A Travellerspoint blog

9. On to Mesa Verde

Monday 15 August
Camp was all packed up by 7.30 this morning and all back in the delightful van, we've got about a five hour journey up to Mesa Verde today, it does feel very much that all we do is set up camp, sleep, pack up camp and sit on the darned bus. As we were driving out of Santa Fe we saw a couple of prairie dogs just sitting at the side of the road, they look a bit like meerkats but smaller, fatter and cuter. After about an hour we call off at a Walmart - I've been asked to be designated booze buyer - most of the group aren't 21 so it's illegal for them to buy their own booze so cos I'm an old fogey, they've asked me nicely to do the buying. Walmart doesn't have wine or spirits (eh??) so a load of Bud and Smirnoff ice and a few bottles of Colorado blonde beer it is. I was a bit miffed that I didn't get asked for ID! :-(

The Walmart is in a small town called Pagosa Springs - oh my word, I wish we were staying over here, it's really pretty and there were signs all over advertising rafting, kayaking, skiing - the Walmart even sold kayaks for $280 -and there are all sorts of little arty, crafty shops - this is so my sort of place. It's written down as one of then places I will definitely be visiting on my next road trip across America.

We crossed the border from New Mexico into Colorado and the scenery changed very quickly from being very flat to the Colorado mountains rising up in front of us. It's very colourful, the mountains are shades of yellow, grey and white and in the distance look blue. The flat land also is very green, it's beautiful.

We get to our camp and set up at about 3pm, this campsite is gorgeous, it's not a posh one, it's quite rustic but sits just outside Mesa Verde national park so there are amazing views of the mountains. Our little pitch has it's own little fire pit and the campsite had got a cute little patio area to sit on and admire the views, a swimming pool,a hot tub and a mini golf putting green. The planned activity for this afternoon is to go into the national park and see some of the cliff dwellings that Mesa Verde is famous for (as well as being a beautiful national park just for the scenery). The others apart from me and Lisanne decide they want to stay on the campsite and hang about by the pool but they daren't ask Kelsey so I ask for them and she is fine with just us three going. The visitor centre and ticket office is just across the road from the campsite but it turns out that Balcony house, where we're headed to is a further 40 minutes drive up into the mountains.

The cliff dwellings date back to 1150-1300ad and were built by puebloians - the ancient native people. The homes were built high up in naturally formed gaps in the cliffs, the puebloians either got to their homes by climbing up sand down the rocks - rock climbing style or by using home made wooden ladders - either way not particularly easy. Our guide Jim was very interesting- you could tell he absolutely loved his job and everything about the Mesa Verde and the cliff dwellings. There are no exact reasons as to why these people chose to live up here, other then it was good shelter, safe and near fairly fertile land for them to grow their crops on. Unusually the homes aren't near a river, their source of water was springs that seeped through the rocks - this means it was well filtered but in dry spells there wasn't much of it. This is one of the reasons they think the cliff dwellings were abandoned around 1300, there was quite possibly a drought so the people had to pack and move to a place with a better source of water - this is only an assumption though, no one knows for definite why they left as they left their store rooms full of corn. They know the timings of when they moved in here and left by carbon dating the wood which they used in the structures in their homes.

We'd been told it was about an hours hike but it wasn't really, it took an hour but I'd guess that we only walked about 200 yards to get to, from and round the cliff dwellings. To get to the dwellings we had to climb up a 30 foot wooden ladder which was pretty cool, the non cool bit was having to crawl through a little tunnel on hands and knees - I didn't like that bit but it was worth it to get to the house bit - one of the balconies was enclosed but the other wasn't and just opened up to a drop of about 200 feet below. They assume that the room where the balcony was was used as a school and the wall was to stop little Childers falling over the edge. It is really mind-blowing how they built these houses and how they lived in them all those years ago.

While we were on the guided tour I spotted a bit of wildlife, a little yellow and black snake, a couple of rock squirrels, some chipmunks, a hummingbird and on the way back down to our campsite a mummy deer with her baby who ran out in front if our van - along with the prairie dogs that's a pretty decent animal quota for one day.

Back at the campsite, the others had enjoyed their afternoon in the pool and had dinner almost prepared - fajitas, mine was with some Santa Fe black bean burgers I'd bought earlier in the week and was another tasty tea washed down with the Colorado beer. It wasn't much later that I headed to my tent.

