We had a week in our itinerary where we planned to go to Summit County, Colorado to visit my Mom. That was extended to three weeks when my Mom missed a step when walking down the stairs, fell and broke her pelvis. We were able to shift our schedule so that I could pick her up from the rehabilitation facility and take her home. We stayed with her for three weeks until she felt better and didn’t need our help. During this time our daughter Heather flew out to visit as well.
My Mom bought “the cabin” in the early 1970s, we would come up on the weekends and for vacations. She moved up to the cabin permanently in the late 1990s. The cabin was originally just an A-Frame but Mom had it remodeled to add a garage, hot-tub/laundry room and upstairs is a studio apartment.
As with many resort communities, Keystone has great trails which were fun to ride on our bikes. Our first ride was to Keystone Ski Area. The trail meanders along the Snake River. Keystone is special to John and me because we were married at the top of the gondola on the Mozart Deck (that no longer exists). It was a simple ceremony with just my Mom, Heather, and a few close friends but it was a beautiful day.
Our next ride was along Dillon Reservoir through the towns of Dillon, and Frisco and then over Swan Mountain Road. We were thankful to have electric bikes because the final hill over Swan Mountain was tough, especially because we were at a 9,200 foot elevation.
Our daughter flew in from Portland, spent a couple days with her friend in Denver and then I drove halfway down and met them for lunch and to pick up Heather. Heather and I love driving “over the top” of Loveland Pass and we always stop at the top to take photos. One of these days we will bring our hiking shoes and will hike up there.
One of the things I love most about going to Summit County in the Summer is all of the free entertainment. Dillon has a beautiful amphitheater that overlooks the reservoir. We went to several concerts while we were there. The views are fantastic, the weather was typical (wait 5 minutes and it will change) and the music was good.
Mom said she was feeling well and suggested we take a drive (I think she needed a break from all of us). We decided to go to Leadville, Colorado. If you’ve never been to Leadville, you really need to go. I’ve been quite a few times so I kind of forgot to take pictures in town but I did take pictures when we drove the Route of the Silver Kings.
After our drive we stopped at Periodic Brewery in Leadville and then we stopped at Highside Brewing in Frisco before heading back to the cabin. At Highside we played giant Jenga outside. It was a fun day!
For our next outing, Heather and I rode the bikes to Silverthorne and over the “Dam Road”. The weather was beautiful and trails weren’t very crowded.
I took Heather to the airport on July 3rd so she could fly home to spend 4th of July with her husband. On 4th of July John and I rode our bikes to Frisco to see the parade. First we stopped in Silverthorne to listen to the Stars and Stripes concert for awhile.
On one of our last days John and I went to lunch at the Tiki Bar by the Dillon marina and that evening went to another concert at the amphitheater.
We were at the cabin from June 18th to July 12th. The majority of time was spent with my Mom. We are so lucky that we have the ability to go wherever we want whenever we want. It was great to be able to be there to help her when she needed it. Being at the cabin is always a relaxing time and brings back so many childhood memories. It’s one of my favorite places to be!
The Western Slope is the area of Colorado that is West of the Continental Divide. My Grandparents moved from the South side of Chicago to Olathe, Colorado on the western slope when my Mom was a teenager. I can’t even imagine what sort of culture shock that was to go from a house in the city with running water and indoor plumbing to a cabin in the country where they had to pump their water and use an outhouse. I’m sure that this time in my Mom’s life helped mold her into the strong woman that she is today. I’ve spent time there as a kid but wanted to see it again as an adult.
Mancos to Montrose
We drove Highway 145 from Mancos to Montrose. It was a beautiful drive and we were surprised by the amount of snow on the top of the passes considering it was the beginning of June. At the top of one of the passes we saw a wolf standing in the snow. Of course by the time we saw it we couldn’t stop and I couldn’t get my camera out in time. But, that sighting gave us something to talk about for quite awhile.
We decided to stay in Montrose because we could easily drive Highway 550 to Silverton, visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison and explore the area where my Mom spent her teen years. We chose the KOA because it had good reviews, was right in town and had a pool and hot tub! We had a great site with a big “front yard”.
Our first outing was a bike ride on the Uncompaghre River Walk. This trail is just over 14 miles long so with an out and back we biked almost 30 miles. The trail passes the Ute Indian Museum and if we had brought our bike lock, we would have visited the museum. From now on our lock is always in my basket, just in case. The scenery is beautiful and when we crossed the river we were able to see rafters.
When I told my Mom that we were staying in Montrose, she suggested that we go to the Star Drive-In. She said it has been owned and operated by someone in the DeVries family (my grandfather’s side of the family) for 70 years. My Mom and Grandma used to help out in the concession stand when they would go to the movies. My cousin Pam runs it now so when we got to the admission booth I asked the woman in the booth if Pam was there. She told me that she was Pam’s daughter April and I explained who I was. I tried to find Pam throughout the night but she was busy. I had almost given up when I decided to try one more time, so I found April and she took me to the projection room, knocked on the door and introduced me to Pam. We were only able to talk for a few minutes but she had memories of my Mom, Grandma and Grandpa. John and I (and the dogs) enjoyed sitting in the truck, eating popcorn and watching movies “the old fashioned” way.
Olathe, Colorado is a very small town with a population under 2,000. It is known for its sweet corn and each year they have a Sweet Corn Festival in August. The cabin and house where my Mom lived are no longer there but we visited Olathe so I could pay my respects to my grandparents at the cemetery.
