Sunday, February 6, 2011

New Mex Numero Uno!

It would appear that this blog is settling into a regular monthly pattern!  Unfortunately, there is entirely too much content for this one posting; and I know that half of you would be asleep by the time we hit the truly "enchanting" aspects of New Mexico.  So, without further ado I'll get you up date on what amounts to our first New Mexican adventures.  If you get bored of my repetitious usage of "enchantment", just remember, when you cross the state line, you will be told that New Mexico is, "The Land of Enchantment".

January 9th we pulled into Albuquerque, restocked at Trader Joe's, and hit the local REI to purchase some new Binoculars (courtesy a generous gift from Tiff's parents Ken and Dottie).  A kind long haired and artistically tattooed gentleman wearing the ubiquitous green "vest" gave us the run down on the various models.  We both appreciated his enthusiasm and knowledge; considering our combined wisdom in the field amounted to zilch.

After field testing a few candidates outside the store we picked these sweet binoc's from Nikon.  They not only let in amazing amount of light, but, they also are extremely lightweight and compact.  With this illuminating optical wonder we knew we were ready to get down to the "enchantment".  Later that day after driving an hour south we arrived in Socorro.  On the outskirts of this small town lies a menagerie of volcanic cliffs.

Alpha resting his weary legs after chasing me down.
Having just trounced 1200 miles across the country, we were not only ready for some exercise, but, for a place to park and just slow it down from warp speed.  The rock was mostly solid, but moreover, there was finally SUN, and lots of it.  For two days we reveled in box canyon, exploring, hiking, climbing, and hanging out with one of the local ranch dog's.  The dog named Alpha had a collar which read "I live at this ranch, please leave me here".  Though bearing an acute cactus injury to one paw, he did his best to show us around, and become an omnipresent companion during our stay.

Neither of us had visited New Mexico, and having spent the last two months in Appalachia, we were spellbound by the change of topography, flora, and climate.  Sage, Juniper bushes, and Prickly Pear Cactus abounded in our new environment.  Though this harsh place boasts tarantulas, rattle snakes, and scorpions, they were all safely sleeping somewhere, or otherwise hiding.  Regardless, we still were somewhat wary and watched our steps while hiking around.

Don't let this be you. He can't be happy about this.

Killer bees, an extremely aggressive africanized form of honey bee have been found as far North as New Mexico.  As anyone familiar with me knows, I'm mortally afraid of winged stingy things.  During early childhood I was brutalized by an entire hive of yellow-jackets.  These yellow devils just went to town on us after a friend of mine removed a particular rock embedded in a ditch; which ended up being the back end of their hive.  Understandably they were a little agitated, but, I was only 9 years old.  Didn't they understand that I was only a minor??  Oh no, they mercilessly  pursued me without compassion or remorse.  They even invaded my sensitive armpit zone.  Yep, that says it all.

From that time, I've been on the run and more than a bit edgy when anything resembling "stingies" comes near.  Flies have even been known to trigger the bee-mania phobia.  Yeah, I just freak out.  This reactionary waving of the arms and jumping around is psychological outworking of my weak phobic mind.

So, one day when I was scoping out a particular wall, and found myself face to face with a particularly curious and invasive bee, our new friend "alpha" was witness to the most interesting spectacle.  In a matter of seconds I was sprinting away from the wall, dodging cactus, and eyeing my periphery for pursuit.  Was it one of those "Killa's"?  I won't probably ever know...but, one things for sure, I'm alive.  Yes, this phobia is completely irrational.  But, I'm not sure I will ever actually overcome it.  The impressions of a young mind are sometimes indelible.

Though Box Canyon isn't a destination, we enjoyed some much needed exercise, met some nice locals, sauntered up a few sunny rock climbs.  Car camping in the lot is ok and there is an excellent pit toilet.  And, of course, Alpha will be there to meet you in the mornings.

Initially, we were in Socorro because of its proximity to Enchanted Tower, which lies an hour to the West in the mountains.  This area is touted as "the" sport climbing destination of choice in NM.  The rock is similar to Smith Rock, and called volcanic Tuff.  However, with an elevation of 8000 and highs in the upper 40's, any amount of wind or cloud would create unclimbable conditions.  We'd just weathered a multitude of cold days cragging back East, and it sounded too risky.  Instead, we drove towards Alamogordo and home to the Tunnel area; an area our "NM Falcon" guide described as top notch!

