until the end of November. There is a Forest Rivers agent in Las Cruces which will allow us to catch up on maintenance and have some work done on the RV under the warranty.

Just across the road from the RV park is High Desert Brewery, we went to check it out and sat on a nice outside patio with Sandy.

Monday 2nd – Saturday 7th November

Las Cruces is in the Mesilla Valley near the Rio Grande River and was founded in 1849 after the US-Mexican War. The town has a population of about 101,000 and is nearly 4,000 feet above sea level with the Organ Mountains to the east overlooking the city. It is a University town in the centre of an agricultural valley, particular crops grown here are chile peppers and pecans. Major employers in the area are White Sands Test Facility, a US government rocket engine test facility established by NASA in 1963 and White Sands Missile Range.

We have just chilled out this week and stayed around camp catching up on paperwork and chores. After having been on the road a lot lately, it has been nice to just have a quiet week and enjoy the weather. Holiday World, the Forest River agent here cannot do any work on the RV until December. They have had a lot of work in from Texas because of the floods they have recently experienced.

Spoke to Chris this week, very sadly her Mum has passed away. Mary was 90 in September and had been poorly for a while.

Sunday 8th November

Just south of Las Cruces is the historical village of Mesilla. Established in about 1848 Messila has the feel and look of an old Mexican village with traditional adobe buildings

and the Basilica of San Albino overlooking the town plaza.

Billy the Kid stood trial here in the old court house and was sentenced to hang. The village was also a stopping off point for the Butterfield Stagecoach line as it made its way west. When we got to Mesilla the priest was outside the church greeting people as they arrived for Sunday service. The plaza was busy and people were arriving at the restaurants in town for Sunday lunch.

This afternoon we went down to El Paso which is about 50 miles south. We called in at Camping World for a few items and found that they are also agents for Forest River, therefore the RV has been booked in with them next week to have some work done. Being so close to the border it was noticeable how many border control vehicles were about.

Monday 9th November

Went into Las Cruces for a walk around and stopped off at the Visitor Centre. The town has a nice old theatre called the Rio Grande, small shops and galleries and some fine old and large houses in the historic district. On the way back we called in to the High Desert Brewery for lunch. We had some delicious jack cheese and green chile quesadillas with salsa and sour cream.

Tuesday 10th November

More sad news today. Chris’s Dad died last night and has gone to join Mary, they had been married for nearly seventy years. Ronnie was 90 in October and had been ill for only a short time. He wasn’t going to stay behind without Mary. Chris and the family are now arranging for a double funeral.

Wednesday 11th November – Veterans Day

Visited Mesilla today, they had a ceremony to honour their veterans in the Parque de Veteranos. The national anthem was sung by local collage students, prays were offered, the US flag was hoisted and there were guest speakers from local government and the military.

After the ceremony we walked back to the town plaza

and sat out in the sunshine on the patio of Josephina’s café and had coffee.

Thursday 12th November

Our thoughts have been with Chris, Dave and all the family today. It was Ronnie and Marys funeral and memorial service at Sheepy Magna church.

Friday 13th November

Today we are visiting Spaceport America, we headed north in the car from Las Cruces early this morning across the desert on a very quiet I-25. On the way we were stopped at a border patrol point and our passports inspected. We were soon on our way again but we got the impression that they see very few Brits around here and we were rather strange fruit. Our next stop was to get some gas at the small town of Hatch. It is known for being the chili capitol of the world and we certainly saw plenty of bunches of dried chilies hanging outside buildings as we passed.

We were on our way to the town of Truth or Consequences, named after a popular radio game show of the 1950’s. The town was built in the 1880’s on the site of some natural hot springs and was originally called ‘Hot Springs’. The name change came about after the town entered a competition being run by the game show. Today, apart from still having the hot springs, the town is also famous for being near to Spaceport America.

After assembling at the towns Visitor Centre and signing a disclaimer, the sixteen people in our group were ushered onto a mini bus for the thirty mile journey out into the desert and Spaceport America. Our guide, Mark, was excellent and a mine of information.

He started off telling us about the town and the geology of the area and then played a video about the local history. This area of New Mexico was involved in early rocket technology and the first atomic bomb test took place nearby at the Trinity Site. Clear skies, a low population and a good climate makes it an ideal launch place for space craft. Mark went on to explain some of the physics of rocket technology and how launch sites in southern latitudes are beneficial because thrust is better assisted due to the curvature of the earth in these areas.