Those of you that know us know that we like to find wineries wherever we go. We found two in Olathe, Mountain View Orchard and Winery and Cottonwood Cellars. We enjoyed Mountain View and some of their wines. I liked the Chipeta White which is a blend of Chardonnay and Muscat. It’s a semi-sweet and is named after a Chipeta, the second wife of Chief Ouray. I remember my Mom telling me about Chipeta before I learned about her in school. She was born in the 1840s and died in the 1924. She was known also as White Singing Bird and was part of the Uncompaghre Ute tribe but was born as a Kiowa Apache. After her husband the chief died, she continued as a leader of her people. She was an Indian rights advocate and diplomat and used her diplomacy to try to gain peace with white settlers in Colorado. In 1985 she was inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame. We bought a couple bottles of the Chipeta White to share with my Mom in a couple weeks.
Cottonwood Cellars was a weird experience. We wanted to learn about the wines and the woman told us their entire life story instead. The wines weren’t very good and we left without buying anything. Not every winery is a winner!
Highway 550 (The Million Dollar Highway)
I had originally planned for us to drive the motorhome towing the truck from Durango on Highway 550 but when I said something to my Mom about it she said we might want to re-think that. I did some research on the highway and we decided that we would rather drive it in our 18 foot truck than our 65 feet of motorhome and truck. I’m so glad we did. It would have been extremely scary and there was one tunnel where we would have cleared the top by one inch. We drove from Montrose to Silverton and on our return we stopped in Ouray to enjoy the hot springs.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
From our RV Park in Montrose, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park’s South Rim was only 20 minutes away. We drove up in the afternoon on June 13, 2020 to get a map and go the Visitor Center. The drive to a variety of overlooks is paved and there was plenty of parking at each overlook. There are 12 overlooks on the South rim, some are only a few steps from the parking lot and others are about 1/4 mile walk. Several of the overlooks are perched right on the edge and seem a bit precarious but are very safe. We visited some of the overlooks. Below is a slideshow of photos taken from the drive and overlooks.
We drove back the next day so we go to the other overlooks, drive down to the river and to hike. We started with a drive down East Portal Road to the river. It’s a steep road with hairpin turns and along the road were some beautiful purple wildflowers. Once at the bottom of the road we parked and found a trail along the river to hike. Unfortunately we couldn’t go far because the river was so high it covered the trail. The best part of this hike was coming across a kaleidoscope (yes, that’s what it’s called) of butterflies in a puddle. We also saw a snake that seemed to stop and pose for me to take a picture. At the end of the road was the Crystal Dam. It’s the third dam in the Colorado River Storage and is just over 300 feet high. It doesn’t spill over all of the time which was disappointing. We found out later that we could have called the Bureau of Reclamation to find out when it would be spilling.
We drove back up from the river and visited some of the other overlooks. There were amazing views of the canyon including chasm view, painted wall and others. We saw a variety of wildflowers and birds as well.
There are only four hikes on the South Rim and we decided to do the Oak Flat Loop Trail which is the longest one (only two miles) but was rated strenuous. The trail was narrow in quite a few places and requires navigating some steep slopes. It begins near the Visitor Center so we were worried that it would be crowded but we only came across two others on the trail. We thought we would get some good canyon and river views but only found one unmarked overlook that provided views downstream. The hike was strenuous and we were tired when we finished.
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is spectacular and its name is because it is so narrow and deep that it’s difficult for sunlight to reach its depths and the walls are covered in shadows making them look black. Parts of the gorge receives just 33 minutes of sunlight a day. The narrowest part of the canyon is 40 feet from the South rim to the North rim. If you are on the Western Slope of Colorado, in our opinion, this is a “don’t miss”.
We stayed in Grand Junction for a couple nights because we were dropping our coach off for service while we go to visit my Mom. We stayed at the Grand Junction KOA at a nice site.
As shown above, the weather wasn’t great so we didn’t get to do much sightseeing but decided we should at least take a drive to Colorado National Monument while we were there. We definitely need to go back there another time to see more. Below are some photos of the drive.
The Western Slope of Colorado is often overlooked as tourists prefer to be in the middle of the Rocky Mountains or on the front range in the cities. Don’t overlook it! There are so many great towns, things to see and do, food and wine to taste and history to explore. We still have a lot to see and will likely go back in a few years.
May 31 – June 7, 2019 Growing up in Colorado gave me the chance to visit Mesa Verde twice, once with my Mom, brother and cousin and once on a school trip. I was really excited to see it through adult eyes and John has always wanted to see where the Anasazi lived so we stayed for a week so we could explore.
We stayed at Ancient Cedars RV Park which describes itself as an “ideal, country-style, destination park located on 12+ scenic acres in the heart of Mesa Verde Country, close to a variety of acclaimed attractions in and around the Four Corners area. Camp among our 1500-year old Cedar Trees. Our evening dark sky is primed for stargazing, and unforgettable shooting stars! Be sure to take part in our on-site activities such as miniature golf, swimming, hot tubbing as well as horse-back riding right next door!” We thought “who wouldn’t want to stay here”? When we arrived we knew it was going to be a long week because the sites were extremely close together, it was not dog friendly, the hot tub and pool were “broken” and they didn’t have any other on-site activities except the miniature golf that they charged $5 a person to play. The one thing the park had going for it is that it is closest to the entrance of Mesa Verde. Even though we didn’t like the park very much it was worth it to stay there because it’s a long drive once you’re inside the park to get to the cliff dwellings.
When we arrived on Friday afternoon we went to the visitor center to gather information and make a game plan for the weekend. The first thing we learned when we got to the visitor center is that it is no longer correct to call the people who lived here Anasazi. The name “Anasazi” has come to mean “ancient people,” although the word itself is Navajo, meaning “enemy ancestors.” Contemporary Puebloans refer to their ancestors as Ancestral Puebloans. This civilization existed from approximately AD 100 to 1600, and was centered generally in the four corners area. Descendants of the Ancestral Pueblo comprise of members from the modern Pueblo tribes including Hopi, Zuni, Acoma and Laguna.
