Road Trip IX, Days 11-16, Tucson to Central Texas: Why Have I Never Heard Of This Park Before?

Disclaimer: some of the pictures from this stretch of our trip come from parks that are very well known indeed. Like Saguaro National Park, whose two sections frame Tucson. We love Saguaro, but we have fallen into a rut the last few times through, opting to ride our bikes around the wonderful 8-mile loop of the eastern chunk of park. This time, we went west.

Now THIS is winter desert. Right?

But that glorious sunshine didn’t greet us till the second day. What did? THIS. 

Really, Tucson? Really?!

There’s a reason I have no pictures of Tucson’s sweet downtown, as we were too busy avoiding frozen puddles and hunkering down in coffee shops to sightsee.

But when it came to snowy cactus, my camera couldn’t get enough.

Ocotillo…which ought to be blooming this time of year!

I really need to stop clicking and start hiking.

Okay, okay…one more!

Also on the west side is the Desert Museum, one of the best put-together set of exhibits we’ve ever come across to interpret the desert environment.

Really cool sculpture there, tracing the evolution of animal life from protozoan on up.

It happens to include a zoo, made up of animals rescued from injury or abandonment.

Like Cruz the puma, who gave us the death-stare from three feet away (behind glass).

The greater Tucson area also includes a good network of bike paths, but the section we rode was more about exercise and visiting with an old friend, so no photos there either. Ditto on the tacos.

After three days of civil, though, we were eager to revisit one our favorite and least-known parks: Chiricahua National Monument.

Hoodoos in my happy place!

We’re pretty sure the only people who know about this park in Arizona’s extreme southeast corner are friends of ours we’ve raved to, or birders. Birders know the Chiricahuas, because they rear up to 10,000 feet, create their own riparian system in the desert, and act like an oasis for bird species you’d otherwise have to go to Mexico to spot.

The Mate and I aren’t birders, or we wouldn’t have been there in February. We’re hikers. And once again, having arrived just after a snowstorm, I couldn’t stop taking pictures of big rocks in snow.

Enough of these to make giant mushroom soup.

Different flavor of mushroom?

The Mate above Echo Canyon

Me in The Grotto

Or just big rocks.

Can’t…stop…taking…pics!!

Camping was cold: 28 degrees.

With faithful Red Rover in the background

We’ve slept through colder, though, and it was so worth it to be there at sunset…

G’night…

…and under starlight, and sunrise (even though my fingers were too chilled for photos by then).

Next stop: Las Cruces, NM, a town we’ve driven past multiple times. This time we met a friend there and, unusually for us, stayed in an artsy inn.

VERY artsy.

We also hiked, twice, in a section of another park we’ve never bothered to notice: Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument.

Heading for Dripping Springs…which were actually dripping.

I kept thinking, “This is just as cool as the Pinnacles! Where has this park been all my life?” No condors, true, but…

This! (and the ruins of an old TB sanatorium. This place would heal me!)

There was also a cave, which came with intriguing stories from the 1700s about a murdered priest/hermit.

No disrespect, Father What-was-your-name.

Made of volcanic tuff…ancient, petrified ash.

Before heading out across the dismally flat and featureless West Texas plain, we hit one more park. Guadalupe Mountains National Park was first introduced to us via the mystery writer Nevada Barr, whose park ranger protagonist, Anna Pigeon, worked there in Barr’s first book. While hiking solo, I kept that book cover in mind: it featured a puma print. (Puma attacks have been in the news lately…)

But pretty soon the scenery seized hold of my attention.

Hey, wow–a madrona tree! Like a hello wave from the Pacific Northwest!

The Guadalupes are part of the same range as the hollowed-out mountain which we know as Carlsbad Caverns. They are an ancient reef of limestone, uplifted 6-8,000 feet and eroded from within by water.

You can see how much this stuff wants to be hollowed out.

I saw plenty of evidence of that geology on my speed-hike (racing sunset).

On the right: pure, smooth limestone–probably full of fossils. On the left, an aggregate of loose rock glued back together somehow. Oh, why aren’t I a geologist???