Steps: 9,980 / 4 mile

Posted by cazbatt 23:54 Archived in USA Comments (0)

8. The caverns again and a whistle stop tour of Santa Fe

Sunday 14 August

6am wake up this morning, although it had been a crappy night sleep so I was only half asleep anyway. I had my own "everything" bagel (everything means alsorts of seeds on top and is very tasty) for breakfast with peanut butter with coffee - although camp coffee still isn't very good. Camp was all packed away by 7.30, ten minutes earlier than scheduled and off we went back to Carlsbad caverns, this time we were off down into the actual caverns, we were there early so had a look round the gift shop - I have never seen as much tat in my life and wondered who bought this rubbish - although I did buy myself a finger puppet bat and fridge magnet and then a goodish cup of coffee from the cafe.

The circular walk through the caverns was about a four mile hike down to a depth of about 260 metres underground. Now I'm not a fan of small dark places but I was assured the caverns were pretty huge so I guessed i would be alright. We went down through the cavern mouth that we'd seen the bats come out of last night, they were nowhere to be seen though as they will have been fast asleep at the back of a cavern they imaginatively call the bat cave. There were just a few swallows flying around, apparently they are the day shift!! The hike into the caverns was pretty steep downhill on a switchback trail - a zig zag path down so it's slightly less steep than if it was just a straight down path - it did go through my mind a couple of times that I'd be climbing back up this very steep path an hour or so later.

The others all went shooting off but I took my time admiring the views and the amazing stalactites, stalagmites, draperies and columns (all technical terms for the fancy structures that the dripping water has left behind over hundreds of thousands of years.) There was just one bit which was a bit of a small, narrow corridor of rock which felt a bit enclosed and it was at that bit where I started wondering how I'd cope if the lights went off and if there was a rock fall and I got stuck underground on my own (The answer to that is that I would cope very badly!!) thankfully, there were amazing sights just round the corner so they took my mind off the bad thoughts. About 45 minutes down there is the option to either take a short cut and work you way back up or go further down into "The Big Room" which apparently is the size of 14 football pitches - the signs said it would take about 45 minutes. Kelsey was waiting at the junction and I think she knew I'd want to do the full thing (bet she thinks I'm a bit of a pain in the bum - ahh well it's my holiday and it's not my fault I'm the old fogey of the group and take an interest in what we're seeing). I worked out that I had 45 minutes to do the Big Room walk and then an hour to get back up the steep path back to the entrance. I made the big room circle in half an hour and that included stopping for lots of photos - there were rock formations that looked like a whales mouth, giant people, a Chinese theatre, fairly land....... it was just amazing. The hike back up to the entrance wasn't actually as bad as I thought it'd be, although it did call for a few stops to catch my breath. At one point I had a bit of a panic, the plan was that we were setting off to leave at 11.30, I thought I was still way down below ground, looked at my watch and it was 11.45 already - eek, they'd be cursing me!! Then I remembered that we were in New Mexico and had changed time zones but I'd forgotten to change my watch - phew, it was only 10.45 so I still had plenty of time. I made it out and met up with the others at 11.00 so plenty of time to spare.

We were having an early lunch before we set off on another long bus drive to Santa Fe. My lunch was veggie turkey and cheese sarnie and crisps. And onto the bus we hopped for another five hour journey. The landscape changed quite a bit, from yellowy brown rocky desertscape which looked like it was the bottom of an ancient long gone ocean to desert which had a lot more greenery like cactus and long grassss scattered all over. On the journey I snacked on jalapeño Pringles and vegan calamari - I've never had real calamari so I've no idea if this taste like the real thing but it was pretty good.

We got to Santa Fe after a couple of stop offs, it was a beautiful little city and is apparently the oldest continuos capital city in the USA and has the oldest house and oldest church in the country. All the buildings are adobe style - all square but with rounded edges and a bit squat, they look like they've been made out of plasticine, there is also a law that the buildings can only be painted in one of several shades of brown!! We were told we'd got an hour and half to explore..... Whaaaat!?!?! That was no time at all, it didn't help that we were there at 5.00 on a Sunday, other than a few shops and bars, all the museums etc were shut and there was a service going on in the cathedral so I couldn't go in there either. I wandered round the square and into a couple of the open shops then spotted that there was an upstairs bar overlooking the square, that looked as good a place as any to watch the world go by so I tootled up there and ordered a prickly pear margarita. I only had half an hour left and service wasn't exactly quick. As I was waiting for my drink a bloke came and asked if he could join me - there was a spare seat so I said why not but explained I'd be downing my drink when it arrived and leaving in ten minutes, when he asked why I told him about my trip and that we were only in town for such a short time - I don't know if he believed me but he got all the details of my travels (including some of last years travels too -ha ha!),I drank my prickly pear margarita (which was bright pink and delicious) and said goodbye, as I went a couple of guys on the next table wished me well with my trip - it turned out they'd been listening to me spouting on too - ha ha! I scooted off to catch up with the rest a few minutes late but no one seemed to mind. Santa Fe is definitely on my to visit again list.

