Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Fun Places and Facts Alamogordo and Las Cruces New Mexico

While we have been in the Alamogordo area we have been to some fun places and learned some interesting facts.

New Mexico Museum of Space History

Best thing about it – Burial place of HAM – world's first AstroChimp! He is buried at the base of the flag poles. There was no marker when we were there as the Boy Scouts had taken it to be polished. 

HAM's Burial Place
New Mexico Space Museum

Next best thing about it – finding out that when Stennis Space Center (which happens to be in Hancock County Mississippi where we now live) was built the residents of 5 communities had to be relocated. Was surprised to see anything about Hancock County in a museum in New Mexico.

Pistachio Farms

Eagle Ranch Pistachio Farm

Took a tour – learned that the climate of Alamogordo is pretty close to identical to that of Iran – the world's largest pistachio producer.

These will be harvested in September
He was harvested 72 years ago

Can you imagine sorting pistachio nuts by hand 8 hours per day?
Not quite ripe
(or is that "not quite right"?)
Then at McGinn's Pistachio Farm we saw – The World's Largest Pistachio

98% of the pistachios produced in the U.S. are grown in California.

African Oryx

Did you know that in the United States, New Mexico specifically there are wild Oryx?

I did not take these pictures.
We did not see any Oryx.
This African antelope was introduced to the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The oryx was brought from the Kalahari Desert in Africa to an experimental range at Red Rock New Mexico. Federal law prohibits introducing a wild animal from another country into the wild in this country so offspring were obtained at this experimental range to introduce onto the White Sands Missile Range.

Between 1969 and 1977, 93 oryx were released on White Sands Missile Range. There are now about 3000 animals in residence. Annual hunts for the oryx began in 1974 on the Missile Range. Oryx can weigh up to 450 pounds. They stand 47 inches at the shoulder. Both males and females have horns that average 34 inches long. Their brown coloring with distinctive black and white markings allows them to hide among desert shrubs.

Las Cruces Veteran's Memorial

One of the nicest Veteran's Memorials we have seen. As this coming Monday is Memorial Day we thought it fitting to visit here. Besides a memorial wall there is Bataan Death March Memorial which was quite moving. Two larger than life size Soldiers support a third Soldier between them and on the ground in front of them are footprints from actual New Mexicans that survived the Death March and subsequent internment at the hands of the Japanese.
Las Cruces Veteran's Memorial Park
In Las Cruces – saw The World's Largest Chili Pepper

47 feet long and 2.5 tons of concrete (Monte stayed in the car).

Germans at Holloman Air Force Base

We have been camped at the FamCamp at Holloman AFB in Alamogordo.  We were surprised that we, the U.S., host the German Air Force here on a permanent basis. 
The German Air Force Flying Training Center (GAF FTC) contingent at Holloman Air Force Base currently consists of 680 military personnel plus families. The program is structured to train German Air Force pilots to fly TORNADO Fighter Aircraft.
And thus ends our stay in Alamogordo.

White Sands Missile Range and White Sands National Monument

White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) is a rocket range of almost 3,200 square miles in parts of five counties in southern New Mexico. The largest military installation in the United States. Traveling US Hwy 70 between Alamogordo NM and Las Cruces NM you encounter signs that tell you the highway may be closed at times due to missile testing. We did not encounter a closure but were told that on average it is closed twice per week for 1-2 hours each time.

Organ Mountains
South Side of WSMR
We visited the WSMR Missile Park and Museum. More than 50 missiles are on display including a Pershing II and Patriot. Most of us remember the Patriot from the Gulf War where it was used extensively against SCUDs. The museum traces the history of the U.S.'s missile and space activity and the birth of the atomic age. The Trinity Site where the first nuclear device was tested is on WSMR. This part of the range is open to the public 2 times per year – the first Saturday's of April and October.

Pershing II
Patriot Missile Launcher

If you were in Roswell and saw this just what would you think?
See the explanation in the following picture

I know a few people in Oklahoma that need these for their storm shelters!!
Rattlesnake Warning Sign
I wonder if this little guy read the sign above

  Within the Missile Range is the White Sands National Monument. This is in the mountain-ringed Tularosa Basin and is a formed by gypsum sand dunes which cover 275 miles and is the world's largest gypsum dunefield. Gypsum is rarely found in the form of sand because it is water soluble. Normally, rain would dissolve the gypsum and carry it to the sea but this basin has no outlet to the sea and as the wind erodes the gypsum crystals in to fine sand like particles and dunes are formed. We found that we should have worn sunglasses on our visit here – the sand is so bright white and with the desert sun shining brightly it was blinding. Unlike dunes made of quartz-based sand crystals, the gypsum does not get hot and can be walked upon with bare feet even in the hottest weather.

Proof that you can walk barefoot in the
sand in the hottest weather

Walking on the dunes is not only allowed but snow saucers can be 
purchased in the visitor center for dune sliding.  We saw families set up
in picnic areas spending the day at the waterless beach.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Carlsbad Cavern National Park was established to protect the enormous caves under the southern New Mexico desert.

I would imagine that everyone reading this has been in at least one cave in their lifetime and like us, many of you have been in several. And you think - been there done that - seen one cave seen 'em all. That may be true except unless you have seen Carlsbad Cavern I'll guarantee you - you ain't seen 'em all.

WOW - just Jaw Dropping Wow. Carlsbad eats other caves for breakfast and poops out stalagmites (or is that stalactites?) - very large ones. Words cannot do this cavern justice and neither can pictures.

There are 2 ways to get in to the cave - either way it is 750 feet down. One is by Elevator and the other - the 1.25 mile path to the Natural Entrance. There are warnings that it is a strenuous walk. Heck - it is downhill - how strenuous can it be? So we chose to walk down and we were very glad we did. That 1.25 miles took us about 50 minutes. There are parts that are quite steep and there are way too many switchbacks to count. My knees and Monte's hip were feeling it by the time we got to the bottom.  This is the path that early explorers took - sans paved walkways and handrails.

Heading Down to the Natural Entrance

We took a break before tackling The Big Room.
Snack Bar 750 feet below the surface
As you descend in to the darkness you walk through several really big rooms with lots of very cool formations but this is all just the prelude to "The Big Room". This is a natural limestone chamber which is almost 4,000 feet long, 625 feet wide and 255 feet high. The walking loop around the big room is just over one mile and takes about an hour of steady walking.

As we were descending in to the cavern and walking through the Big Room I kept thinking about what the early explorers must have felt - raw terror I would assume. Total darkness except for whatever little light they could get out of some relatively primitive lantern they had (no halogen lights or LEDs!) and who knew what was down there. Even today with the way the cavern is lit, the shadows that are thrown can be very eerie.

Early Explorer Route

I am so very thankful that there was an elevator to get back to the top - if there had not been I would still be there 4 days later...

We cannot recommend Carlsbad Caverns highly enough. Is it out of the way? Yes. Is it worth your while to go out of your way? Hell Yes. Cost to get in? $6 - and that is for a 3 day pass. There are guided tours through other parts of the cave system that are available for very reasonable prices. Once again for us - the cost - $0. Monte has a Golden Age Passport that cost us $10 about 10 years ago and needless to say - we have gotten our $10 worth many many times over.

Shelley "getting her Okie on" in the gift shop
In conclusion - go - just go.