John is 15% Native American and was always told that he was Cherokee because his Grandmother was from Oklahoma. As DNA testing becomes more refined we have found that he is actually from Native Americans in the New Mexico/Colorado area, right around Mesa Verde. So, this made coming here even more special. According to John’s DNA test, the area below is where his Native America ancestry lived.
There is so much to see and do at Mesa Verde, we were glad that we had a whole week here. One thing to keep in mind when planning a trip here is that the cliff dwellings are close to an hour drive from the entrance of the park. Take this into consideration when planning your day. Our RV Park was right across the highway so as soon as we arrive we went over and got tickets for the cliff dwelling tours. All of the dwellings require a ranger led tour except for Step House and Spruce Tree House (which is currently closed due to rock falls) so we bought tickets for the Cliff Palace, Balcony House and Long House for later in the week.
The first cliff dwelling we visited was Step House which is a self-guided tour so you can take your time but you should allow about 45 minutes to an hour at the minimum. There is a one-mile trail that has a fairly steep descent (100 feet) on a winding path which starts near the Wetherill Mesa information kiosk. Step House is unique because it shows evidence of two separate occupations on the same site. There was a ranger on duty to answer any questions we had. I was excited to see the pit house in this dwelling and was a bit disappointed that it was a reconstruction, but I guess it’s almost impossible that it would have been in original condition since it is 700 years.
Next we took a bike ride on Wetherill Mesa on the Long House Loop which is a 6 mile paved trail with overlooks, beautiful flora and fauna including wild horses.
Petroglyph Point Loop
We always love to hike where there will be petroglyphs, dwellings or other interesting ancient artifacts so we knew before we got to Mesa Verde that we wanted to do this hike. The trail on the Chapin Mesa is considered adventurous and leads to a large petroglyph panel about 1.4 miles from the trailhead. The trail is only 2.4 miles long and the elevation gain is only 174 feet. We felt that it was a pretty easy trail except for the large stone staircase that requires some scrambling. The majority of the trail is relatively rocky and somewhat rugged but not too difficult and we really enjoyed it. We only saw one other family on the trail so it was quiet and peaceful. We are adding this to our favorite hikes of our Summer 2019 trip.
Below is a slideshow of photos from the hike.
The Long House
The Long House tour is considered “Mesa Verde’s Most In-Depth Tour”. It’s a two hour ranger guided tour that involves hiking about 2 1/4 miles and climbing two 15-foot ladders at the site.
Located on the Wetherill Mesa, Long House is the second-largest Mesa Verdean village and approximately 150 people lived there. The location was excavated from 1959 through 1961, as part of the Wetherhill Mesa Archaeological Project. Long House was built around 1200 and was occupied until 1280. The cliff dwelling features 150 rooms, a kiva, a tower, and a central plaza. Its rooms are not clustered like typical cliff dwellings. Stones were used without shaping for fit and stability. Two overhead ledges contain storage space for grain. One ledge seems to include an overlook with small holes in the wall to see the rest of the village below. A spring is accessible within several hundred feet, and seeps are located in the rear of the village.
Tours are only $7 per person, well worth the money but make sure you book early because they fill up quickly!
You can only see the Cliff Palace by a ranger-guided hour long tour. This is a really easy tour that requires climbing four 8-10 foot ladders, on a 100 foot vertical climb. Total walking distance is about 1/4-mile round-trip. Make sure to purchase your tickets before you drive to the site. This multi-storied ruin, the best-known cliff dwelling in Mesa Verde, is located in the largest alcove in the center of the Great Mesa. It is south- and southwest-facing, providing greater warmth from the sun in the winter.
Recent studies reveal that Cliff Palace contained 150 rooms and 23 kivas and had a population of approximately 100 people. Out of the nearly 600 cliff dwellings concentrated within the boundaries of the park, 75% contain only 1-5 rooms each, and many are single room storage units. The Cliff Palace is an exceptionally large dwelling which may have had special significance to the original occupants. It is thought that Cliff Palace was a social, administrative site with high ceremonial usage.
The doorways look very small (although they were perfect for me) and that’s because the average man was 5’4″ to 5’5″ tall and the women were 5′ to 5’1″. If you compare them to European people of the same time period, they are about the same size. The lifespan in that time was 32-34 years and about 50% of children died before they reached age five.
Sandstone, mortar and wooden beams were the three primary construction materials for the cliff dwellings. Many of the rooms were brightly painted. The Ancestral Pueblo people shaped each sandstone block using harder stones collected from nearby river beds. The mortar between the blocks is a mixture of local soil, water and ash. Fitted in the mortar are tiny pieces of stone called “chinking.” Chinking stones filled the gaps within the mortar and added structural stability to the walls. Over the surface of many walls, the people decorated with earthen plasters of pink, brown, red, yellow, or white and are the first things to erode.
John and I both have a fear of heights so we knew that this tour might be a bit challenging. It is described as the most adventurous tour in Mesa Verde. It’s only one hour and it is a ranger-guided tour but you have to climb a 32-foot ladder, crawl through a 12-foot long tunnel, and climb up a 60-foot open rock face and two 17-foot ladders to exit the site. It was scary but it was so worth it.
Balcony House is considered a medium size cliff dwelling with 40 rooms. Only 10 sites in the park have more. One of the cool things about this dwelling is that you can see how the construction of rooms and passageways evolved over time. I’m sure that I learned more on this tour but I don’t remember it because I was nervous through the whole tour knowing that I still had to climb the ladders and the rock face.