We travelled deeper into empty desert, over a single track railroad to the small community of Ingle. This little place was built as a rail depot. It has a small church and the preacher is a cowboy who owns a local ranch. We followed the railroad for a few miles and then turned off the road and approached a barrier on the access road into Spaceport. The site is in a vast desert basin with the San Andreas Mountains in the distance.

Spaceport America is a commercial operation owned by the state of New Mexico and provides a facility for commercial tenants and customers to operate space launches. One of the most famous being Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic with its WhiteKnight Two and SpaceShip Two. Once Virgin Galactic have finished testing the vehicles and they are ready to go, there are over 700 passengers, at $250,000 each, signed up and ready to travel into space.

The first building we approached was shaped like a giant stingray, lying flat and buried slightly into the desert.

The company are proud of their eco-friendly buildings that sit in sympathy with the surrounding terrain. The Gateway to Space building was approached down a semi tunnel entrance, giving the impression of going down into the earth.

Here Virgin Galactic have their hangar where there is a mockup of WhiteKnight Two the jet propelled carrier for SpaceShip Two. Unfortunately, there was a customer on site using the hangar and the 12,000 foot long runway – or spaceway as I should call it - to test ‘something’. It was all very hush hush and we were unable to have access to either area. However, we did spend some time in the exhibit hall where there are space age electronic games and a G-Shock simulator that lets you experience rapid acceleration similar to what astronauts feel in flight.

Next, to the operations centre, which is similar to an airport air traffic control.

Here we met the guys from the on-site fire service with their beautifully polished vehicles.

As with any airport fire service, they train and keep fit for what they hope they will never have to do. They are potentially dealing with rocket launches which adds another layer of expertise to aviation fuel fires. They are also on call to attend community emergencies which supplements the voluntary fire service in this isolated area. The whole crew were really accommodating and pleased to allow their visitors to climb in and out of the pristine fire vehicles.

What an interesting visit, I feel stuffed full of facts. It felt like being on the set of Close Encounters and after all Roswell is only a couple of hundred miles away. The expectations at Spaceport America are that commercial space travel will very soon take off (no pun intended) so watch this space (no pun intended)!

Saturday 14th November – Tuesday 17th November

The weather has been very mixed, bright sunshine, high winds and rain. We have stayed around camp pretty much with the occasional outing to the town and shopping. At the end of January we will be travelling to Baja California in Mexico and have booked to go with a travel company called Baja Winters. Every winter the company take a group of people, all travelling in RV’s and collectively called a Caravan, down to the southern tip of Baja on a 10 day journey. Baja Winters arrange all the stopovers and places to visit on the way. This weekend one of the jobs we have done is go through the check list of things to do before we travel.

Wednesday 18th November

Today we have been to White Sands National Monument which is along the US-70 about 45 miles east of Las Cruces. The route goes through a pass in the Organ Mountains, the striking range of mountains that overlooks Las Cruces and the Mesilla Valley.

As we came out on the other side of the mountains we had a magnificent view of the Chihuahuan Desert and the Tularosa Basin. Rising from the heart of the basin is 275 square miles of glistening white sand, with waves of gypsum sand dunes creating the largest gypsum dune field in the world. We stopped off at the Visitor Centre

and then headed into the dune area along a paved road that eventually turns into a sand track. The sand is blown by strong southwesterly winds and the dunes are ever changing shape, therefore the track needs to be ploughed to keep it open. As we moved further along the track it was like being transported to the Sahara Desert. We took a walk along a marked trail into the dunes and saw a few plants such as yucca and cactus. There was information along the way about the geology of the area and the plants and animals that remarkably survive in this harsh environment. We met a couple from San Diego (the lady originally from Welwyn Garden City). They were interested in photography and told us about a recent visit to Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Reserve where migrating birds such as Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese are there in their thousands and make for good photography, particularly at sunset when huge flocks take off from the lake.

Continuing along the track we came across several people on horseback out for a day’s riding amongst the dunes.

We stopped off and climbed up onto one of the dunes.

One of the activities here is dune surfing or sledding which is allowed where there is little or no vegetation. Plastic boards are used to sit on and slide down the dunes. I sat down at the top of a dune to attempt a slide down which seemed to signal to Sandy that it was playtime. She started chasing about madly and swirling about in the sand, absolutely loving this strange soft stuff.

In the summer, temperatures in the dunes can rise above 100 degrees Fahrenheit and many people come here when there is a full moon to picnic and walk the trails in the cool of the night.