The campsite was about ten mins drive out of the city and proudly has signs outside saying it's on Route 66! It's a bit of a rustic campsite but very nice, there are a few loo options - the main loos in the main building, a couple of portoloos or an Eco toilet - one which is a drop hole and all the "waste" is composted!! I said it was rustic!

The tents flew up and b team were cooking dinner tonight. Our chores were to clean and tidy the bus - probably the easiest chore. Dinner was kebabs and rice and they'd got me some veggie beefless strips for mine - I was well chuffed and it was very tasty.

A few of the group are a bit tetchy tonight and bickering between themselves, I couldn't be bothered listening for long so made everyone a cuppa and retired to the tent. It's a bit chilly tonight - compared to what we've had the last few days and I finally get to use my new sleeping bag!

Steps: 20,218 / 8.2 miles

Posted by cazbatt 23:51 Archived in USA Comments (0)

7. Carlsbad Caverns and the Bats

Saturday 13th

Ooh I had a lovely sleep last night, well apart from waking up with achey elbows but I get achey elbows in my own bed so that's nowt new. This mornings wake up call was an owl I think, I didn't actually see it but it sounded owl like. It's still dark at 5.30 and I think my rucksack might have exploded in the night, my stuff is all over....... or more like I'm an untidy bugger sometimes!! Poor Lisanne my tent mate. I try to repacked my stuff but it's a bit hard in the dark, I need to have a good sort out already at the next campsite. Breakfast is another half toasted bagel and claggy cream cheese - pretty grim.

We're packed and off by 7. First stop is a supermarket for more food provisions. This one isn't a crappy Walmart but a super dooper one with an amazing fresh and deli section. It has a whole cabinet of veggie stuff - hooray, I don't just have to have meatless versions of what the others are having now! I also buy some goodies for me. Jalapeño Cheetos, olives, some vegan calimari (no idea what they'll be like but it's there so I'm going to try it) and some rambutans which are similar to lychees - mmmmmm a little feast!!

Back on the minibus for our long journey ahead! It's not a very interesting ride, away from San Antonio the landscape gets very barren and flat with oil fields scattered all over, some pretty big and some tiny little oil pumps in spaces the size of my back garden (not big!!) We stopped off for lunch at a park / playground which seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, there were "restrooms" which were pretty nice for free public ones - not a scratch of graffiti, plenty of loo roll and very clean - you wouldn't get that back home!! My lunch was cheese and veggie turkey style slices sandwich and some crisps. The veggie turkey stuff was interesting, certainly not as good as quorn but quite nice. We pass through Roswell, the alien place, we didn't stop and there wasn't anything to see anyway, just lots if barren landscape.

Onwards we go to the campsite, which isn't as impressive as yesterday's. And the place we're told to pitch our tents is next to the road, it isn't as if it's next to he M1 but the main vehicles going passed are great big noisy oils tankers. The tents are up pretty quickly then it's time for our group to prepare tea, we'd decided on spaghetti bolognese, I cook a veggie version quite regularly at home but neither me or Lisanne or Clare are used to cooking for eleven! It looked liked we'd chopped enough veg for two dozen but when that had cooked down a bit in the sauce we'd made just enough, well there was just a bit of leftover of the meat eater bolognese - better that than not enough. My veggie version was the same as the others but with chopped up veggie sausages in rather than meat and was pretty tasty even though I say so myself, some of the others even gave the veggie one a try and liked it.