Point Lookout Trail
When we arrived at our RV park I saw this cool mesa and said to John “I want to climb to the top of that”. Luckily others before us must have thought the same thing because there’s a trail to the top called Point Lookout so we didn’t have to go trailblazing.
On this hike we had what we both believe was a wildlife encounter. We were nearing the top when we both heard a sound that we thought was a large cat “growl”. We both stopped at the same time and looked to the left where the sound came from. We weren’t far from the edge so we think whatever it was (bobcat or cougar) growled and then ran down the edge. We were about to turn back because I was afraid when another couple walked up. We told them what we heard and we all decided that we were safe in numbers so we continued the hike to the top. Coming back down we were on alert, especially in the area where we heard the cat, but we never saw anything. The hike was pretty easy and the views at the top were remarkable. We could even see the our motorhome at the RV Park.
I’m not a beer fan but John is and we both like going to local breweries. John usually gets a flight so that he can try a variety of beers and if he likes one he will fill his growler and take that home. I usually end up with a cider and most times they are bottled or canned and not necessarily local.
After hiking we headed to Mancos Brewing Company and John ordered a flight with their Porter, Red Ale, Dark Ale, and Brown Ale. He liked all of them and ended up filling his growler with the Porter. I had a cider that wasn’t great, I don’t even remember where it was from.
The Brewery also served food so we had a light dinner as well which was great because we had a long adventurous day and I didn’t feel like cooking.
Ute Mountain Roundup – Cortez, CO
There is an increasing number of people that do not like rodeos but John and I still enjoy them, especially when we find one in a small town we are visiting. So, we were very excited to find that the Ute Mountain Roundup was taking place while we were in the area. The rodeo started with a tribute to a local soldier who had recently been killed overseas. The family was honored and it was quite emotional.
One of the things we like about rodeos is how they always recognize service men and women. I am always very proud to have John stand up to receive the applause he deserves. I’m also a sappy patriotic and I really enjoy the National Anthem, flag processions, patriotic songs and the overall Americana feel of a rodeo. Rodeos are starting to have more events for women and this one added Ladies Breakaway Roping. It was fun to watch the women rope the cows as well as the men. Roping events have always impressed us, especially team roping. The finesse it takes to be able to catch the back legs at just the right time is amazing! Another event we like to watch is the wagon processions.
As you can see by the photos, I love the wagons. It impresses me to see someone control that many large horses. It’s easier to appreciate this when watching a video.
Another new event added to the roundup this year was Freestyle Bullfighting. We didn’t have any idea what to expect. All I can say is that the cowboys that do this must be a little bit crazy!
The Four Corners Monument is the only place where four states meet, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah. If you are in the area and want to spend the $20 per car, you should do it. I enjoyed seeing the all of the native artwork and souvenirs. We didn’t want to wait in the line of over 30 people to take a picture on the marker so I just waited until no one was there and took a quick photo. I wouldn’t make a special trip here but since we were close we decided to go. I had been here as a kid but John hadn’t. He said that he could have given it a miss, I’m not sure what he was expecting but he was not impressed.
On our way back to our RV Park I suggested that we do a quick hike in the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. This monument is run by the Bureau of Land Management. Since we have a National Parks pass we can get into all of them for free so why not check it out. We did see some more wild horses when we were driving to the Visitor Center.When we got there we could see the clouds rolling in so we decided to walk through the Visitor Center which was a really comprehensive and interesting. After figuring out what hike we wanted to do we headed to the door and right then the sky opened up and it started pouring. So, we ran to the truck and drove home. Guess we will have to visit there again another time.
All in all, we enjoyed our time at Mesa Verde National Park and the surrounding areas. If you have never been to Mesa Verde, add it to your list. It was educational, beautiful and the hiking is great.
I call it Kasha KaWowee! and John calls it Costco Kablewy.
We changed our schedule so that we could get to Colorado earlier which meant that we only had two days in the Albuqueque area. Since we both have lived in New Mexico we have spent plenty of time in the area so it wasn’t that big of a deal for us to cut this part of the trip short. But, there was one place that I definitely wanted to go to while we were there.
When I told our fellow RV friends, Brenda and Wally (our38ftlife.com) that we were going to be in the area, Brenda said that we had to hike at Kasha-Katuwe. We had never heard of it so I immediately googled it and agreed that this was something we had to see!
The geological formations at Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument are extraordinary. They aren’t like the hoodoos in Bryce Canyon National Park or any other rock formations we have ever seen. The formations are cone shaped and occurred when there were volcanic eruptions 6-7 million years ago. The eruptions left ash, pumice and tuff deposits over 1,000 feet thick. The explosions from the Jemez volcanic area sprayed pyroclasts and created a pyroclastic flow. The most interesting part of these unusual hoodoos are the boulder caps on the top that protect the soft pumice and tuff underneath. Some of the tents have lost their caps and have started to disintegrate. The tent rock formation are fairly similar in shape to each other but vary in height up to nearly 100 feet.
Surveyors have recorded many archaeological sites indicating human occupation for 4,000 years. During the 14th and 15th centuries, ancestral pueblos were established and their descendants, the Pueblo de Cochiti still inhabit the surrounding area. Also, there is a 1540 record from Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado where he mentioned the Pueblo de Cochiti in his diary.
The area is supposedly known for its bird watching. We don’t recall seeing any birds but that’s likely because we were so interested in the rock formations that we weren’t looking for birds. The only wildlife we saw were a few chipmunks and ground squirrels.