We made our way back to Las Cruces and had a lovely view of the town and the valley as we came through the Organ Mountains just as the sun was going down.

Thursday 19th November

Up and out for 7:30 to take the RV down to Camping World at Anthony, just north of El Paso. I followed on in the car. We were having a few things down under the warranty and after leaving the RV at Camping World went off in the car to explore the area.

First, into the Franklin Mountains State Park just a short distance away overlooking the town. The park consists of rugged desert wilderness with plenty of plants, grasses and cactus. There are several shaded picnic areas and numerous hiking trails. The park was quiet with a few parked cars about but we saw no one as we took off for a short hike up the mountain on a very rocky pathway. It was amazingly silent and the towns way below looked tiny.

After this spurt of energy we went off to find some lunch at Denny’s down near the interstate.

From there we took Sandy for a run around off leash at the towns dog park and then headed 18 miles south to El Paso. The city nestles in the far west of Texas, separated from Mexico by the Rio Grande River. On our way into downtown the suburbs spread for some miles across the hills and mainly consisted of low level housing. In old downtown there are mostly 19th or early 20th century two-story buildings some of which have been nicely renovated in the style they were built. Next we explored the area around the Civic Center Plaza and Convention Centre where the buildings are new with a touch of Spanish modern art. There are museums of art and history and the splendid Plaza Theatre. Our visit was brief but we got the impression of a once bustling city that is renewing itself and bringing back some life to the old whilst incorporating the new. However, it was almost eerily quiet this afternoon with very few people about.

We collected the RV from Camping World and was very pleased with the work Craig and the rest of the team had done. The best was that the front blind, that comes down to cover windscreen at night, now works again at the press of a button. For weeks we have been manually rolling the blind up and securing it with an old dog collar.

Saturday 21st November

Spoke to Cerys and caught with all her news. Late afternoon we went for a meal to celebrate Thanksgiving which was held at the club house here in the RV Park.

Two couples own the park and they supplied the turkey and ham while everyone else took a dish to share – it’s called pot-luck – we supplied roast potatoes and gravy. The club house had decorations hanging in autumn colours with matching table ware, it looked very festive. We sat with Ann, Jack, Naomi and Eddie. Ann was born in Loughborough and came to the US in the 1940’s when she was just a few months old. Her mother was a war bride and they arrived in style on the Queen Mary. A while ago she went to have a look at the ship which is docked in Long Beach, California and is now a museum. She was amazed to see on display a photograph of herself with her mother and brother on board the ship during their journey.

There was about sixty people at the meal and we had a really nice sociable afternoon, with plenty of homemade cakes and dessert!

Sunday 22nd November

Spoke to Charlotte and then Chris and caught on their news. Went to Old Mesilla and had drink in the Double Eagle saloon bar which is in an old adobe building on the main Plaza. The bar and restaurant is sumptuously decorated in old colonial style with some antique French lights, mirrors and chandeliers.

For dinner we went Andele Dog House a locally owned restaurant with a nice outdoor patio area where the four legged members of the family can also sit. There is a fire pit for the chilly winter evenings and a salsa bar with warm tostado chips for you to help yourself to until your meal arrives.

Monday 23 rd November

Tony successfully fitted the CB unit into the RV this morning. The only snag is that we have the wrong ariel and need to send it back. Out shopping at Lowe’s and Walgreens and took the CB ariel to UPS for return. Went to Hastings Entertainment – bookstore – and actually did some Christmas shopping! Sandy went for a run in the town’s dog park before dropping her back at the RV whilst we went off to find the Dublin’s Street Pub. This pub is in the University sector of town and was fairly quiet when we arrived. The staff were very friendly and there was a choice of beers on draft, Tony treated himself to a pint of Boddingtons, not quite like at home but not bad.

Tuesday 24th November

Arrived at the Duncan Noble Salon in Las Cruces this morning for a long overdue haircut and highlights. Valerie was the stylist and we had a good chat about all sorts of subjects from politics to dogs. Opposite the salon was ADT Window Tinting and Graphics where Tony kept himself busy arranging for the windows on the car to be tinted. As we will be going to Mexico it seemed a good idea to have some UV filter to keep the car cooler. As the name suggests the company also specializes in applying graphics to windows and body work. Tony has downloaded an image from one of the photographs taken in monument valley which the company will reproduce to fit onto the back window of the RV.

