Friday, July 20, 2007

Bat Burst

As a bio teacher I often look for the naturalist angle of the places we visit. The flora and fauna are never far from my mind, eyes, and ears. As for Carlsbad, I didn't have to search to fulfill this need since one of the most spectacular natural sights takes place here at sunset from April to October.

Deep within the caverns roost over 300,000 Mexican free-tailed bats. In a manner that "biologists" still don't quite understand, sometime around sunset all these bats leave the caves in a twirling, tornado pattern (like smoke from a cauldron). In all, it takes around 30 minutes for all of them to vacate and venture out to feed on moths and other insects within a 60 mile radius.

For this treat, we gathered with around 500 people in a well-manicured amphitheater at the mouth of the cave. After a 30 minute presentation by a park ranger, the flight began. While the crowd was asked to be silent during the exodus, there was an uncontrollable "ooohhh" as the first bats began to exit. The cloud of bats was immense and seemed to form a smoke-like trail. It was truly a sight to behold.

The bats return to the cave at sunrise in a different manner--more individualized (some diving at a rate of 40 miles per hour into the natural entrance). While we wanted to witness this as well, we weren't able to because of a construction project taking place at the caverns. Maybe next time?

By the way, why are there no pictures of bats shown here? Well, electronic devices mess up the bats' echolocation, of course! Check out the link to view park-sanctioned pictures.


Carlsbad Caverns

Truth be told, we are not big cave people. Sure, we made the requisite jaunt to Luray a few years back. And, make no mistake about it, we enjoyed our time there. It's just that there are a lot of activities we prefer to checking out caves. The ones you can easily walk through tend to be too commercialized and the other ones tend to be too intense for us non-spelunkers.

That said, Carlsbad Caverns is probably the one set of caves that everyone should go visit if they get the chance (and if you can find it in the middle of the beautiful and desolate Guadalupe Mountains in southeastern New Mexico). One cool feature of the cave is that you can walk in through the natural opening and head down 750 feet to the Big Room. Sure, the Park Service has fully paved and railed the descent, but I guess there is no way around this. And the payoff at the bottom is really worth it. The Big Room is supposedly the largest open cavern in the Western hemisphere. It really is a sight to see with its varied formations. The only bummer? It turns out that the feature labeled "Bottomless Pit" is actually only 140 feet deep.

Oh, and the fact that there is an elevator that takes you back up to the surface (and down if you can't/don't want to walk it).

No matter...The cave itself is only the opening act. The main attraction, for us anyways, was the bats...


El Pizza in El Paso

At first we all wanted tacos but then Julie and I wanted pizza. So, when we were at the boot store we asked the guys at the front desk where a good Italian place was. They suggested a place named Cappetto's. We drove there and went inside. It was a small place but had good food. Julie and I order a make-your-own mini pizza. I put only a little sauce on mine but Julie put a lot on hers. When they finished cooking, Julie and I scarfed our food down. I don't what Mom and Dad ordered but I know they liked it. We all enjoyed it!


Saddleblanket Shopping Spree

It all started as a joke. Mommy and Daddy were joking about how they wanted to get serape ponchos. We decided to go to a store where they sell carpets and serapes. It is supposedly an acre with three acres of parking. When we went in, we looked around in the main section of the store. They had place mats, rugs, tote bags, blankets, serapes, and ponchos. They had cool ponchos for little kids and bigger ones for bigger kids. But for Mommy and Daddy, the big ones cost 40 dollars because they were made out of fleece. Z and I tried on the ponchos that we liked. We carried them around while we looked at the other stuff in the store. Finally we decided to buy the ponchos for 16 dollars. We thought we could use them for cold nights when we sit outside. Even though Mommy and Daddy did not get ponchos, Z and I did.


The Chaos of the Street

Steve: So guys, what are the similarities and differences between Ciudad Juarez and and that other Mexican border town?

Z: They look pretty much exactly alike because they both are the same place!

Steve: How about you Julie?

Julie: I think they're different in some ways and the same in others. Because it seems like it's more immediate that you walk into the place where it's locals in Ciudad Juarez, but in Tijuana you went through all touristy stuff. It took a lot longer to get where the locals actually hang out. They both have touristy shops which are not places where the locals would hang out. They both have that kind of stuff. They both look the same in terms of the types of buildings.