There are a couple hikes that you can do but Brenda said that we had to take the hike to the top so we did. Both parts of the trail begin at the designated parking area for the monument. The Cave Loop Trail is really easy, it’s about 1 1/4 miles long but the best part was the more difficult Canyon Trail that is 1 1/2 miles one way into a narrow canyon (sort of like a slot canyon) and an elevation gain around 650 feet which brings you to the top of the mesa. At the top you will have amazing views of the Rio Grande Valley as well as the Sangre de Cristo, Sandia and Jemez Mountains.
The trails are well maintained but the guide warns that if it storms it is prone to flash floods and lightning may strike the ridges. As a matter of fact, just a week ago (early August) the trail had to be closed because of a storm. When we got to the top of the mesa, the clouds started rolling in so we started our trek back down. We were about a 1/2 mile from the parking lot when it started to rain, it was a bit cold but we were back to the truck quickly so it wasn’t too bad.
The Bureau of Land Management manages the Monument. There is no drinking water available so make sure to bring your own but there are restroom facilities. The entrance fee is only $5, we used our National Parks pass so it didn’t cost us anything. The hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and the rangers begin closing procedures at 3:30 p.m. When we were headed down we passed the rangers climbing to the top to start clearing people. I’m sure they were all soaked by the time they got down.
Below is a slide show of the photos from the hike.
This was a great outing and we are so glad we went. This hike is the first one added to our list of favorite hikes for our Summer 2019 trip. There will be a page on our blog where we will keep a list of our favorite hikes.
John and I met in a photography class Clovis, NM in the 1989, where we were attending Eastern New Mexico University. We were both married at the time and were just casual acquaintances. A couple years later I was out with a girlfriend and John was on a date and we met again at one of the two local bars. We were both separated at the time and as we say “the rest is history”. Since we were already going to be in New Mexico for our 2019 Summer Trip we decided to go to Clovis and see how it had changed. When we lived there we thought it was a rather depressing and boring place to live and 30 years later that feeling has increased. It doesn’t help that the Air Force Base is much smaller now because that means there are many empty homes and stores.
I wish we had a picture from 1991. Below is almost 30 years later at Kelley’s Bar & Grill where it all began.
In the Slideshow below: Twin Cronnies Drive-Inn that hasn’t changed a bit, a typical 50s style drive-in restaurant. Hotel Clovis – opened in 1931, it’s the only “high-rise” in the whole town. Downtown Clovis – this was on a Saturday, you can see how empty it is. Very depressing! Lyceum Theater – a mission style theater opened in 1921, it’s a performing arts venue now. State Theater – is an art deco style theater that opened in 1936, it’s currently for sale.
The best part and the main reason we went to Clovis was to visit the Norman and Vi Petty Rock & Roll Museum and the Norman Petty Recording Studios.
Did you know that Clovis, NM has a rich musical history and is home to an iconic recording studio (that you can tour for free) as well as a great Rock & Roll Museum (only $6 entry fee) that honors the legacy of Norman Petty and his wife Vi? The museum wasn’t here 30 years ago (it opened in 2008) but the recording studio has been here since the 1950s. Neither John or I toured it when we lived here so we had to make sure to tour it this time. I bet I drove by the recording studio on 7th St. a hundred times and I never paid attention to it.
I called a couple weeks in advance to schedule a tour of the studio and it wasn’t for a couple days so we decided to go to the museum first. The museum is in the basement of the Chamber of Commerce and what a great little museum it is!
They have a 20 minute video that takes you through the history of music in Clovis and the “Clovis Sound”. There is so much memorabilia, instruments and other interesting artifacts that you could spend hours there. Below is a slideshow of some of the highlights for me.
When I called to schedule our tour, I spoke to Kenneth Broad (he’s the executor of the studios) and said he was going to be out of town but there was someone else who would be able to give us our tour. We were thrilled to arrive and find out that our tour guide was David Bigham, one of the singers in Buddy Holly’s backup group, The Roses. Below is David Bigham now and in the photos of The Roses he’s the one on the right. It was so much fun and very interesting to hear his stories.
Norman Petty’s label Nor-Va-Jak is the birthplace of “the Clovis Sound” that was created back in the 50s and continues to influence Rock & Roll to this day.
The first really big hit from Petty’s studio was by Buddy Holly who was from nearby Lubbock, Texas (the big city compared to Clovis, NM) . “That’ll be the Day” was recorded by Buddy Holly and the Crickets in 1957 and was certified gold (more than one million sold) and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and in 2005 it was added to the National Recording Registry, a list of sound recordings that “are culturally, historically, or aesthetically important, and/or inform or reflect life in the United States”.
Buddy Knox’s “Party Doll”was recorded by Petty. Buddy Knox from Happy, Texas and his band performed with Roy Orbison on a radio show and Orbison suggested that they record with Norman Petty. “Party Doll” was written by Buddy Knox and Jimmy Bowen and went to number one on the U.S. Top 100 Chart in 1957. If you’ve ever seen the 1973 move, “American Grafitti”, you will hear the song featured there.
Everyone who worked with Petty said he was a genius when it came to sound and engineering. He came up with all kinds of interesting sounds. For example on Buddy Holly’s song “Peggy Sue” the drummer played the drums in one room and the sound was sent to a speaker in the attic of the building next door, then they mixed a measure of the “live” drum with a measure of the attic recording to create an echo effect.
Buddy Holly brought a portion of the melody to Norman Petty. Norman finished the rest of the melody and wrote all the words and taught the song to Vi Petty, his wife. She sang it for Buddy Holly when he came back to the studio. He told her she ought to record it. She did and Norman had it pressed on their label.
Below is a slideshow of the recording studio.
We finished the tour in the apartment in the back where the artists would hangout, eat, play music and collaborate. I’m bummed because I didn’t take many pictures of it but I was just taking in the whole place listening to Mr. Bigham’s stories.
