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.