The real “prize” of that hike was this formation, Devil’s Hall:

Ever notice how the Devil gets all the cool stuff named after him?

But the whole hike was cool. We’ll definitely be back to the Guadalupes, hopefully to camp!

After spending the night in the town of Carlsbad, we put on our big-kid panties and headed out across West Texas.

Sighhhh.

Now THIS scenery we can all be forgiven for not knowing about.

While we’re on the topic, though, I’ll ask my annual Road Trip Question: does anyone have any special, little-known beauty spots of their own to tell about?

Road Trip VII, Days 1-4: Los Angeles to Palo Duro Canyon, Texas

Wait–Day 1 is Los Angeles? Gretchen, did you move?

No, I cheated. Starting from my home in Washington State, I flew down to San Diego for a first-ever reunion with my sisters, while the Mate followed, at the wheel of our faithful Red Rover. We met in LA and started Road Trip VII from there.

beautiful anemone in tidepool at Point Loma in San Diego

beautiful anemone in tidepool at Point Loma in San Diego

The theme of the trip so far? It’s the raison d’etre of our road trips: the joy of moving through beauty.

Our favorite way is to feel the air on our skin. So Day 1, we hiked in the steep canyons of Hollywood, startlingly green from all that recent rain, ignoring the Oscars-related bustle going on just below.

Ah, air. Even LA air. If it’s sunny in February, my skin’s not picky about pollution.

Day 2, we rode our bikes through the cactus gardens of Saguaro National Park in Tucson, marveling at the variety of the plant forms.

Make your own caption for this one

Make your own caption for this one

Can we not find a better word than “desert” to describe such arid Edens? 

dsc02176img_2210But sometimes the air-on-skin model is too rough for our tender epidermes. Day 3, approaching Albuquerque from the south, we were looking forward to biking through the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, glorying in the thousands of sandhill cranes and snow geese and other migratory fowl who vacation there. But the wind had other ideas–or rather, the wind-blown dust did.

Scenery? What scenery?

Scenery? What scenery?

With poor little Red Rover getting sandblasted along I-25, we decided we wouldn’t fare too well. Boo. Sadness.

When tumbleweed meets bike. Seriously, the size of some of those things!

When tumbleweed meets bike. Seriously, the size of some of those things!

So we pushed on to Albuquerque, where, thanks to our buddy Beth, I was able to take two long power-walks through the wonderful neighborhoods of Northwest (backyard chickens, horses, goats–even an emu!) as the wind gradually relaxed to less-than-lethal levels.

Plus Beth took us to this REALLY COOL restaurant! This is the ceiling.

Plus Beth took us to this REALLY COOL restaurant! This is the ceiling.

Mmm…and chiles rellenos with fresh, deeply-green New Mexican chiles….whoops, sorry. Not today’s theme.

On Day 4, we finally got to experience air-on-skin, moving-through-beauty in the blessed slo-mo that is camping. In Palo Duro Canyon State Park, this red, rocky wonderland astonishing close to Amarillo–really!–we rode our bikes around in the last of the afternoon sun.

Only safe way to take a bike-selfie

Only safe way to take a bike-selfie

Then in the morning we went for a hike.

Dawn's early light from our campsite

Dawn’s early light from our campsite

This was very welcome as a warmer-upper, as the blessedly still air pushed the temp down to 20 overnight. And we weren’t allowed to use our stove because of extreme fire danger. Brrr.

C'mon, Texas sun, do your thing!

C’mon, Texas sun, do your thing!

Did I mention this place is right outside of Amarillo?!

Did I mention this place is right outside of Amarillo?!

Lest you think The Mate and I are too precipitous in our appreciation of nature’s gifts, just let me add: I could easily have written a post about the joys of being outdoors while holding still. But with a whole continent to cross, basketball games to watch and a bakery waiting for me to come back and work at…my skin and I choose to celebrate our happy reality: moving air.

Almost...warm! (Sometimes air on skin is more of a concept than a reality...)

Almost…warm! (Sometimes air on skin is more of a concept than a reality…)