We don’t recommend Clovis as a destination but if you happen to be driving on Interstate 40 through New Mexico, take a detour to the South. It’s a good place for a quick layover for grocery shopping or other errands and it’s totally worth the detour to visit the museum and take a tour of the recording studio.
John and I both lived in New Mexico and have been to Carlsbad before (we weren’t together at the time) but it has been almost 30 years. We wanted to visit again and see what we remembered and explore the area together. We were still in awe of Kartchner Caverns (see our Three Days Underground blog for info on those caverns) and wanted to compare it to Carlsbad since neither one of us had many memories of what we had seen 30 years ago.
If you plan on visiting any National Parks, make sure you buy an America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass, it’s only $80 per year and will pay for itself in no time. If you’re 62 or older you can get a lifetime pass for $80 or an annual pass for $20. We already had a pass from when we visited Joshua Tree National Park before we hit the road in May. Carlsbad Caverns entrance fee is $15 per person, add that to the $20 we would have paid when we went to White Sands National Monument and the $30 for Joshua Tree and we are now even money with many more National Parks on our list for this year. The pass covers your entrance fees to National Parks, National Monuments, Battlefields and National Recreation Areas/Forests.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
I pride myself on being a pretty good travel planner but our first visit to Carlsbad Caverns proved otherwise. There are several ranger led tours that you can take where you will explore areas only accessible on the tours. I booked two tours, put them in my calendar and we showed up at Carlsbad Caverns ready to explore only to find out that we were a day early. I had it in my calendar right, I just didn’t have the days of the week in my head right. I’m blaming it on my recent retirement and losing track of what day it is. Luckily, the tours weren’t full so we were able to take the tours. Later in the season this probably wouldn’t have worked and I’m so happy we didn’t have to come back another day because the caverns were an hour away from our RV Park. There are a couple parks closer to the park (in White’s City) but they have horrible reviews and are in the middle of nowhere. Since we were going to be in the area for a week, we wanted to be closer to town.
If you plan on taking a ranger guided tour, I would recommend making reservations to ensure you get a tour. Depending on the time of year the tours sell out quickly.
Our first ranger guided tour was the King’s Palace tour ($16 for both of us). We rode the elevator down to the main area of the cave where there is a gift shop, café and the place to start the self-guided tour of the Big Room. It’s cool but kind of scary to watch the elevator illuminate the depth that you are traveling rather than the floors like we are used to. We met our guide who gave us a quick safety briefing including don’t touch anything, I wish more people paid attention to this. The tour was about an hour and half long and we were taken to the deepest part of the cavern open to the public at 830 feet below the desert surface. This isn’t a difficult trail, it’s only one mile but we did have to descend down the trail in the beginning which meant walking up a very steep hill at the end. The cool temperature of the cave (I wish I had brought a sweatshirt) made the hiking quite comfortable. We saw a variety of cave formations including columns, draperies, helictites and soda straws but my favorite part was when we were seated in a large open area and the lights were choreographed to highlight different cave formations. We also had a time where the ranger turned off all of the artificial light, I couldn’t even see my hand right in front of my face it was so dark. Our guide was very knowledgeable of the history and geology of the cave. It’s quite difficult to get photos inside the cave because of the limited lighting, but I tried anyway.
John had a work call to take after our first tour so we decided I would grab lunch from the café on the surface, bring it to the truck and we could eat while he was on the call. Well, little did we know that the café was about three employees short so it took about 40 minutes to get our food (we only had an hour until our next tour) and they couldn’t pack our food for us to take it out of the building. So, I ate my burrito in about five minutes and then snuck John’s food and drink out on a tray with a plastic glass. Right as I was walking out with his food, he came walking in so he was able to sit at the table and eat, but only had about 10 minutes. Needless to say, I wish I would have packed a lunch that day!
Our second tour was the one that I was most excited about. The Left Hand Tunnel tour ($14 for both of us) is a historic tour in an undeveloped section of the cave with unpaved trails and the whole tour is by candle-lit lanterns. We met our guide and the 10 other people on the tour who were all from a Texas college on an outdoor experience trip throughout Southern New Mexico. The parks rates the trail as moderately difficult and I’m not sure why except that it’s by candlelight and there were a couple places where the trail was a bit slippery and we had to navigate around a couple small cavern pools.
When we were about to begin the tour, our guide says he will light everyone’s lanterns now and then reaches in every pocket to find his lighter and he can’t find it. He says “I’ll be right back folks” and people are questioning how he could forget the lighter. Well, that was just an act because he came back dressed as Jim White, the man who discovered the caverns in the early 1900s and spent 30 years exploring the caverns and is credited for finding 19 of the 32 miles of cave passageways known today.
Our guide did a great job of staying in character and explaining how he found the caverns, explored them, marked them, etc. We thought it was a bit corny, especially since this hike was touted as moderately difficult and it seemed more like a Disney tour or something. I’m still glad we did it though because it was interesting seeing everything only by candlelight. There weren’t as many formations to see but at the end we walked out on individually for quite a distance so we could experience what it was like for Jim White when he explored the caverns. That was the best part of the tour! I didn’t take any photos during the tour, I wanted to be “in the moment” plus it was difficult with a lantern in hand.
We were hoping to take the elevator back up and then walk in through the Natural Entrance and explore the Big Room. Unfortunately, it was too late in the day as they stop people from entering the Natural Entrance after 3 p.m. because the hike in can take awhile and they don’t want people stuck in there when they are trying to close the caverns. So, we had to take the elevator back down to gain access to the Big Room. The enormity of this room is awe inspiring! It’s 8.2 acres which is over 1,300 yards long and 208 yards wide (to put this into perspective, a football field is 100 yards long and 53 yards wide). The Big Room is the largest known limestone chamber in the Western Hemisphere and the trail is a fairly well lit and easy to navigate loop that can take an hour and half to explore. Most of the trail is wheelchair accessible which I think is so cool!
