Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Caliche's (Las Cruces, New Mexico)

If we haven't yet induced you to visit Las Cruces, New Mexico, perhaps we can give you a reason to at least stop when you're next passing by:
I've no idea if Caliche's Frozen Custard is a wide-spread franchise or if it's just local to Las Cruces, but it's worth a visit to sample their wares if you're in the area. It's always busy, and with good reason. (For what it's worth, frozen custard didn't sound that good to me either, but it's pretty much just really good ice cream.)
There're always cars in their drive-through, and families tend to collect on the surrounding benches every evening as the heat of the day begins to fade.
We're limiting ourselves to about once a week.
It does bring a smile to the face!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Case has friends in Santa Fe, so we took a day-trip to see them and the town. We flew through the waning effects of Hurricane Dolly, so Case got to use his instrument rating. The flash flood channels were still draining the effects of the previous days' heavy rains.
Santa Fe started the morning with 500 ft ceilings and mist, but by the time we were arriving, the afternoon thunderstorms were building.
Upon arrival....
we're hungry and downtown Santa Fe is alive with the "Spanish Market". The streets were alive with the sounds, smells, and taste of New Mexican culture, so we got some food and had lunch. Not too different from Mexican food, but they probably wouldn't appreciate us saying that. Northern New Mexico is proud of its unique cultural heritage.
We wandered on, stopping to listen to a band in the central plaza and watch a few inspired souls dance.
A block away is the St. Francis of Assisi Catholic church. The originally structure was built in 1714, but this cathedral has been here since 1869. It is the only historic building in town that departs from the "pueblo" style, the bishop who designed and built it having been homesick for France. Other New Mexicans pooh-pooh Santa Fe as a "plastic" and "Disney-fied" version of their culture, but being from Orange County (home of Disneyland and numerous plastic surgeons), we didn't mind at all.
Jolene and a few others meandered through the labyrinth outside the church. What is considered by some to be a peaceful, calm and prayerful experience was punctuated by the little boy in the center shouting, "Grandma, I won! I won! I made it to the center before you!!"
Classic American native. ("Our Lady of ..." um ... something I forget just now.)
The interior of the cathedral reminded us of some we saw during our travels in South America and Europe.
A view down the main street...
Santa Fe is a hub for art, art auctions, and galleries. This town of sixty-some-thousand is the third largest art market in the nation, lagging only New York and Los Angeles. Something's artsy happens every weekend all summer long, bringing in $130 million for art and tourism.
Painting art, admiring art, displaying art... it seemed to be all about art!
We visited the Georgia O'Keefe museum (worth a visit), which was hosting a comparative showing of her's and Ansel Adam's works. However, no photos allowed -- sorry! After that, we had dinner with Case's friends and colleagues, who practice radiation oncology at St. Vincent's in town. As usual when visiting people, we got too busy talking to haul out our camera. And then the late evening flight back, dodging a couple thunderstorms while Jolene slept in the back seat. All told, an enjoyable day.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

On Sunday morning we set out on a three hour drive, eastboud into the Chihuahuan desert of New Mexico and West Texas to visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park. The caverns are one of the "Enchantments" in this "Land of Enchantment", and well worth a visit.

The drive looked a lot like this, especially the portion in West Texas. (If you've heard things about West Texas....
They're true...)

But there were views like this, too... (This is the part of the road that passes through Guadalupe Mountains National Park -- one of the ones you don't hear so much about. It's pretty, in a desert-y kind of way, but that's about all we can say, since we just drove right through.)
And we also passed two w---i----d----e loads that Case guessed might be scoops or dump-truck beds for the copper mines of Silver City, NM. (Note: When driving in West Texas, you have to take interest where you can find it.)
Carlsbad Caverns National Park sits atop, oh, probably the last high ground going east until you hit the Appalachians! (Eastern New Mexico runs to plains.) As we drove the winding road onto the plateau, we wondered how anyone ever found the cave entrance way up there. Apparently, there was much to learn...

For example, it turns out that the "plateau" was really the remains of an ancient reef, from back when this area was all sea-bed. The reef animals deposited all the calcium carbonate that formed the limestone later etched away over eons to make the cave system. And, although locals had probably known about the "Mystery Hole" up on those hills since pre-historic times, it wasn't until a curious and intrepid cowboy named Jim White took to exploring further that the caverns were discovered.

We opted for the Jim White entrance to the cave -- the elevator ride sounding too easy and un-adventurous. Of course, we got the National Parks version of the Jim White entrance; it was much more treacherous before the government took it over and made it almost (not quite) handicapped accessible. We also took along these guided tour recordings, which told us many of the jaw-dropping facts we pass on here...
Of course, in fine NPS form, they started off with the rules. It seems, for example, that taking food into the cave system is not allowed, though you can buy it in the NPS-run snack bar on the negative 75th floor. Their excuse was that, if you took food in, animals would follow, and they would die in the cave and stink it up. Well, what I want to know is, how about me dying in the cave if I don't find the snack bar?
I guess Jim White didn't find this nice switchback path to ease his entrance. In some areas, they had left the old wooden stairways that Jim White used to help folks he guided through the cave get around the rough spots. It didn't look very safe. Apparently, those folks would spend all day on their tour and see less of the cave than we did. (Your tax dollars at work, this time in a useful enough way. I rapidly found myself feeling pretty proud of what those CCC workers accomplished to make the cave accessible, yet still keep it relatively pristine, back in the 1930s.)

