Tag Archives: New Mexico

Civilized Spelunking in Carlsbad Caverns

I’ve been in many caves before, but none quite as grand or civilized as Carlsbad Caverns.  There was no desperate clinging to dusty ledges above a river plunging into a dark abyss, no riding an inner tube with only a stick to protect me from the rapidly approaching walls that I couldn’t see despite the penlight held in my teeth, no being bitten by cave shrimp and I crawl on my belly through a subterranean river, and no bat guano squishing between my toes.  There were none of the gaudy coloured lights popular in the caves open for visitors in China, and very little of the damage that I’ve found in unprotected caves like in Vietnam.  Very civilized.

Patrick and Diane seated on a stone wall with the large, dark cave mouth behind us

At the entrance

We chose to hike into the caverns via the natural entrance rather than take the elevator.  It’s a walk of over a mile down a paved but continuously steep switch-backed trail that can be hard on the knees, but hiking down provides a much better appreciation of the caverns’ size and depth.

Diane and Beth standing on a paved path with many swtichbacked paths visible extending into the darkness below them

Diane and our friend Beth at the start of the many switchbacks

The first non-native person known to have explored the caverns is Jim White, a local cowboy.  In 1901 he saw a dark moving column in the sky, investigated, and found a giant stream of bats issuing from the cave mouth.  An estimated 800,000 bats of 17 species live in the caverns, the majority being Mexican Free-Tailed bats.  Evening programs are held at the cave entrance to watch the departure of the bats between Memorial Day (end of May) and mid-October.

Many bats against the sunset

Carlsbad Caverns, located in the Guadalupe Mountains in southeastern New Mexico, is protected as a National Park.  Despite its remote location, it receives 500,000 visitors annually.

The caves were formed when a large, underground limestone deposit, once the floor of an ancient sea bed, was dissolved when hydrogen sulfide (H2S, a colourless gas with the foul odour of rotten eggs) from deeper petroleum reserves mixed with oxygen (02, from water) to form sulfuric acid (H2SO4) The entrance to the caverns was caused by natural erosion from the surface afterwards, within the last million years.

The self-guided tour goes through several large chambers displaying lots of different and hard-to-photograph speleothems (the structures found in caves caused by the deposit of water-borne minerals) like stalactites, stalagmites, columns, soda straws, draperies, helectites, and popcorn.

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The biggest room in the caverns, uninspiringly called ‘The Big Room’ but also known as ‘The Hall of the Giants’, is almost 4,000 feet (1,220 m) long, 625 feet (191 m) wide, and 255 feet (78 m) high at the highest point. It has a floor area of 357,469 square feet (33,210 m2) and is the third largest cave chamber in North America and the seventh largest in the world.

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The caves are cool but comfortable.  The self-guided tour travels a paved path, most of which is wheelchair accessible.  If you’re seeking a civilized spelunking expedition, Carlsbad Caverns is a great place to visit.

Posing Underground

Posing Underground

The Roswell Incident

In the first week of July 1947, a spacecraft containing extraterrestrial life crashed on a ranch northwest of Roswell, New Mexico. Many people believe this.  Known as the Roswell Incident, it has been the subject of controversy and conspiracy theories since the 1970’s.  What is not in doubt, is that something did happen in Roswell.

There is evidence that something unusual happened here many years ago, but exactly what remains unclear.  On July 8, 1947 the Army issued a press release stating that military personnel had recovered a ‘flying disk’ that crashed near Roswell.

Rowsell Daily Review newspaper front page saying "RAAF Captures Flying Saucer on Ranch in Roswell'

Front page news

Later that day, an Army press conference was held and the debris shown was instead said to have come from an experimental weather balloon.

Front page of Roswell Daily Record with headline "General Ramsey Empties Rosweel Saucer'

Change of Tune

Of course, this wouldn’t be the first time the U.S. military has covered something up.

