Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Roswell, Smokey The Bear, Petroglyphs and Lava, Oh Boy!

Beautiful New Mexico

From Guadalupe Mountains National Park we headed north on U.S.Route 285 bound for Roswell, New Mexico. The meteorologists continued to forecast warm dry weather. We stopped in Artesia at a car wash that was large enough to accommodate the Mary Joan. It was mid-day and we thought that we could get away without drying her with towels since the car wash had a wax mode and we thought that as soon as we got back on the highway the drops would blow off. Since she was sorely in need of a wash due to the accumulated dust that made he dull and shabby looking it made sense to us. That was a bad decision. The water was hard with lots of calcium which dried and left her covered in flaky white spots. We weren't sure which was worse the dust or the spots. We won't make that mistake again.
Big Mistake?

We stayed at Bottomless Lakes State Park that is just a 20 minute drive from downtown Roswell. The park encompasses a number of sink holes that are popular for swimming, fishing and scuba diving. They are formed by groundwater dissolving the porous limestone that underlies the area. 

Roswell, New Mexico is famous for and likes to flaunt its status as UFO capital of the world. It was here in 1947 that an extraterrestrial space ship and its passengers are supposed to have crash landed. What actually happened here is still seriously debated and studied. Many of those who believe that such a space craft did indeed crash here, also believe that the incident was covered up by a massive government conspiracy to hide the truth from the American people and the world. I'm not convinced.
Little Green People Everywhere

Visiting the International UFO Museum and Research Center (http://www.roswellufomuseum.com/) clearly was an obligatory stop while in town. The museum is on the North Main Street in an area that clearly had seen brighter days. In addition to the museum there are a number of gift shops selling alien related paraphernalia and souvenirs alongside closed up storefronts. Inside, the museum is essentially a collection of enlarged, poster sized, replications of documents, newspaper clippings and photographs from the period immediately surround the July 1947 incident plus anecdotes and speculative writings that have appeared since then. 

We also visited the Roswell Museum and Art Center (http://roswellmuseum.org/) that is several blocks further north on North Main Street. Sarah and I were delighted to find this gem. In several galleries this little museum presented a wonderfully eclectic assortment of fine art, thoughtfully arranged and documented. Most of the artists represented were from the southwest, especially New Mexico. In addition to the art, the museum has a dazzling collection of western art, sculpture and memorabilia such as Native American dress, cowboy clothing, saddles, and firearms from its benefactor Peter Hurd, Roswell native.
Only us trailer trash could appreciate this piece.
(The Last Emperor by Tim Prythero, 1968)
Cattle Kings of the Pecos ,blazing the trail of 1867
 Kim Wiggins
Hurd collected wonderful pieces of native American clothing

As if the art weren't enough, there is a large section dedicated to the father of modern rocketry, Robert Goddard. I was particularly drawn to this due to the fact that Worcester, Massachusetts is where he was born, studied and eventually taught. And, it was in neighboring Auburn that he achieved his first successful launch. Unfortunately, Auburn, Massachusetts was not a good place to be experimenting with liquid fuel rockets given their predisposition to start fires when things went wrong. So it was to Roswell, New Mexico he moved to continue his research. 
Robert Goddard's Workshop 
Robert Goddard monument

After Roswell we drove west on New Mexico Rt. 70 bound for Mesa Campground in the Gila National Forest. Our route took us through the town of Capitan and the Smokey Bear Historical Park. The real life Smokey Bear was found orphaned in the aftermath of a major forest fire that happened here in the spring of 1950. This small but informative center tells the true story of Smokey Bear in a well designed museum with lots of memorabilia. Smokey lived for 26 years in the National Zoo in Washington, DC. When he died he was brought back to Capitan where we visited his grave. A pleasant path leads through a garden that, while there were no flowers blooming while were there, must be stunning in the springtime. 
We both had a good time visiting Smokey The Bear Park
Smokey's Final Resting Place

The small gift shop next to the park doubled as a small museum

Leaving Capitan, we drove the scenic Rt 48 south through the bustling tourist town of Ruidoso then rejoined Rt 70 where we continued west then north on Rt 54 to reach Three Rivers Petroglyph Site (http://www.blm.gov/nm/st/en/prog/recreation/las_cruces/three_rivers.html). Once again, we found a little known hidden gem. Maintained and protected by the Bureau of Land Management, this little park has over 21,000 petroglyphs dating between 900 and 1400 AD. Because these petroglyphs are not as old as others we have seen, they were still relatively "fresh" and clearly distinct. The most impressive examples are easily seen by walking a one and a half mile loop trail. But, the ranger encouraged us to go off the trail, explore and discover the many others that were to be found. 
Clear well defined petroglyphs in Three Rivers Petroglyph Park
One of my favorites

With lots of sunlight left in the day we decided to push on to the Valley of Fires Recreation Area and  Campground (http://www.blm.gov/nm/st/en/prog/recreation/roswell/valley_of_fires.html). The area here is the site of one of the latest lava flows (as opposed to volcanic eruption) in North America. The lava seeped from the ground some seven miles north of the campground filling the valley with molten lava and leaving small islands of limestone poking through. We camped for the night on one of these islands and enjoyed a nice stroll the next morning on the trail through the lava flow. 
The lava flowed like cake batter for more than seven miles and 160 feet thick

Sarah is loves to be on the trail

It was interesting to observe that we were adjacent to the White Sands Missile range and only about 40 miles east of Trinity Site, where the first atomic bomb was detonated nearly 70 years ago. We would like to have visited, but tours are available only twice a year, the first Saturday in April and October. Nonetheless, it gave us pause to think about where we were and what significance this place has in world history.
Google Earth view of ground zero; Trinity Site
First Atomic Bomb detonated here

Next stop is the Gila National Forest and the Gila Cliff Dwellings. 

Stay tuned.

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