The cave stays a consistent 56 degrees with 90% humidity throughout the year. Unfortunately, our camera didn't like the temperature or the humidity -- or maybe it's just coming to the end of its long and adventurous service. In any case, we got few pictures from within the cave that didn't look like something taken during a sub-optimal colonoscopy.
Looking back toward the entrance, this was our last glimpse of sunlight...
The camera did give us one picture that's a barely adequate representation of the cave's wonders. Our 2.5 mile walk along dimly lit paths and through huge rooms (think 14 football fields huge) revealed a seemingly endless panoply of fantastic shapes and structures like this.
Before taking the elevator ride 75 stories back to the surface, we sampled the fare at the snack shop, ate a little of the food we'd snuck in, checked to make sure all animals who might have followed our food in would follow us out (!), and (of course) used the subterranean potties. (After all, how often do you get to go to the loo that deep underground?)

It wasn't along walk, but we felt tired and ready for some above-ground refreshment. So we headed out across the prairie to the thriving metropolis (ok, small farm town) of Carlsbad. Taco Bell came through again -- an outpost even in this frontier town!

Satiated and a little curious about the town (Case had heard of a job available there), we wandered around town for a while. Though perhaps a little small for us, it is actually a rather nice burgh, especially for its size. Back in the "boom days", a wealthy oilman created an amusement park along the Pecos River that runs through the town center. Eventually, this was ceded to the city as a park, and it is now a lovely expanse of trees, paths, and waterfront. We wandered along, people-watching as swimmers, kayakers, paddle-boaters, and power-boaters enjoyed the hot Sunday afternoon.

Somehow, this all seemed too calm and civilized for the Wild West frontier; some vague intuition kept us seeking lingering signs that the Old West still lives. Of course, an afternoon in town does not suffice to delve deeply into the matter, but we did find this:

Carlsbad is a cruise ship port! Yes, indeedy, folks! Centrally located along the waterfront, Carlsbad Cruise Lines offers the discriminating connoisseur of leisure travel 40 minutes of untrammeled historic luxury aboard the George Washington, an authentic paddlewheel riverboat! If the proud smokestack, the regal prow, & the flowing lines do not give you a sense of the historical pedigree of this fine ship, then... well... then you'll just have to read her history. Though we were not able to stay late enough to cruise on this mighty vessel, her history (carefully printed on a signboard at the concession) reassured us that Small Towns and Old West still combine to preserve a unique slice of Americana. Read on...

History of the George Washington
1969 - George Washington was purchased in Kalamazoo, MI. Exact origin and age is unknown. Estimated to have been built between1858-1900. Engine was a coal fired 1858 steam motor. Took 3 workers to operate, driver, stoker, fireman. The George Washington was the first ride in the new amusement park called President's Park, an amusement park built by an oilman from Roswell by the name of Anderson.
1970 - Port Jefferson was just opened and was severely damaged by the Pecos River flooding. The George Washington would ride the flood out securely anchored to the dock. [Ed: That's Port Jefferson of Carlsbad, NM, not Port Jefferson, NY. In fact, that's Port Jefferson in the photo above.]
1971 - The George sinks for the 1st time. Angry employees shot several holes in the boat with a rifle sinking it into the dock. Holes remain in the divers area. [Ed: Way to go, cowboys!]
1972 - The George sinks for the 2nd time. Hose was placed in the hull. [Ed: Hose was placed in the hull??? Maybe to let the water out...]
1973 - George Washington experiences a terrible accident. The steam boiler blew up injuring one of the workers at the time. The boiler was replaced with a diesel motor and a new hydro-drive system.
1975 - George experiences another accident. A family on a speed boat on Lake Carlsbad accidentally runs into the paddle wheel at over 30 miles per hour. This almost destroys the paddle wheel. No one was injured in the wreck. The paddle wheel was replaced but never would turn perfectly straight again. [Ed: This alone made us want to stay and take the ride!]
1978 - George sinks for the third time, over 20 people rescued by wading to shore. The river was very shallow. [Ed: "rescued by wading to shore"? Guess in the West we believe in "self-rescue".]
1983 - Workers forget to add water to diesel motor. [Ed: Too busy cleaning their rifles, no doubt.] It overheats and must be replaced. A Ford four cylinder motor from a retired tractor is used.
1987 - President's park is sold to the City of Carlsbad. The George Washington continues to operate.

Maybe it's just as well that we couldn't stay for a ride. The George Washington looks to be way overdue for another epic/disastrous addition to its history!

Monday, July 14, 2008

White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

The area around Las Cruces boasts a number of natural attractions. On Monday night, we decided to drive out to see White Sands National Monument.