During the drive we passed just North of the White Sands Missile base.  It was here at the trinity site that the destructive power of atomic energy was first witnessed.  We didn't stop at the site (which is only open a couple days a year), but did stop at some ancient lava flows just East of here.

We thought that lava flow just as impressive as the ones we had witnessed on the big island of Hawaii.

30 minutes North of Alamogordo lies the Three Rivers Petroglyph site.  There over 21,000 recorded petroglyphs scattered on this rocky ridge.  The Jornada Mogollon people responsible for these enigmatic drawings lived between 900-1400 AD.  Anyhow, we had a nice time wandering along the trails, inspecting glyphs, and stretching our legs.  Tiff was kind enough to whip up some lunch while I ran the remaining five miles back to the highway.  The road was long and straight.  By the time she caught up with me I was purring like a kitten and my legs were humming.  Here are some shots from Three Rivers.

We couldn't believe that these ancient people had heard about Walle.

The Desert is an excellent place to just be quiet and reflect.

The Vansion and a landscape.

Pulling the last leg into Alamogordo.  The sunset was breathtaking.

Feeling the allure of civilization, we sought out the Alamogordo recreation center for some much needed showers.  Yes, one thing the Vansion doesn't have is a shower.  In the summer/fall months one can find many lakes and streams to rinse off in, but the winter is another beast altogether.  Come four or five days and a paid shower starts looking real good.  We've showered at RV parks, Hotels, Rec Centers, you name it; but what was waiting for us in Alamogordo's Rec Center was different (almost like a shower time machine).  Imagine Junior Highschool if you can for a moment.  Understandably, it was a long time ago for most of you.  But, perhaps if you dig back and ponder, you might come up with the vision of that Multi-headed Hydra type shower, garnished with that nifty button.  Yeah, the button!  Well, after unloaded 1.50 each, we were treated to a communal shower venue with no temperature control.  Just as I started to get down to business, the junior high age swim team got out of practice.  Soon, I was the only naked man in the room.  Surrounding me were lots of boys in shorts, making jokes, and doing their best not to stare at the naked person.  At least the water would last 20 seconds before another round of push the button ensued.  Despite feeling out of place and shivering from the 70 degree water, it was so good to be clean!

The following day we visited White Sands National Monument.  These dunes are unique because they are composed of gypsum grains, which have washed down out of the mountains, settled in the valley, and blown into large dunes.  Another fascinating truth, in the summer months when it is broiling above 100 degrees, a person can walk bare footed on the dunes and not get that burning feeling under foot.  For whatever reason the gypsum doesn't absorb solar energy like most quartz based sand.  I'm not a geologist, but, I found this intriguing.  

We enjoyed our time and went for a walk across the dunes.  It was especially fun to run down them and fill our shoes with sand!  This is great fun for adults too.  Let your inner child play sometimes.

Later this same afternoon we made our way back towards Alamogordo and the Museum of Space History.  It is situated on the North section of town way up on the mountainside overlooking the Tularosa Basin.  As a boy I remember making those small rocket models and shooting them off at the local play field.  Well, here in the White Sands Missile range folks have been blowing stuff up for decades.  Rocket scientists working for the government flocked here because of the stable climate and sprawling desolate land.  It was certainly eye popping to see examples showcasing the evolution of rocket technology.  Here are some hunks of metal that once flew at exceptional velocity.  Enjoy..

Later that evening I was informed that some young Washington rock climbers might be in the area.  Already acquainted with Jeremy Zachariash I gave him a call.  At this point they were in California just East of Joshua Tree.  Evidently, the weather had been a little cold and windy and they were headed our direction. I told Jeremy about the Tunnel area and invited them to come join us.  Being at least 11 hours away I didn't think we would see them until later the following day.  But, the next morning when we pulled into the Tunnel parking area we found their car.  Oh, the hubris of youth.  Jeremy and Mike had driven all night and only pulled in at 4 in the morning.  Needless to say, we didn't see them at the crag until the afternoon.  
We found the Tunnel to have some ok climbing.  Certainly, I can appreciate the amount of effort by local climbers responsible for the Tunnel's development.  But, overall, the quality of rock left one wanting.  It certainly didn't live up to the hype of the guidebook author; whom I would garner hasn't climbed here much.  Lots of challenging routes grace walls on both sides of the canyon.  But, most routes are littered in dust, grime, and surrounded by acres of mud covered limestone.  Nonetheless, I had a good time hanging out in the sun (which was almost too hot!), cheering on the boys, and reacquiring some of that fitness.  