Steve: Mama? Anything?

Desi: Less glitz in Juarez. Not as much "come into my store." But it looks the same in terms of the run down nature of the town.

Julie: I have something to add. It seemed like people didn't want to sell as much in Ciudad Juarez. It seemed like there were more pharmacies.

Desi: Food was good. And I drank the water.

Z: What about you Dad?

Steve: There's something about the chaos of the street in the developing world that just draws me to it. The whole idea that curb heights aren't uniform and prices aren't fixed makes me both appreciate the regulations we live under and crave the opportunity to escape our over-regulated society. Must be the anarchist in Mexico!!!

~Steve, Desi, Julie, and Z

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Two States, Two Countries

This year for our anniversary we wanted to do something a little different. (Actually, it's just the way the trip worked out!) We started early morning at White Sands with a mini-hike out into the barren dunes. We then stopped off at a pistachio farm, drove 100 miles to El Paso, and border jumped to Juarez. The night cap at the Kentucky Club (where John Wayne and Ronald Reagan were known to frequent) consisted of cerveza, a couple of Margaritas, two cokes in glass bottles, quesadillas, guacamole, and nachos. Two states and two counties equals one anniversary to remember!

~Desi and Steve

Unusual Images of White Sands

White Sands naturally lends itself to taking all different kinds of photographs, in all kinds of lights and from all kinds of perspectives. From our little amateur point of view, here are three cool pictures we happened to snap.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

"It's been a long eight years!"

This is something Sharon said on our wedding video, exactly 14 years ago today (remember that, Ms. Lemos?). Yes, we had been dating eight years by the time we finally walked down the aisle. So it seems like much longer than 14 years (in a good way, of course...the mini-fight we just had coming into El Paso notwithstanding!) Doesn't it Des?


The Wonders of White Sands

When we got started on our trip we made t-shirts. Everyone got to choose one place that they would "be." I chose to be White Sands. We had been wanting to go there since last year so when I found out we were going to White Sands, I was so excited. I couldn't wait to make sand angels. I just couldn't wait to get there.

So as we approached White Sands, I was as excited as could be. We drove to the visitors' center to get the weekly pass, then we drove into the park.

As we entered, I could see that there was white sand but it was all covered with brush. But as we kept driving, the brush disappeared and it became all dunes of white sand. It was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen. I could not believe I was really there. We went sliding on a sled, watched the sunset, and came back in the morning for a hike. It is one of the most amazing places on Earth.

I am so happy that I chose to be White Sands for our trip.


Sledding in the Summer

Sledding in the summer, that can't be right! I know, we were at White Sands. Sledding down the "60 foot" hill (as some guy told us). Okay, he exaggerated but the hills or dunes were high. We rented a used sled from the gift shop. The wax I bought made the sled go faster. We took a drive and found a good hill to slide on. The hill was about 40 feet tall. I went up and down a bunch of times. I had a wheezing attack. Julie got overheated, Mommy was fine, and Dad has a cold now. We went to White Sands again that night and had a great time watching the sunset. I definitely want to go there again.


Monday, July 16, 2007

Summer Snow Storm?

Actually, while it may appear that a plow has been busy clearing this road, the substance you are observing is white gypsum sand. Today, we arrived back in New Mexico and are spending some time at White Sands National Monument in Alamogordo. The beauty of these pure white sand dunes is truly indescribable. While Alamogordo is not close to any other tourist sites it is undoubtedly worth the extra miles.


Sunday, July 15, 2007

Beyond Bread and Bentley

Beyond Bread, University of Arizona, mountains, palm trees, and cacti. What do they all add up to?...TUCSON! Thanks to Ms. Bentley, my third grade teacher, we went to all the hot spots. Beyond Bread, ummmm...tasty. The best place to eat in town is on Campbell Avenue, in the middle of town. The bread...the dessert, soooo good. We also went to the University of Arizona bookstore where we bought some stuff (University of Arizona is Ms. Bentley's college). All our thanks to Ms. Bentley.