On our way to White Sands we entered White Sands Missile Range. This missile testing site surrounds the White Sands dunes and also contains the Trinity Site, where the first atomic bomb was exploded. Most of the small missiles (SAMs, weather test missiles, tank-destroyers, etc.) now in use were tested on this Missile Range. The Missile Range has its own museum, which we may get to sometime. They also run the twice-yearly "open house" tours to Trinity Site, but we probably won't be here for the next of these. Numerous signs warn that both highway 70 and the dunes can be closed for a missile test on any given day.

A bit of orientation: Las Cruces is not shown on this map, but it lies an hour's drive southwest of White Sands National Monument, along the Rio Grande and less than an hours drive north of El Paso, where the Rio Grande turns westward, forming the Texas-Mexico border.Heading into the missile range, desert scrub extends for as far as the eye can see.
Then, one begins to see surreal glimpses of white in the distance, which, as we get closer, transition to rolling white dunes with occasional light scrub. Here, we follow a trail across the dune scape.
Eventually most everything turned to sand (gypsum powder, to be correct) -- even the road.
Even on this Monday evening, we saw several families out sledding down sand dunes as though they were wintertime snow banks.
The gypsum sand was somewhat packed, making for easy walking across the surface. White Sands is the largest gypsum sand desert in the world, covering 275 square miles.
Despite the immensity and apparent sterility of these sprawling dunes, we did have to watch where we stepped -- an intrepid desert beetle attempted to crawl on Jolene's foot as she stood admiring the landscape & sky. Apparently, she scared him as much as he surprised her. He assumed "the position", preparing (as we learned from an educational signboard) to ward her off with a jet of his kerosene scented spray!
One of us...
two of us!
The New Mexico "skyscape" has proved to be an unexpected source of beauty and interest. (California doesn't have this many and varied clouds. Nor this clear & clean air.)
Case has taken an aviators interest in certain cloud forms, and pointed out the characteristic anvil at the top of this thunderhead.
In comparison to the broad expanse of the desert the clouds felt close enough we might be able to reach up and touch them. And the silence... As they say, "You could hear it!".
The light begins to fade,

in the vast open landscape,
and we head "home" to Las Cruces.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Off to Las Cruces

Jolene's temp job has wound down, giving Case the perfect excuse to kidnap her back to Las Cruces until something else develops that might keep her at home in Fullerton. So today, we packed the necessities (that's one bag for Jolene and six for Jack), said goodbye to our Fullerton house, loaded up the airplane, and headed back to Las Cruces, New Mexico, where Case continues his temp job.

Case has his pilot "Instrument Rating" now, so clouds don't deter him. However, thunderstorms are a concern for any pilot, so we made an early start to get through before they built up too much. Actually, the cotton-ball clouds added visual interest to an otherwise lengthy drone over the desert Southwest.Case's new instrument panel means he can dial in our route at the outset and never touch the yoke again -- save perhaps to deviate around the storms that pop up on the satellite weather receiver. Jolene isn't sure why, with all his interest in flying, Case bought instruments that do the flying for him. But she does understand that boys will be boys. For his part, Case is glad Jolene grew up with a brother.

While Case is playing with his panel of dials and gadgets, Jolene gets to play personal flight attendant to Jack. Then, if Jack isn't too demanding, there's time to gaze out the window, read, or doze off in the back seat.

Luckily for us, Jack is quite the traveler -- which is to say that, so long as we pack and portage his litter box, food, automatic feeder, scratching post, brush, nail clippers, carrier, and other paraphernalia, he is perfectly content to go anywhere we do. (Jack is the only one who gets a potty in the plane; that's his litter box in the back window.)
Jack seems to enjoy gazing out at the clouds, too. We haven't found a headset or earplugs that he's willing to wear, but the noise doesn't seem to bother him. (I suppose he might be going deaf, except that there's no difference between that and how he usually ignores my commands.)
We arrived safely, chauffeured Jack to his (our) apartment, and went for a walk before retiring. Watching the thunderstorms continuing to build over the Organ Mountains backing the town, we decided that, at this time of day, we preferred walking to flying.

Monday, July 07, 2008


One thing I (Jolene) picked up while we were on the road was doing puzzles. I started this one back last fall while we were in Redding, CA, but once arriving home to Fullerton it had sat unfinished on our dining room table waiting to be completed, while I was getting back to work and occupied with other things.I finally sat down and started working on it again and then Case joined me on his weekends home. We finally finished it (all 1500 pieces!)a number of weeks ago, each taking a piece and placing it in as the last ceremonial piece. Now it proudly sits on our dining room table and I am gaining the courage to take it apart and put it away, but first I bought another puzzle to start the process all over again!

Friday, July 04, 2008

A Relaxing 4th of July 2008

We decided to brave the crowds at Downtown Disney (Anaheim, CA) and joined the line for...
Home of extra large exotic creatures...
jungle flora hanging from the ceiling,
fish tanks large enough to swim in,
and a bit of something to sip and eat!
We followed up dinner with, people watching, as salty characters spontaneously danced to live music,
and a bit of wandering through stores.
We grew tired of the growing Disney crowds packing in for the firework show....
and opted for our hometown fireworks at Fullerton High School
with lots of space to lay out a blanket and look at the stars before the show began.
A simply enjoyable day!