Below top row left to right: Speleothems (cave formations) – Lion’s tail, stalactites and stalagmites. Thank mnemonics from my childhood for helping me remember which is which. Bottom row left to right: The shine is evidence that there is still water in the cave meaning it is still alive, Rock of Ages (one of the largest formations in the caverns) majestically stands alone, one of the original rope ladders used to discover the caverns.
The vastness of the caverns is hard to capture in photographs so I took a lot of short videos. I’ve put them all together below. Towards the end you can vaguely hear someone talking, the was our guide in the King’s Palace. Sorry, my iPhone doesn’t do a great job on video.
Carlsbad Caverns is difficult to describe because so much of it is up to interpretation and your personal feelings. The whole time we were there my thoughts were on the fact that these caverns are 60-80 million years old and the formations grow at an incredibly slow rate so the big ones are also millions of years old and my time on earth is so short compared to these other living things on our earth. It was just another reminder that our lives our short and we should savor every day and every experience. When I sat in the complete darkness of these vast caverns I felt a calm that I can’t really describe except to say it helped me realize that the things that stress me out or bother me are so fleeting in the grand scheme. I really need to try to remember that feeling! What you take away from the Caverns may be completely different and it could be different from one visit to the next. That’s the beauty and magic of this natural wonder!
By the time we finished touring the Big Room, we had been at the caverns most of the day so we decided to go back to the RV Park and take care of the dogs and come back another night for the Bat Flight Program. On our drive back, while still in the park, John spotted a Barbary sheep up on the rock face. It was too far away to get a good photo but I was excited to see it because I had never seen one before in the wild.
We came back the next night for the Bat Flight Program (another advantage to having the Parks pass because we didn’t have to pay another entry fee). There are signs everywhere that say that you can’t take photos or videos during the Bat Flight, I was kind of disappointed because I really wanted a video of it. But, I’m happy that they have that rule because it makes you be completely present in the moment and it ensures that the bats aren’t frightened by the movements, sounds and flashes. They ask that everyone remain as quiet as possible when the bats start to come out. I was impressed that everyone (except for a couple of really young children) did a great job at being quiet.
It was so amazing to hear the sounds of their wings as they flew overhead. They way they moved together was like a choreographed ballet. Don’t worry, you can look up and you won’t end up with bat guano in your face! The ranger describes the amount of bats as light, medium and heavy because it’s impossible to count the millions of bats that fly out of the cavern. On this night he said that it was medium, which was magnificent! I can’t imagine what it’s like when it’s heavy. The bat flight lasted 30-45 minutes, we lost track of time because we were mesmerized. If you go to the caverns, make sure you stay (or go back) for the Bat Flight program, you will not be disappointed!
Sitting Bull Falls
Since we didn’t have any plans until the evening’s Bat Flight Program we decided to go for a hike at Sitting Bull Falls. It was about an hour drive to get there but it’s rated as the #2 thing to do when in Carlsbad (the Caverns being #1). We first walked up the paved path to the waterfall. We weren’t expecting very much as this is New Mexico, the hills aren’t very tall and there isn’t much water. The falls are small but pretty and unexpected in the middle of the desert.
After we finished our hike, which ended up being longer than we planned because the trails aren’t very well marked, we met the ranger. We always like to talk to the Rangers because they have good stories and information. He told us just down the road was the site of the Last Chance Canyon Apache/Cavalry Battle Site. John and I are both interested in Native American history (John more than me because he’s 18% Native American) so we decided to see it. There isn’t really anything there to see except the landscape but one of the things I love about traveling with John is his ability to describe what a place would have been like in that particular time in history. He had me picturing the Apache on the top of the ridge looking down on the Cavalry down in the meadow.
We wanted to see if there was anything else nearby so we started walking through the meadow and came across some free range cattle. They saw us and started walking towards us and I got a little freaked out (they were big and there were a lot of them) so we turned around and headed out.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Did you know that only 52 miles from the city of Carlsbad is another National Park in another state? We didn’t until we were at Carlsbad Caverns and the postcards I bought had cards from both parks. Since we were so close we decided to visit and mark another National Park off of our “we’ve been there” list.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park is the most extensive Permian fossil reef and has the four highest peaks in Texas. Growing up in Colorado and having lived in Washington, the peaks aren’t that big but it was still pretty. It was a REALLY hot day so we decided not to hike (the rangers were advising that people only hike early in the morning) but we did drive around the park some.
There’s a short walk from the Visitor Center that takes you to the Butterfield Overland Mail Pinery Station. Butterfield Overland Mail came before the Pony Express and the Transcontinental Railroad and was the first successful attempt to link the East and West with reliable transportation and communication. Stations were located about 20 miles apart and from September 1858 to August 1859 coaches stopped to rest and for water, food, new mule teams and protection.
Below are remnants of the walls of the station.
We saw a sign for Frijole Ranch and I said “we both like beans, let’s go check it out”. Unfortunately they have it fenced off because the many cottonwood trees that surround the ranch have been deemed unsafe. So, I took a couple photos and we left.
The scenery was beautiful and I especially enjoyed the flowering cacti.
It seemed appropriate to end our day (and our time in Carlsbad) at the Guadalupe Mountain Brewing Company in Carlsbad, NM. I’m not a beer drinker but John is and we enjoy going to local breweries to taste the beers and have some food. We ordered a pretzel, John had a flight of beers and I had a local wine (which was horrible, New Mexico has a lot to learn when it comes to wine making). John’s favorite beer was the Luscious IPA, it was so good that John wanted to have his growler filled with it but we were told that the beer maker doesn’t allow growler fills because he doesn’t like how it makes his beer taste. Not sure what that means but John ended up not getting any beer that night.
