In our western travels, a secondary goal to our spending time in Glenwood Canyon on the bike trail that wends its way through the canyon was to explore Carlsbad Caverns while we were in the west. For many reasons, including keeping crowds down through the pandemic, a visit to this National Park for the self-guided tour through the cavern requires reservations. Thus, our relaxed itenerary for this trip suddenly became a push to meet deadlines, dates, and specific times reserved to reach Carlsbad, New Mexico. This not only required excessive amounts of driving, It meant places we would have otherwise enjoyed stopping to explore were mostly by passed because we were pressed for time.
One place we were deeply disappointed not to have more time to enjoy was the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in San Antonio, New Mexico. We stopped one night on our way south from Colorado towards Carlsbad at a campground adjacent to the wildlife refuge. This afforded us a morning’s visit to the refuge, which offers great Easy Walks through the loop trail system. While there we managed to spot a large flock of Sandhill Cranes feeding in a field.
We also spied a coyote, and took in views of numerous hawks and song birds enjoying the access to the Rio Grande river that flows next to the refuge, as well as the canals that cut through the refuge. Despite the drought conditions, the managers of the refuge continue to manage the area for the benefit of bird and other wildlife species. We only wished we had allotted more time to spend at this wonderful area. The dirt fire roads through the refuge offer great solid footing for walks of varying lengths, with views of wildlife all along the way.
We stopped for lunch in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and while our burritos were fine as far as lunch stops go, most memorable for me were the pomegranates dangling over the wall from a neighbor’s yard next to our lunch place. I grew up with pomegranates in our back yard in south Florida, and it had been years since I’d seen them growing. A reminder of when I lived in a much warmer climate, as opposed to New England, where I now live.
Once at Carlsbad, we got in line, entered the cavern, and spent nearly three hours on our self-guided tour through the cavern. I was grateful for the paved walking surfaces, and even more grateful for the stainless steel handrails that were nearly uninterrupted throughout the walkway loop.
While not a wild cave anymore, having been mined for bat guano and otherwise altered substantially to make visiting easier, the cavern is still incredibly impressive, huge, with lots of nooks and crannies to explore.
Outside the cavern we found a small desert arboretum, with crushed stone walkways that led to a small overhang and pond, a place wildlife are drawn to in this desert area. Being desert, most of the plants were cactus of numerous varieties, but we also found oaks and lechuguillas along with various other plants that have adapted to the extremely dry conditions. We just missed the big horned sheep that had come down from the surrounding hillsides to get a drink at dusk.
After visiting the arboretum, we returned to the Carlsbad Cavern cave entrance to witness the bat flight, and amazing event that occurs from May to October each evening. Millions of Brazilian free-tailed bats swarm out of the cave each night in the growing darkness, a whirling tornado of creatures that lasts over an hour that is difficult to take in–truly awe-inspiring. We were asked not to take photos, but photos are available online.
As we headed north toward Colorado Springs, our next destination, we drove through Roswell, New Mexico. While we did not stop for any aliens, we spotted plenty of green creatures and even a space ship or two along the roadside, at gas stations, and perched next to various businesses along the way. We passed up the chance to visit the UFO museum. I got the feeling that residents must have a good sense of humor to embrace this aspect of their town.
We did, however, stop at a roadside stand to purchase some pistachios. For many reasons, we also declined the opportunity to visit Pistachioland despite the numerous enticing billboards extolling it’s virtues along the way.
We spotted interesting wildlife along our way back north toward Colorado, including a coyote hunting along the median between north and south traffic on the interstate, and pronghorn antelope grazing alongside cows in their pastures next to the road.
Our last stop in New mexico was an overnight stay at a state campground. We had to call each place we stayed, since many had already closed for the season by October. Lake Alice Campground, in Sugarite State Park, just south of the Colorado border, had a campground right next to a dammed stream (presumably this was Lake Alice, unless it was the other lake farther upstream also within the state park).
We took the time after breakfast to enjoy an Easy Walk along the lake within easy walking distance of where we had parked our camper. We got some lovely water views, and spotted some bear scat as well. No other sign of bears. We took great care driving into the camp ground the night before, since the campground was filled with brousing deer. We also spotted several Stellar’s Jays searching along the pathways of the campground, hoping to find leftover tidbits from previous campers.
One more stop in the same campground was at the northern most lake, another dammed stream. Here we saw grebes and a hunting osprey. A dirt track headed north, but rather than risk finding ourselves and our camper stuck, we returned to the highway and headed north through the Raton Pass, back into Colorado, towards Colorado Springs. We never quite made it there, however, since we found so much to explore in Canon City, Colorado, including a wonderful rail trail right through town and beyond. Happy trails!
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a personal historian who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, More Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, and editor of Easy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed. The newest book is Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are.
She has been a freelance writer for numerous local, regional, and national publications for the past 20+ years, has helped numerous families to save their stories, and has recorded multiple veterans oral histories, now housed at the Library of Congress.