Here's the best beta concerning the Sunny Side wall if you are ever in the area: don't climb here if the forecast in Alamogordo is forecast to eclipse 60 degrees fahrenheit.  It can really bake here.  

Climbing in my Euro Man-knickers by Addidas!  The Sunny Side wall in January.  Hot.

Mike with Jeremy belaying on Sunspot12c.  This is one of those described as classic which didn't have almost any chalk.  The holds were also covered in dust and the onsight was quite a fight.

This bubbling waterfall is encountered on the way to the Sunny Side cliffs.  In the summertime people flock here out the lowlands to cool off. 

Looking back on the Tularosa basin from the Shady Tunnel Walls.  Gorgeous scenery is only slightly tarnished by incessant automotive traffic.

One other plus to the Tunnel area is free and beautiful camping.  We camped way up Karr Canyon in a lovely pine forest.  The day that we left, Tiff and I took a nice mountain bike up the canyon in the morning hours.  This was perfect because we were soon to spend the remainder of the day driving around.  The "boys" as we would call them took off to Carlsbad while we sought out another shower experience.  Having learned that the local Cloudcroft RV park had frozen pipes, we kept on driving East until finding another RV Park with stellar facilities.  For 4 $ per person we were soon clean and feeling refreshed.  

Carlsbad New Mexico lies just an hour South of Roswell; which of course you all know is where people see aliens.  Personally, I for one didn't want to get abducted, so we steered well clear of that place, arriving in Carlsbad late in the evening.  We found the boys soaking up wireless internet at one of Carlsbad's two Mc'ds.  Mexican food had been on our minds lately, so, we inquired the locals, and were soon huddled in a booth gobbling down fresh chips and salsa.  Need I go on?  The food was delicious, spicy, and sizzling hot.  

The following morning we all loaded into Jeremy's Subi and drove the half hour to Carlsbad National Park.  It is here that one can explore one of the most amazing Cavern systems in the world in safety.  I'd been wanted to see this place for years and exuberance pervaded our group in anticipation. It benefited us that it was Martin Luther King day; and we were told that all National Parks are free on this day.  At least, the self guided tours are free, which is what we ended up taking.  This tour also allowed for many photographic opportunities.  Loaded down with many lenses and the tripod, I enjoyed taking it easy, stopping almost constantly to switch lenses and take lots of exposures.  Some years ago, a professional stage company was hired to do the lighting in Carlsbad.  They did an amazing job utilizing incandescent, fluorescent , and nickle-metal hydride.  All of these artificial lighting sources record different color casts in ones camera; so if you see orange and green in the pictures that is why.  The naked eye can't pick out the difference.  Your eyes will tell you it is white.  

Four hours later we finished this amazing tour.  Pictures can never convey the awesome size of the caverns.  At one place called the big room, it is so spacious that three foot ball fields would fit down there.  Crazy!

Here are some more pictures from the caverns.  Enjoy!

The Boys

Descending into the abyss.


The "whales mouth" is what the NPS calls this one.

Touring the big room.  Amazing!

Ahhh, lovebirds.

For those of you still with me at this point, thanks for reading our blog.  Later this week I'll do my best to finish New Mexico!  Our time there was certainly magical...and I can't wait to tell you about Last Chance Canyon.  To all you rock hounds following our blog, there will be many images showcasing this sweet winter sport climbing venue.  Though you won't find Last Chance in any conventional guidebook, it stellar, and the route developers did an incredible job.  Oh, and lastly, if you feel inclined to leave us a comment...please do!  It will make us feel like we're not just talking to cyberspace.  

Ok, it is getting closer to 80f here in Palm Springs, and I really need to get to the pool and sunbathe.  Until next time...


  1. your 8a scorecard leads me to believe that the binoculars have been an integral part of your onsight ability progression.

  2. let me first confess my van envy... glad to hear the tunnel is collecting dust, despite being such a quality venue. looking forward to the last chance report. in my biased opinion the setting and steepness certainly trump the tunnel, but the quality of the routes (more glue and natural hold evolution) keep it in the same arena. hope you got your share of green chile.

  3. Postermaster sir, I've actually only used the binocs for flora and fauna identification...

    Ljs, are you from New Mex? And yes, we had amazing green chile sauce on our enchiladas at Kiki's in El Paso. It was SO good!

    Thanks for writing,


  4. We haven't met, but you're living the dream, and we're enjoying the reports. Keep it up, and thanks!