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Posts Tagged ‘New Mexico with kids’

On our way to visit two more natural wonders, we were “getting our kicks on Route 66” between Albuquerque, NM, and Holbrook, AZ.  We spent the night in Holbrook, NM, a town off 1-40 and the Old Historic Route 66 which was a happening stop in the 1960s as American families traveled West.

Our first stop the next morning was at Petrified Forest National Park located about 20 miles east of Holbrook.  This park is home to one of the largest and most colorful concentrations of petrified wood in the world and also the “Painted Desert”.

In Year Long Adventure tradition, we began our visit to the park at the north end Visitor Center watching the introductory movie and picking up Junior Ranger Books for the kids.  There is a 28 mile road that travels north to south through the park, taking you through scenery that at times makes you feel like you could be on another planet.  Centuries of uplift and erosion have created a badlands topography of many mesas towering over acres of flat grasslands.  These mesas are made up of many layers of different colored rocks and minerals that have created the “Painted Desert”.  Many colors cascade across the landscape as the sun moves across the horizon.

In the center of the park are the ruins of Pueblo Puerco, an ancient settlement which once contained up to 100 rooms.  A short walking trail leads among the ruins where some petroglyphs can be seen.

Toward the southern end of the park is where the large areas of petrified wood are found.  Thousands of years ago, this area of the country was a tropical rain forest with huge trees up to 200 feet tall.   Over time and through a chemical change that was difficult to understand, many of these trees that had fallen were petrified.  Many of these trees have become colorful explosions of quartz and crystals.  At many points along the drive, the Park Service has created walking trails which wind among these huge pieces of the petrified wood.   At one point we found a tree lying next to the path that was still over 40 feet long.

It is against the law to take anything from the park, and they explain at the visitor center that over 1 ton of petrified wood and rocks are stolen from the park each month.  Luckily for those wanting a souvenir,  there are about a dozen rock shops outside the park that will sell you any kind of rock, crystal, or petrified wood that you could want. (Not sure where they get their inventory since it is illegal to take it out of the park.)

Despite the extreme conditions, wildlife does populate the park.  As we arrived at the South Visitor Center, we were greeted by two Pronghorn on top of one of the mesas. 

We toured the Rainbow Forest Fossil Museum inside where the kids got some great one-on-one instruction from Ranger Michael, who then swore them in as proud Junior Rangers.  The kids were thrilled when he let them hold a 200 million year-old fossilized tooth!

This park is truly amazing, and much different than we expected.  If you ever find yourself in Eastern Arizona, you really should make a point to visit.

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We stopped in Roswell, New Mexico, to spend the night between destinations on Leg 4 of our Year Long Adventure.  Roswell’s claim to fame is a purported crash landing of an alien space ship in the summer of 1947.  According to Wikipedia, the event was ignored at the time and all but forgotten until the late 1970s, when conspiracy theories circulated concerning a possible government cover-up of the incident.  The city today markets itself today with an alien theme, and many of the businesses on Main Street show their full “Alien Pride”.

If you do find yourself in Roswell, make sure to eat at The Cattle Baron Steakhouse.  You will be glad you did.  Both the food and service were excellent, and we all thoroughly enjoyed the meal.  The kids were a little disappointed that the restaurant makes no alien references, unlike some others in town.

Sorry, kids.

The answer is still "no".

No alien references, just great food.

On the campus of the New Mexico Military Institute, we even spotted Roswell’s version of the Cotton Bowl – the Wool Bowl!

Please become a fan of our Year Long Adventure Facebook Page if you’d like to read more about our crazy journey through the 48 contiguous States.

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Leg 4 of our Year Long Adventure has begun! The focus of this trip is on the natural beauty of the Southwest, so we will be visiting as many National Parks as we can while traveling through this region.  Day one of our journey took us on a long drive from our home base near Dallas, Texas, to Carlsbad, New Mexico.  As we left Dallas, it was pouring rain and 47 degrees, quite unusual for early May.  We had warmer weather when we left on Leg 3 in February!

We spent a pretty uneventful 10 hours making our way to Carlsbad.  It was amazing to see the vast number of windmills in West Texas stretching in a line as far as the eye can see.  The kids were truly impressed.

The next morning, we drove to Carlsbad Caverns National Park, a 30 minute drive south from the town of Carlsbad.  Upon arrival, we obtained our Junior Ranger booklets and purchased tickets for the afternoon “King’s Palace” tour, the least strenuous of the guided tours.  Detailed descriptions of the different guided tours are available online, so you can pick the one which best fits your interests and limitations.

There are two ways to enter the caverns. One is a walk through the natural entrance and down a steep, winding trail that takes over an hour to get to “The Big Room”. The second option utilizes a high speed elevator that descends over 750 feet in less than a minute, arriving fifty yards from the same chamber as the natural entrance.  We took the elevator.

Our first stop was to take the self-guided tour of “The Big Room”.  This is an area inside the cavern that is literally a BIG room.  A 1.5 mile winding trail takes you through the room filled with amazing geological wonders.  Words cannot truly describe the place, and pictures do not do it true justice either.  It does not seem possible that this place is real.

We finished the self-guided portion of the tour in time to grab a quick lunch in the underground dining area before our Ranger-guided tour of “The King’s Palace”.  This tour took us to another four rooms of the park with all different types of formations.

Stalactites and stalagmites - do you know the difference?

Drapery formation in the "Queen's Chamber"

Carlsbad Caverns were discovered by a teenage cowboy in 1901.  He spent years exploring the caves with a homemade lantern made from an old coffee can filled with kerosene, and he named these rooms and all of the formations inside.  You can read more about fascinating story of Jim White here and here.  Today the Park Service has added many lights among the formations to enhance the wonder of the place.  One of the highlights of this Ranger tour is when they turn out all of lights in the cave for around 5 minutes so that we could experience true total darkness.  Our daughter Audrey was very proud to be selected as the volunteer who pushed the button to turn off and on the lights.

Audrey posing with the button that turns off the lights.

As we expected, the tour was very informative.  We learned all about the different types of natural formations in the cave and how they form.  One of the more interesting parts was hearing stories of the early years after the cave was discovered, but before the Park Service took over.  In order to publicize the caverns, everything from weddings to Chamber of Commerce meetings were held inside.  Part of the original “Journey To The Center of the Earth” movie was filmed in one of the chambers.  Unfortunately, people unknowingly damaged many of the cave formations, so paved trails were added and new rules enforced to preserve it for future generations.

Walking on the trails

We really enjoyed our opportunity to explore this incredible natural site and highly recommend it to all.  Bring a jacket because it is 55 degrees underground year round.  We were surprised at how busy it was on a Tuesday in the first week of May.  Advanced reservations for guided tours are suggested as they fill up quickly.  Our kids once again enjoyed the Junior Ranger program, and they were thrilled to receive both a pin and a patch upon completion.

Being sworn in as Junior Rangers

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