Your 1st class at our school,


Sedona To Do List

When we think back on it, we did a lot in Sedona. (Our two meals at the Cowboy Club deserve a shout out.) But, for two reasons, we didn't do nearly as much as we hoped to do. When we first got to Sedona, we were gassed from the Supai experience. And then, in the middle of our stay in Sedona, Steve came down with, of all things, a summer cold (maybe his first ever). So we were definitely in Balla slo-mo for a couple of days. This means that we have a list of things we are desperate to do, next time we hit Sedona (and there will be a next time!). So here we go...

Z-man: Tomcars! What else?

Julie: Definitely Tomcars. And also go out for hikes.

Desi: Sunrise. Sunset. I'd like to check out a vortex for fun. And I'd like to shop more. And Tomcars...

Steve: I can't believe we didn't do a single hike (though we did climb Airport Mesa, check out the observation point, and go to the Chapel of the Holy Cross). I'd also like to mountain bike. And...OK...Tomcars...

~Steve, Desi, Julie, and Z

Red Rocks Returned

I'll leave it at that.


Sliding Jail Zai Nar

As we travel around, we usually know exactly where every place we are going is, from hotels to restaurants to attractions...thanks to a binder that we put together before the trip. So it was with quiet confidence that we drove up the side of a mountain to Jerome, Arizona, which bills itself as the most vertical town in America and also the largest ghost town of them all. Jerome isn't all that big, so how hard could it be to find what we were looking for?

One of our main points of interest was Sliding Jail. Apparently, some time ago, the town shifted...I think because of all of the copper mining that was going on. One of the buildings that slid down the hill was the town jail. Pretty cool to check out, we thought.

OK, so where is it (zai nar)? We walked around the main part of town, which now consists of a funky combination of artist cooperatives, biker bars, and restaurants. We ate lunch at the Mile High Inn--excellent food! (Check it out next time's right below the Haunted Hamburger.) We strolled around some of the shops (Desi picked up a trilobite). In all of this moseying around, no sign of Sliding Jail.

So we decided to ask the clerk at a convenience store where we grabbed some drinks. "You go down that, no, it's the other way...there's a road that isn't paved..." You get the idea...we walked out no closer to our destination.

Then we got back in the car. There is a ghost town attraction past the edge of town. We drove out that way, but nothing doing. No Sliding Jail.

OK...there's a state park down the mountain a bit...maybe it's there. Drive around some hairpin turns...but no Sliding Jail. (Great views, though!) But wait...there's a map of Jerome...hmm...Sliding Jail seems to be located right near where we ate lunch, before we began all of this running around. So back up the mountain...

According to the map, this is where Sliding Jail should be. Could it be this building? There's no sign. Well, let's take some pictures and say that it is. Thanks Jerome for a fun and weird outing!


Shopping Sedona

When we set off from home on our cross-country trip, Z and I both brought a nice sum of money intending to buy things along the way. I, of course, have been buying postcards along the way along with numerous other items that I liked. So when we got to Sedona, we had to go shopping downtown (they have the coolest stuff). One of the coolest things about shopping in Sedona is that if you look beyond the shops, you have an amazing view of the grand red rock formations. That way, even if some of the stores are closed, you can still walk around and see the fantastic view.


Slide Rock

We went to Slide Rock today. We went down the whole thing twice. The water was freezing cold but when you got in you warmed up. We stayed there for two and a half hours until it started raining. There was a rock above a deep pool of water. Dad and I jumped off it two times. At the end of the main part of Slide Rock there is a part where it is rocky so that part hurts. I found a different part to slide down so I went down there. It never hurt me at all. If any of you go to Sedona, I recommend Slide Rock.


Safe and Sound in Sedona

After spending several days in a village setting and driving 200 miles through beautiful Oak Creek Canyon, we are safe and secure in the lap of luxury recuperating at the Wyndham resort of Sedona for a few days. What a dichotomy to go from village mentality to resort living. While I truly enjoy both, the idea of some R+R is being well received by all of us.

Long, hot showers with fluffy towels, a home cooked meal or two, a king-sized bed, a washer-dryer, and a few Hardy Boys-Nancy Drew mystery movies have assisted us in gearing up for the next leg of our journey. Thanks again to Lynn and Scoot for hooking us up--BIG TIME!