After dinner we had a trip planned which I was really looking forward to. We're off on our first of two trips to Carlsbad Caverns, tonight's trip is to see the evening flight of the few hundred thousand bats who live there through the summer. Bats have used this cavern for their summer roost for hundreds of years (perhaps even thousands) and come back every year, mainly lots of mother bats with their babies. The adult bats head out at dusk every night me come back at dawn after eating between 50% and 100% of their body weight in bugs. In honour of being Batty by name I wore my batman tshirt!! When we got there we were told we weren't allowed to have any electronic items switched on - no cameras or phones - boo! But apparently they affect the bats Eco- sonar senses so that's understandable. While dusk was falling we had a really interesting talk by ranger Brian. As I looked round I saw that it wasn't the only person wearing a batman tshirt..... the other person was a little boy aged about five!!! I did see a lady with bat wings tattoos on the shoulders tho which looked pretty cool so I wasn't the battiness person there.

When the bats started emerging from the mouth of the cave it was quite a sight, they come out and fly in circles up into the open, they do the circle thing to help them pick up speed and get height. They probably came out about 100 - 150 at a time, it's amazing how the manage not to crash into each other. Apparently, they stay out til dawn and probably stop for a rest once or twice throughout the night. When they come back the mums find their babies - they do this by remembering where they left them, through listening for their babies calls and lastly via smell - amazing considering the babies are in pitch black caves and there are thousands of them down there.

The others in our group left before it had gone completely dark because they were bored and couldn't keep quiet like they'd been asked to and like all the proper children in the audience were managing. Kelsey said I could stop a bit longer so I did, it was a fabulous natural wonder so I wanted to see as much of it as I could! When it was completely dark I went back to the bus and we headed back to camp.

It was about 9 when we got back so time for a quick shower (the showers here weren't bad but not a smidgen as nice as the posh ones on yesterday's camp. Then headed to bed, tonight was much cooler than it has been and blowing a bit of a gale which gave the tents a good battering, that and the noise from the road didn't help with a good nights sleep but it was the first bad nights sleep so far so I can't complain too much.

Steps: 8690 / 2.4miles

Posted by cazbatt 23:47 Archived in USA Comments (0)

6. Tubing and on tho San Antonio


Friday 12th August

Apparently we had a bit if a lay in this morning because we didn't have to leave the campsite til 9.30. The camp alarm clock was a massive turkey which was strutting it's stuff from about 8am. The campsite is pretty decent, there are mainly RVs (recreational vehicles) on it - ranging from motorhomes as we know them to great big things that are about the size of my culdesac at home!! The bathrooms were ok, nothing special but not too shabby either. There were loads of bugs and frogs including a tiny green one which watched me get washed then did the most almighty leap and hopped off and scared the life out of Lisanne.

Breakfast was a half cooked bagel with peanut butter on it, the camp coffee is rank.

I'd got a bit excited because Kelsey said we could go rafting if we wanted to - woop woop, it'd make up for my lack of kayaking the other day. Well,the rafting wasn't exactly rafting, it was tubing - floating down a gentle river on a giant rubber ring, it wasn't as adrenaline filled as I'd have liked but it was a nice relaxing way to spend a few hours on the Comal river. I've got a lovely red patch on my knee and shin where I missed with my suntan spray - ha ha, I'm rubbish with suntan stuff! We had lunch afterwards which was cheese sandwich again - the sweet bread and the most tasteless cheese ever so I perked it up a bit by adding some BBQ flavour crisps.

Then we were off to our next campsite which was only about half an hour from the river. This campsite is the Buckingham palace of campsites - it's huge, has a pool and the showers and loos are amazing - they even have air conditioning in the loos which is needed cos today is stifling. There are the gigantic motor homes on the site but then I spotted another little station wagon thing that someone was sleeping in and they'd got a little air conditioning unit propped up and sellotaped to the cab window - ha ha, I like their improvisation!. Our tents are pretty easy to put up, they're up and we're in them in ten minutes. It is absolutely roasting - 44 degrees Celsius and humid so we're wet through, we took refuge in the posh bathroom for ten mins just to cool down - not the most glamorous hangout but when it's this hot needs must!

This afternoon we're heading into San Antonio for a few hours to see the site of the battle of the Alamo. It wasn't getting any cooler and Claire asked if we could go for a milkshake so her, Lisanne and me did just that, finding a typical American diner and having a deluxe milkshake - complete with ice cream in it - it cost about a fiver but was well worth it!