Aircraft Identification Chart showing that all planes are spacecraft are weather balloons, nad a weather baloon is swamp gas

Aircraft Identification Chart

In the 1970’s interest in this incident was rekindled, and further investigations and interviews were conducted by UFO investigators and the U.S. Air Force.  The Air Force reports concluded that the debris was likely from a top-secret project utilizing balloons to monitor Soviet nuclear tests, and that reports of recovered alien bodies were likely innocently transformed memories or hoaxes.  Many UFO proponents dismiss these findings, and offer their own evidence to the contrary.

Perhaps something did happen in Roswell.  Even today, aliens occupy the town.

Patrick standing beside large green wood carving of an alientholding a cell phone

E.T Phone Home — we both share the same physique

The townspeople don’t seem to mind their presence at all, in fact, I think it might be good for tourism in this remote New Mexico town of about 50,000 people.

Little green man driving a old wagon

Our taxi driver

White coloured male and femaile aliends made of paper in a window dressed as newlyweds

Newlyweds

There is even evidence of alien technology, though it didn’t appear to be in operation on the day we visited.

Diane croching beneath a silver model of a flying disk with little blue alien figures beside

Diane and flying disc

Today, Roswell is home to the International Roswell UFO Museum and Research Center.

I had the distinct pleasure of being escorted through the museum by my new friend Bob, an intelligent and thoughtful guy with a technical and military background who is also a UFO believer.  Bob, who spent a week in the museum’s research library before he came to his conclusions, was keen to show me around and answer my questions.

Rows of boxes containing UFO research materials around a reading table

UFO Research Library

I was thrilled to be visiting the museum with a believer, and a knowledgeable one to boot.  Diane wasn’t quite so excited, and was probably thinking about the nearest Starbucks.

Diane standing in front of flying disc and aliens

Is it over yet?

The museum provides the full chronology of the Roswell incident, laying out all the evidence in favour of a real alien encounter and a military cover-up.  In the short time I spent there, I wasn’t convinced that this was an alien encounter, but whatever happened, the military handled it poorly.

The museum also provides plenty of exhibits to encourage you to encourage you to think beyond the hard evidence.

Aliend body suspended in a glass case

Is it real?

I really enjoyed my visit to Roswell.  If you are a UFO believer or just UFO-curious, a lover of kitsch, or a student of America like me, this museum is not to be missed.

What do you think happened in Roswell?  Did they really recover an alien spacecraft?

Another Crash

I drove the S&M Motel through the narrow, often challenging streets of Europe for 9 months without a single traffic incident, so perhaps I was overdue.  In Alamogordo, New Mexico,  after spending the morning at the New Mexico Museum of Space History, it was my time.

Here is the statement I gave to the insurance company. Items [in square brackets] are comments that I added later.

I was driving our motorhome in the right hand lane.  I approached the intersection with my right turn signal on, and came to a complete stop at the stop sign.  There were three traffic lanes in my direction of travel, two lanes that went straight through and to the left of them, one left hand turn lane.  I was in the rightmost of these three lanes.  To the right of my vehicle was only a paved shoulder.   There were no other traffic lanes to my right.

A view down the street showing a car approaching in the rightmost lane and the paved shoulder beside the curb

A car approaching the intersection in the right lane beside the paved shoulder

When safe to do so, I proceeded to turn right and heard a noise to the rear of my vehicle.  I looked back in my right side mirror and saw a red car behind me.

A car turning right at an intersection

A car turning right where I did

I parked my motorhome as soon as it was safe to do so and the red car [a Volkswagen Jetta] stopped behind me.  There was damage to the right side of my motorhome towards the rear.  The single occupant of the red car [a young male] and I exchanged driving license and insurance information.  He said to me, “I thought you were going straight”.

A red Volkswagen Jetta with  with body damage to the front left corner and the legs of the other driver

The other guy and his damaged car

Two police officers soon arrived, after which I did not speak to the other driver.  The police officer asked me what had happened and I explained.  He told me that there had been two other witnesses to the accident, the occupants of an ambulance that had been traveling in the same direction as I had been, and that was behind both my vehicle and the red car at the time of the accident.