Wednesday 25th November

Back at ADT Window Tinting at 8am this morning to have the graphic put on the back window of the RV.

From a very cold early start, it become a pleasant sunny morning as we went off for a walk while the window was done. Not far away was Young Park a nice landscaped, fountained town park where we spoke to a man out walking what looked like a small Australian sheep dog – a breed that is popular here. The dog was nervous and growled at Sandy. The owner said that she had been attacked by a pit-bull which had made her, naturally, very nervous. Pit-bulls are also a popular breed and most are lovely dogs but…

Back at ADT they had done an excellent job installing the graphic. It is quite weird not to be able to see the inside of the RV from the outside, yet from the inside we still have the same clear view out.

When we arrived back at the RV park there was a lovely smell of home cooking and baking about the place, obviously there is a storm being cooked up for Thanksgiving.

The new CB ariel has arrived and is now fixed to the outside of the RV. To get to this point there had to be holes drilled and the ariel wire past through from the outside via the engine casing, up through the inside console to the CB unit. The job could be considered partially successful because there is a squawking noise coming from the CB and the occasional distant sound of voices but I think it is fair to say that further work needs to be done.

The full moon rose above the mountains this evening before the sun had gone down. It produced a lovely effect with the sun still on the mountains and moon sandwiched between a blue and pink sky.

Sandy also admired the view.

Thursday 26th November – Happy Thanksgiving

Well, typical holiday weather, raining all day! Stopped in and watched cartoons and films on the TV and eat pumpkin pie.

Friday 27th November

Weather still not good, cloud, wind, rain and thunder. Apparently, New Mexico has over 300 sunny days per year, it’s just that at the moment we seem to be experiencing some of the remaining 65 days weather.

For dinner this evening we went into Old Mesilla. The town has very few street lights which seems to add to its old Mexican feel. There were a few buildings with Christmas lights already on display and as we walked down the dark street to the La Posta restaurant all was quiet. The evening was chilly and it was nice to walk through the arched doorway into the warm glow of La Posta’s subdued lighting and the lively chatter of people eating and drinking. In the lobby of the restaurant is an aviary filled with tropical birds adding to the general buzz of the place. The staff were all in traditional dress and as we were being shown to our table in the Guadeloupe Room

we walked past dining rooms, alcoves, bars and patios all with different themes, décor, art work and each with its own Christmas tree which made for a very colourful scene. Everywhere was busy and there were quite a few large family groups. Everyone was in their winter clothes but the atmosphere in the restaurant was warm, cosy and lively.

The La Posta compound was constructed in the 1840’s and became an important stop on the Butterfield stagecoach line. The original restaurant started operation in a corner of the present adobe style building in 1939 and has grown to now occupy over 10,000 square feet of the original compound. We were chatting with our waiter and he gave us a few facts and figures – there are 20 rooms, the restaurant can seat 500 and on a busy night there can be 65 staff on duty.

For dinner I had a traditional New Mex dish originated at the restaurant, Tostados Compuestas, toasted corn tortilla filled with beans, red chili con carne, topped with lettuce, tomatoes and cheese. Tony had mixed fajitas of shrimp and chicken, green chili, guacamole, rice, beans and sour cream.

As we left La Posta full of good food and thinking that we had not been to a restaurant quite like this before, a feast for the eye and the senses as well as the stomach. As we walked back to the car we could hear the sound of flamenco singing drifting into the dark street coming from a little wine bar in an old adobe building across the street. We were tempted to go in but maybe another night.

Saturday 28th November

We headed off towards the mountains at the back of town and the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum. In the lobby of the building there was a lovely stone fire place and roaring fire, very welcoming on a cold day. The museum is a mixture of indoor and outdoor exhibits and covers 47 acres.

Outside there is a working blacksmiths shop, livestock corrals with several breeds of cattle including Herefords and of course the Texas Longhorn.

Next the sheep and goat barns and the Dairy Barn, all about the history of dairy farming. The stable block looked new and was a really smart building with a tack room and some nicely crafted leather saddles. Inside there were exhibits explaining the agricultural history of the area going back three thousand years. A full scale replica of a native Indian pit house, to a 19th century New Mexico mercantile store and post office. I found particularly interesting the exhibits on ranching and the role women played on the ranch. Many did exactly the same tasks as the men, roping, branding, rounding up the cattle but are rarely mentioned. There were lots of old photographs of life at the ranch and on the trail. We liked the one where all the men are dancing quite formally together and posing for the picture, a case of don’t let the lack of ladies stop you having a good dance.

