New Mexico merges with Texas’s plains on the east. As you enter from the Texas Panhandle the grasses grow sparser and so do the people. Whatever road we were on, once we left the border town there were miles of ranch fences, but no houses and no other signs of habitation other than a few steer munching on the scant vegetation. In the distance some mesas popped up and disappeared.
We were greeted by an abandoned church in Taiban, New Mexico. A local landmark well documented on instagram by photographers and travelers. Inside people left prayers and messages on the walls alongside graffiti.
Bottomless Lakes State Park & Bitter Lake Wildlife Refuge
Outside of the alien mecca of Roswell, New Mexico the landscape rolls into wetlands. Wetlands? New Mexico is full of wonderful surprises hidden in the crevasses of the treeless vistas. We drove into the park along lake littered roads on one side and grassy cliffs on the other. During our stay we walked the wetland boardwalk at sunset. We admired the hundreds of birds on the scenic of drive at the Bitter Lake Wildlife Refuge.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Unknown to us we would have to kennel our dogs at the park and provide proof of rabbies. As consolation prize we drove the scenic one-way gravel road (and had it all to ourselves). Maybe not the main event, but still breathtakingly beautiful.
Cloudcroft, New Mexico
One of New Mexico’s great surprises for us. We drove to Artesia and cut across New Mexico west on 82 (pro tip: fuel up first). First the land was desert and then it rose into swelling hills with spare vegetation. As we climbed in elevation the hills grew sharper and the vegetation turned to scrubby bushes and then spare trees. Then suddenly we were in full on pine forested mountains in the middle of southern New Mexico with snow. Complete with snowplow warnings, elk warnings, a ski hill, and an old west style town named Cloudcroft with stunning mountain vistas as you left town on the west end.
In Cloudcroft we found a small gallery just off of the main street. In the gallery Off the Beaten Path I met Rafferty, a silver classic long haired tabby they rescued from the streets (not for petting only greetings). At the time they were working on finding homes for fifteen other street cats. Because of course, I found the artists in town with a passion for not just saving cats, but breaking the cycle by spaying and neutering the cats. Check out the gallery web site.
White Sands National Monument
From Cloudcroft you can see White Sands in the distance, and to the unbeknownst traveler you think you are seeing clouds. White Sands is a people catcher like the Bean of Chicago is. Everywhere people lined up on the dunes to watch the sunset against the mountain backdrop. Sets of photographers with tripods. Couples on dune tops. Lone figures sitting atop crests. The great beauty of White sands defies words and will haunt my memory for all time as the Painted Desert does. As we left the sun set slowly in a notably colorful display. Setting off against the grey purple mountains in reds, oranges, yellows, plums and peaches. Just when I thought the show was over we crested a mountain and found the colors even more overwhelming. They lingered in deep hues of crimson and plum before succumbing to the horizon while the moon rose gold and moody among the wisps of clouds to the east.
Truth or Consequences
With little expectations or plans we headed into the town of Truth or Consequences for supplies. Shortly after hitting downtown I could tell that this town had a different vibe to it. Everywhere adobe buildings in southwestern colors. Murals (60+). Vibrant details. And a thriving art scene. We were able to stop into a few galleries, sadly not all that T or C had to offer! And we were lucky enough to show up on their Second Saturday Art Hop. The galleries we saw had quality art works at a broad range of price points, friendly to all art admirers. One artist (Sun Gallery) was hand painting stickers for just a few dollars each and said she “wanted art to be accessible to everyone.”
Gila National Forest
Outside of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico we headed west across highway 152 into the Gila National Forest. The land crested from gentle desert hills to magnificent up-swelled rock formations. Sometime in the not too distant past a wildfire swept through this area. Distant enough for the mountaintop forest to be well into stages of healing. I was enchanted by the scrappy trees. Tenacious species of oak, juniper, and ponderosa pines hugging the steep rocky mountain roadsides.
Poncho Villa State Park, Columbus, New Mexico & and The Border
Within three miles of the border the Poncho Villa State Park sits alongside the highway. Historical ruins from the 1916 raid by Poncho Villa reside within the park and throughout the small town of Columbus.
The other story is of a town divided by politics. During George W. Bush’s presidency the border went up there and divided a community. That’s not from newspaper reports, that’s from casual conversations with local people. People who visit their American friends that live across the border for economic reasons. People who shop across the border in Mexico for their medical needs and groceries because it is all more affordable. Mexican children and children with American citizenship cross the border every school day for their education.
My husband and I crossed the Border by foot. The wait by car was much longer and we were told its just easier. First we were diverted into a building by a man pointing, across the way I could see a Mexican official with a nasty gun set against the backdrop of the border fence and reals of extra razor wire. The officials just asked if we were visiting the Pink Store. The local tourist trap “with everything.” Then we walked out the other side into Mexico. There were people walking about everywhere. A man selling hats out of his van. And the giant complex Pink Store with a mature Indian woman opening the door for us, later she’ll hold her hand out for a tip when we leave.
City of Rocks
Enormous. Vertical. Sculptural. Texture. Why would people create Stonehenge? This is why. The stones may be inanimate objects of nature brought to by time, volcanic action and erosion, but they still converse with the human spirit.
While there we climbed the neighboring Table Mountain. And this human felt mighty small under the open sky of New Mexico on top of a little mountain looking down at her little home on wheels dwarfed by rocks. It isn’t like the hikes back home where the trees obscure the journey and you just keep going until you get to the top. On this one you can see just what sort of madness your in for and all you can do is put one foot in front of the other while fighting for breath at the extra elevation you’re not accustomed to.