Carlsbad is in the Southeast corner of the New Mexico desert and not really on the way to anywhere else (except for El Paso, Texas), but it is worth the trip. We are glad we were able to make memories here together and encourage you to check it out, even if you only have a couple days.
Visiting Roswell and Alamogordo was not on the top of my list of places to go but John was very interested in seeing the New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo and the White Sands Missile range so we added it to our itinerary. Since we had to drive through Roswell on the way, we decided to stop at the Roswell UFO Museum. While some of the museum is kind of hokey (as I expected) there were also some very interesting personal accounts, videos and other exhibits to investigate. See The Palenque Astronaut carving below for an example. I’m glad we didn’t make a special trip there as it wasn’t as big as we expected and if you watch any shows or read any books on the Roswell crash or other alien encounters, there isn’t much new information. It’s only $5 to get in and they gave us the military discount of $3 a person when John told them he was an Air Force veteran. Not a personal highlight of this trip for me, but we can add it to our “we’ve been there” list.
After our quick stop in Roswell we were on our way to Alamogordo which was more exciting for me because I wanted to visit White Sands National Monument.
Our first excursion was the New Mexico Space History Museum which we unfortunately went to on the same day as several buses of school children making it difficult to see everything, but we did our best. It’s only $8 to get in and we thought it was worth it. They have a planetarium and theater which we couldn’t go to because the school children had every show booked. The museum has several levels and you start at the top and go down traveling through the history of space exploration. Just as with the UFO Museum, this isn’t something that I was really interested but I have to admit that I found much of this museum quite educational and enjoyable.
Above is a space suit and capsule that was used by Ham the Chimp (acronym for Holloman Aerospace Medical Center) in 1961.
I especially liked the outdoor exhibits including the Daisy Track which is an air-powered sled-track used to study the effects of acceleration, deceleration, and impact on the human body and various equipment systems. I also enjoyed the static displays of rockets, especially the 86 feet tall, Little Joe II which is the largest rocket ever launched from New Mexico.
This is an interesting museum to learn more about space and the role that New Mexico played in space history.
We had a couple days of high winds which kept us from going to White Sands National Monument but the minute the winds subsided we headed out. It seems appropriate that the Space Museum, the Missile Range and other space related things are in this area because the White Sands National Monument landscape makes you feel like you are on another planet.
I loved the tranquility and peacefulness of seeing dune after dune of pure white sand. Driving on the road felt like driving through the Colorado mountains with snow piled on the sides. The ripples and patterns in the sand were unique as snowflakes and hard to capture with a camera, but so beautiful in person.
It was fun to see the families that staked a claim in the sand with their pop-up tents, coolers, lawn chairs and sleds for sliding down the dunes. It’s like a giant beach but without the water! The foliage and flowers that thrived in the sand was a surprise to me and I sought out (and photographed) every one I saw.
Since it wasn’t very hot outside we decided to take the Dune Life Nature Trail. The trail was very well marked and was easy to follow and the markers are tall enough that as the sand dunes shifts and change in height, you can still see them and follow the trail.
Even if you only have an hour to drive through the monument, I highly recommend it. If you have more time, pack a picnic and bring a sled and enjoy a whole day there!
What else is there to do in the Alamogordo area? Well, if you know us, you know we love wine so we always try to find local wineries and we found one in Tularosa, NM about 8 miles from our RV Park. We drove up to what looked like a manufactured home and there wasn’t any signage saying there was a tasting room so I called the number on their website and asked if they were open and where the tasting room was. The guy comes outside and says “we’re right here, come on in”. Needless to say, we were the only ones there so we had a leisurely tasting of their wines. New Mexico is trying to get people in the state to like wine and therefore make them a bit sweeter than we like but we still enjoyed trying them and we purchased their Rose and Sangiovese (which didn’t taste as good when we had them later but for the price, they were fine).
Did you know that Alamogordo is known for its pistachios? We didn’t but were happy to find that out, especially since Pistachioland was right across the street from our RV Park (along with the world’s largest pistachio that’s 30 feet tall). John had some work to do so I walked across the street and sampled sweet, sour and even hot (like Hatch chilis) pistachios. They also had wine tasting, but their wines were way to sweet for me. Unfortunately I got there too late to take a tour of the pistachio farm which would have be fun!
If you like to hike, I recommend getting the All Trails app on your phone. Everywhere we go I will look at that app to see what hikes are in the area. While in Alamogordo, I found Three Rivers Petroglyph Site that was only 30 miles from our RV park and has a short hike with over 20,000 petroglyphs. There is a map that you can follow that will give you the highlights but there are so many more that aren’t even listed.
There is also another short trail that leads to the remains of a Mogollon village whose people were likely the ones who made the petroglyphs. It was occupied for approximately 400 years and when partially excavated in the 70s the foundations of three types of prehistoric buildings unearthed. We had never heard of the Mogollon people so this stop was very interesting to us. John and I both feel a connection to the native peoples of North America, John more than me, probably because he is 18% Native American.
Some people theorize that aliens and ancient petroglyphs could have some connection. There are petroglyphs that depict what people believe to be alien spacecraft and other extraterrestrial beings, so ending our Rowell/Alamogordo “Space” trip with petroglyphs was like traveling full circle.
Although Alamogordo was not one of the “oh my gosh I can’t wait to go” places on our itinerary, we found plenty of fun, interesting and educational things to do. If you’re passing through, consider stopping for a day or two.