Afterwards we went for a walk on the riverside walk which was really pretty and had boats sailing up and down on it with cafés and bars up and down it, it looked more like Venice than what I imagined Texas to look like. We then went back to the site of the Alamo for a look round there. They're immensely proud of the site and that around 190 volunteers put up such a fight to protect the city from being taken over by Mexican troops back in 1836.

We headed back to the campsite with the aim of having dinner before it got dark. I nipped for a shower while group b were cooking - those shower rooms were nicer than my bathroom at home - definitely the poshest campsite bathrooms I've ever seen! Dinner was chilli - non carne for me, rice and nachos. it felt way too hot to be having chilli but it was very good. Our team were on washing up duties which was interesting trying to do it in the dark but I think we managed it alright. The mozzies seem to be immune to my bug spray, it didn't deter them from snacking on me! I hope they're really disappointed by my vegetarian blood - ha ha!!

After we'd washed and put stuff away I headed to my tent, my sleeping bag isn't going to get used today either, it's going to stay rolled up as a pillow!! It's another early start tomorrow, we're leaving the campsite by 7am!

Steps: 12,970 / 4.9miles

Posted by cazbatt 23:45 Archived in USA Comments (0)

5. Van appreciation day plus the Tabasco factory

Thursday 11th

We've got an early start today, we're travelling from New Orleans to our first campsite near Houston, Texas - on the itinerary that Kelsey (our group leader) gave us it's pleasantly called van appreciation day!!! We're travelling 420 miles. The minibus is quite a nice one, it's meant for 14 plus driver but there are only ten of us plus driver so there's plenty of room.

The rest of my travelling buddies - well I'm older than them all by a million years (several of them can't legally drink in the states!!) and a mix of Americans, Brits, a couple from New Zealand and Lisanne from Holland. Considering how young they all are they sleep a lot - unless it's just the habit they've got into while they're on the bus.

We're supposed to be on the bus for about seven hours today but it turned out to be much longer although we did have a few stop offs. The first stop off was the supermarket for food provisions for the next couple of days, we're split into teams and take turns to make dinner. We're team A and will be cooking dinner tomorrow night, I suggest to Lisanne and Claire that we do a spaghetti bolognese and they're alright with that. Once we've got that out of the way we get provisions for the bus - I love America cos they do jalapeño Cheetos and jalapeño Pringles and peanut butter m&ms. That'll keep me going for a while oh and a few apples to add a bit of healthiness to it!!

I was pretty excited about the next stop - Avery island and the Tabasco sauce factory - I have tabasco sauce several times a week and love it so thought the place would be interesting and it was. It was created by an ex city banker who's business went down the tubes after the civil war so in 1868 he decided to go back to to where his family was and create something to make food of the time less boring and created Tabasco sauce. It's still a family run business today, they still make it in site and export it to over 120 countries worldwide. There was a cute little museum, you get to see some of the peppers growing in greenhouses, the store where barrels holding the mashed peppers are stored for three years, a viewing gallery over the bottling plant and a fab little shop at the end which let you try lots of the products they make - including jalapeño ice cream which is surprisingly tasty. Between walking from the museum to the greenhouse the heavens opened - there's no such things as gentle showers over here just complete downpours - we all looked like we'd had buckets of water chucked over us,,we were wet through, but at least it's red hot so dry off pretty quick too - ha ha! We had lunch before we got on the bus again which was self made sarnies - mine was spicy cheese on some whole wheat bread - the bread is a bit sweet so not a proper sarnie.

We left here about two and spent the rest of the day on the road, the roads are just long boring highways, we did get stuck for a couple of hours in bad traffic caused by an accident just outside Houston. I gazed longingly as we went past Houston, it's a place i'd like to visit one day. I'm already planning another road trip here, but one where I'm doing the driving and the navigating and stopping where I want. We finally got to our campsite just as it was getting dark - 14 hours after leaving New Orleans - so we chucked up the tents and rather than start cooking in the dark, Kelsey phoned Pizza Hut and we had pizza instead. Quite a few of the others have been working at Summer camps before his trip so the rest of the night was spent hearing funny stories about the goings on there. I went to bed about midnight and it was still stifling, my new super dooper tiny to pack but warm sleeping bag didn't get used but I was glad I bought my blow up mattress just to help my old aching bones. I had a really good nights sleep waking up just once cos I was so hot.

Fake Steps: 12,061 - I say fake because this is mainly to do with the bouncyness off the bus!!

Posted by cazbatt 08:25 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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