Sunday 29th November

Very overcast this morning with low cloud over the valley and feeling chilly. By mid-day the sun had come through and we could see the mountains again as we headed to the Black Box Theatre for the afternoon, a local community theatre in Las Cruces.

The production was On Golden Pond by Ernest Thompson. I know the film of this play came out in the 1980’s and starred Henry Fonda, Katherine Hepburn – both of which picked up an Oscar for their performances– and Jane Fonda. I didn’t get to see the film but the action is set at the summer cottage of Norman and Ethel Thayer on Golden Pond, somewhere in New England, where they have spent their summers for many years. The story centers on how they are dealing with getting older and the father’s relationship with their only child, Chelsea. The production was very good and well played by the actors, very poignant but also lots of funny moments with good dialogue.

The Black Box is a very small theatre which suited me because I like to feel part of the action. The audience were friendly and a couple of people came up to us and asked where we were from and if we were enjoying the play.

After our enjoyable afternoon at the theatre we headed off to Old Mesilla and La Posta restaurant for dinner. As it was still early we decided to go the Tequileria for a drink before sitting down at a table. La Posta has a large selection of Tequilas and boasts the best Margaritas in Las Cruces, I had El Classico, on the rocks! The place was still quiet and I took the opportunity to have a look around again at some of the rooms and their stunning décor.

Monday 30th November

Back to bright New Mexico sunshine and blue skies this morning. We headed east out of Las Cruces on the 70 into the desert and the White Sands Missile Range and the Missile Museum.

As we came through the Organ Mountains via the San Augustin Pass we had the marvelous view of the desert basin and the missile range.

Established in 1945 this missile range is America’s largest overland military test range. Here the world entered the Atomic Age when the first atomic bomb was tested at the Trinity Site in 1945. In 1949 the world entered the space age from here when an early two-stage rocket was launched and went beyond the earth’s atmosphere. Later this rocket went on to become the first missile launched from Cape Canaveral.

We turned onto the military base road and stopped at the check point reception area. The museum is located in an Army installation and therefore we were required to check through security. Our photographs were taken and passports and vehicle documentation checked. A phone call was made by the person checking us in and our details given over to whoever was on the other end of the line. We waited while our security status was checked. A call came back quite quickly and we were issued with our passes into the base and advised where we could take photographs and use our cell phones. We were good to go and took the passes to the military check point where we entered the base and made our way to the missile museum.

Inside the museum building the history of the 3,200 square mile site is told. There was lots of equipment on display that had been used on the base in the early days. Tony found the cameras and lenses particularly interesting and recognized some of the equipment from his apprenticeship days.

The old plug board telephone exchange brought back memories for me. I recall working at the main telephone exhange in Birmingham - Telephone House - in the early seventies, before the digital age. There were rows of these plug boards operating the 100 and 999 exchanges.

There was a room dedicated to the soldiers that were prisoners of the Japanese in the Philippines during WWII and on the ‘Bataan Death March’. Many of the soldiers involved came from New Mexico and on display were paintings done by one of the survivors.

A German V-2 rocket is housed just across from the museum building. It was captured along with other rockets by US troops in 1945. A V-2 programme was launched in the US after the war and it was a V-2 that was used as the first stage in the successful rocket launch in 1949.

In the ‘Missile Park’ there is an outdoor display of over 50 rockets and missiles once tested at the missile range, including a Patriot missile.

On our way to the Missile Park we saw a Roadrunner. Unlike the cartoon version, he seemed quite content to save his legs and hang around to have his photograph taken.

Today White Sands continues to test advanced technologies. Many missiles these days don’t have explosive warheads anymore – they must actually strike the target to destroy it.

This afternoon we called in at the Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. The research institute was established in 1992 and specialises in research and education related to Capsicums or chile peppers which is one of the main crops in the area. We picked up some ground green chile that was grown locally in the small town of Hatch. There were research posters on display, chile pepper books and hundreds of chile pepper seed varieties to buy. We also managed to come away with a chile pepper apron, baseball cap, tee-shirt and keyring.

Following our visit to the institute we thought we would have look at where the chilies are grown. We took US 28 south from Mesilla and followed the Rio Grande River through the fertile river plain. Here the predominant crop seems to be Pecan nuts and we passed orchard after orchard. There were vineyards and cotton fields but the chilies had all been harvested so there was little to see.

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