The front left corner of the red car with damage and a police car in the background

Damage to the red car with the police in attendance

He told me they said that the red car was being driven aggressively [actually he told me that the red car had cut them off], and that the red car had tried to drive [squeeze] through on the paved shoulder to the right of my vehicle, between my motorhome and the curb.   This is consistent with what the driver of the red car said to me. He thought that I was going straight (despite the fact my right turn signal was on), and tried to drive up the paved shoulder to pass me on the right and make his own right turn.  The police officer told me that the witnesses confirmed that my right turn signal was on.  The police officer told me that the other driver was at fault and that he had given the other driver a citation. [The police officer also told me that the other driver had signed the citation, which means that unless he fought it in court, he would be found guilty]

Yes, I know that the last part of my statement contained a lot of hearsay, but I thought it couldn’t hurt.  The accident report will be available soon (the Alamogordo Department of Public Safety puts them up for sale on a web site – can you believe that?).  I’m hoping that it is clear and accurate.  This is important because my ICBC insurance adjuster told me that the other driver is claiming that I hit him!

As for our motorhome, there is damage down the right side from about the mid-point back.

A view along the right side of our motorhome showing damage with a fender on the ground

Damage down the right, rear side of our motorhome

Our right rear fender was torn off, the fiberglass is scraped, and the outside compartment doors, hinges, and latches are damaged.  Hopefully there are no structural issues.

Damage to the compartments on the right side of our motorhome

Damage to the compartments on the right side of our motorhome

Damage to the compartments on the right side of our motorhome

Because our motorhome is still driveable and because RV collision repairs are notorious for taking a long time, we’ve decided to wait and have the damage repaired when we get home.  In the meantime, we hope that the police report jogs the other driver’s memory about what really happened.

White Sands

White Sands is not just a missile range but an amazing National Monument with some of the most unique sand dunes you’ll ever see.

White sand dunes extending into the distance

The 275 square miles (712 sq.kms. or 176,000 acres) of dunes at White Sands National Monument are the largest gypsum dunes in the world.  They are are not made of sand (silicon dioxide, Si02) but gypsum (hydrous calcium sulphate CaSO4•2H20).  Gypsum is the main ingredient in drywall (gypsum or plaster board) which is used to finish walls and ceilings.  Unlike sand, which tends to be brownish in colour (even the so called ‘white sand beaches’ are actually light brown), gypsum sand is pure white.

The top of a white motorhome seen above the white dunes in the distance

Gypsum is rarely found in a solid form as sand because it is water soluble and would normally wash away to the sea, but White Sands National Monument is located in the Tularosa Basin, a large depression in the New Mexico desert that 250-million years ago was at the bottom of shallow sea, and today is ringed with mountains, so no water courses drain it.  Crystals of gypsum (called selenite) up to 3 feet long form in beds at Alkali Flats along the shore of Lake Lucero.  The natural elements break these crystals down into small particles that migrate with the wind to form amazing dunes of soft white sand that feel look and feel like talcum powder.

Diane sitting at the top of a dune

Diane at the top of a dune

Since gypsum is water soluble, the sand that composes the dunes can dissolve and cement together forming a hard layer similar to drywall.  The road through the monument is made of gypsum and it’s like driving on a giant sheet of drywall.

Our white motorhome parked on a flat gypsum bed with white dunes in the distance

Parked on the gypsum

A great thing to do at White Sands is dune sledding.  Bring your own disc or purchase one at the visitor’s center, then head to the largest dunes.

Diane walking away across the white sand

Diane walking in the sand

Patrick in red shirt and hats and beige shorts sliding on a plastic disk down a white sand dune

Patrick sliding

Hiking up the sand dunes is a great workout, like extreme hiking.  With every step up you slide down one-half step. The soft footing requires all sorts of supporting muscles.

Diane walking up a white sand dune with a green plastic disc

Diane hiking a dune

After a couple of hours of hiking up and sliding down, I was exhausted

Patrick spread eagle on the sand

Diane seemed fine.  She couldn’t stop smiling and laughing, like a kid playing in the snow.

Diance cross-legged on her disc

Diane on her disc

At the close of the day, we still had enough energy to go on a sunset walk led by a ranger.  It was an informative and relaxing ending to a terrific day.

Sun setting over siloetted hills in the distance with a yucca flower int he foreground