Deb and I were back on the road on the 8th of March, destination Alamogordo New Mexico so I could connect with an old friend and shipmate, Bob Conklin to participate in the Bataan Memorial Death March. Our trip to Holloman AFB was dampened by on and off showers. We arrived late in the day and registered for a week in anticipation of the March at the White Sands Missile Range.
We had a few days to explore and of course we hit the deck running.. White Sands National Park was spectacular (See Gallery). The park encompasses 145,762 acres. Surprisingly, the depth of gypsum sand across the entire field is about 30 feet and some dunes reach a height of about 60 feet. The Dunes Drive leads 8 miles into the dunes from the visitor center. When we arrived in the morning, the parking lots in the picnic areas were nearly flooded which provided a rare opportunity to get reflection shots in the rain puddles.
We packed up the Jeep and took a day trip to Roswell, NM. Initially we took US Hwy 70 east to Alamogordo, then US Hwy 54 north to Tularosa, then continued east on US Hwy 70. The journey to get there was far more exciting than the destination. We observed the snowcapped peaks of Sierra Blanca which is the highest mountain in the range at 11,981 feet and its southern New Mexico’s highest peak. The scenic drive route took us through the mountains past Mescalero and Ruidoso Downs, then across the vast open prairies to Roswell.
There have been VERY few places that Deb and I have visited since our journey began nearly 3 years ago where the “Anticipation” and “Hype” have far exceeded the real thing. Much to our surprise, Roswell was quite underwhelming. It just did not have the “wow-factor” for us. Nearly every business (old or new) had their obligatory alien included in their logo, the souvenir and tee shirt shops were reminiscent of a popular roadside attraction at a Stuckey’s or Nickerson Farms. We had lunch, found a nice city park to walk the puppies and stopped at a Walgreens drug store to pick up a couple of t shirts at a fraction of the bloated prices downtown.
Our return route took us south on US Hwy 285 to Artesia, then west on US Hwy 82 past scattered ranches and prairies. The landscape changed significantly as we neared Cloudcroft, a popular winter ski destination, then the road tumbled down out of the mountains at a 6 % grade through switchbacks and tunnels until we were about 4400 feet lower in elevation near Alamogordo.
Then we heard the news….”Out of an abundance of caution, the U.S. Army made the decision to cancel this year’s Bataan Memorial Death March scheduled for March 15, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 threat.” Little did we know at that time the avalanche effect it would have on our summer travel plans.
Here is Deb providing her perspective as the pandemic began spread……….. “As Chuck and I were making our yearly preparations to leave our winter home in Tucson in January and February, I started seeing news stories that were buried below the main headlines in many of my online newspapers.
News of a virus as deadly as anyone had ever seen before. It was still in China and Europe at that point and so we continued with our plans.
By the end of February things were getting pretty serious with hundreds of cases and many deaths, mainly in nursing homes and cruise ships. This virus was spreading quickly. We departed Tucson and headed for Alamogordo.
In less than 3-4 days, National Parks were closing, Navajo Nation – CLOSED, New Mexico State Parks – CLOSED, Army Corp of Engineer Campgrounds – CLOSED, BLM – CLOSED, US Forest Campgrounds – CLOSED. The RV park at Holloman AFB was no longer providing services (Bathhouse/Laundry) or accepting new reservations. I cannot speak for my husband, but within days I had a overwhelming sense of dread. The walls felt like they were closing in on our opportunities to travel, so I asked Chuck to as quickly as possible get us out of Holloman AFB in Alamogordo and take us to Kirtland AFB in Albuquerque. My reasoning was that the size of the city and its health resources would be more advantageous than a small town with limited resources. I wanted to go now…right now.
We departed Alamogordo and went straight to Kirtland. Luckily we did, because within a couple of days they shut down the campgrounds to new campers. Many other military bases followed suit and so there we were. Making the decision to get to ABQ was one of the smartest decisions we ever made. The leadership on base closed down all facilities like the commissary and exchange to allow only active duty and anyone who lived on base.”
Deb saved our bacon. “If we are going to be stuck somewhere, I would much rather be in Albuquerque than Alamogordo”, is still ringing in my ears….so on 15 March we left for Kirtland AFB. US Hwy 54 north to Carrizozo, headed west on US Hwy 380.
We made a brief stop at Valley of Fire (BLM CG & Picnic area). Valley of Fires recreation area is located immediately adjacent to the Malpais Lava Flow. Approximately 5,000 years ago, Little Black Peak erupted and flowed 44 miles into the Tularosa Basin, filling the basin with molten rock. The resulting lava flow is four to six miles wide, 160 feet thick and covers 125 square miles. We took the ¾-mile Malpais paved Nature Trail that provided a close-up look of the lava flow & field, had a quick lunch, and proceeded to Albuquerque.
With the growing number of cases and deaths, through March, April & May, Deb and I spent very little time in town in an effort to keep away from potential COVID infected people. The UPS Store was our link to get mail and our Amazon orders, and we satisfied the rest of our shopping needs on base. We do love our road trips. Perfect opportunities to see the countryside and refine our social distancing skills. In our last blog we shared many of the adventures while we spent the winter in Arizona. Below are the places that Deb and I wandered off to and typically spent the day, seeing more of New Mexico that we never knew existed. These road trips are listed alphabetically, not chronological.