State #36 New Mexico

New Mexico is called the Land of Enchantment. I have to say, it didn’t start out looking so enchanting when we crossed over the state line but there was plenty of enchanting once we arrived at our first stop.

I wasn’t sure what to expect at Carlsbad. We have been to several caverns around the country, so I wasn’t sure if this would be kind of the same old same old or if it would be as cool as people say. Spoiler alert- it was pretty amazing.

It was pretty chilly and super windy this morning but the Caverns were a pleasant 56 degrees or so. The picture below is of us using the Natural Entrance to the caves. This entrance is pretty steep but there is also an elevator if you don’t want to descend about the height of the Empire State Building into the caverns. I’ve seen lots of pictures of this entrance so it was so cool to actually be there.

I’m just going to say the caverns are HUGE! Nothing like any other caves we had been in. The sheer size was fascinating but then you add all the formations and it’s mind blowing.

If it wasn’t for the lighting provided by the National Park Service, the caverns would be pitch black. So the pictures are kind of dark.

The park has some really cool ranger-led tours for a small fee. Some require lanterns, others climb up and down ladders, and still others there’s squeezing through trails on your belly. They sound amazing. Due to age restrictions, there were only two we could do and both of them we full when I went to sign up. So if that sounds like something you might like, make sure and sign up weeks or more in advance.

So we try to add some quirky stops (hello, big ball of twine) and New Mexico has no shortage. While in southern New Mexico, we had to stop by Roswell. We had to. This is the kind of stuff my dad liked. We added this stop for him. There was no way to know that he would not be here to joke around about it. He liked a good conspiracy. I sure do miss him.

However, not all is lost, Poppy loves a good alien or Sasquatch conspiracy too. We, of course, had to visit the International UFO Museum and Reserach Center. I’m not making this stuff up. Adults are $5 and kids are $2. We found a Groupon for two adults for $6 so that was even better.

It’s not a big place but it was something to do. To each their own, but we personally don’t believe in aliens. Although, Trev is leaving the door open for Sasquatch. But while we were at the museum, Mason looks over at us and says, “Man, they sure do make it sound convincing.” Ha!

It was a fun stop on a cold day.

The whole town is on board from local businesses to the city government with its alien-eyed street lamps.

After a morning of alien sightings, we decided to eat some New Mexican food. Chiles are a BIG deal out here. Red chiles, green chiles, hatch chiles – doesn’t matter. Breakast, lunch, dinner – chiles are everywhere. It goes beyond chiles on license plates too. In 2012, the legislature passed a law prohibiting the advertising, sell, or labeling of New Mexico Chiles unless the chiles were actually grown in New Mexico. Mason and I aren’t big chile fans but we had to try something with chiles so we went to Los Cerritos for some mexican food and we made sure and ordered something with chiles in it. The salsa was good but it had my mouth on fire. I ordered Asado – tender chunks of pork meat slow cooked in their special red chile sauce, served with a side of tortillas and Trev ordered their classic Alhambra – a tasty blend of sautéed steak, bacon, onion, and bell peppers topped with Monterey Jack, served with charro beans and tortillas. Both were good but spicy. Even Trevor mentioned how spicy his was.

After a stop for some ice cream to quench the fire inside and with the gas tank filled up, we hit the road to our next destination. One thing we love about a road trip is the unexpected stops. Along the way, we saw a sign for Smokey the Bear Historical Park, so into the GPS it went.

It only cost $2/adults and $1/kids. Score. Again, this is another small museum but pretty interesting. I took a picture of the Most Frequently Asked Questions sign for your viewing pleasure.

Lots of good info. Great for a quick visit.

The elevation is higher in this area so they had gotten some snow a couple days before. The boys had a great time throwing snowballs in the leftover snow.

Down the mountain and into the valley we go.

We made it to White Sands National Monument.

It started out cool but warmed up in the afternoon. Great weather! The thing to do other than hiking and backcountry camping is to go sledding down the sand dunes. You can bring your own sleds but if you’re traveling like us, that’s not too feasible. The park sells sleds for like $18 and sometimes has some used ones for about $10 and will even buy them back from you when you’re done for about $3. But check with your hotel before buying. We stayed at the Hampton Inn in Alamogordo and they have sleds for guests to borrow. Score! We borrowed two sleds and a bar of wax. Don’t forget the wax. The sleds won’t slide as well without the wax on the bottom. Nothing as dramatic as Chevy Chase’s new non-caloric silicone-based kitchen lubricant that was used for snow sledding in Christmas Vacation, though, but it helps.

The sand dunes go on and on. The pavement ends about half way out the park loop but don’t worry, the sand is packed and easy to drive on. People wore everything from shorts, pants, hiking boots, to bare feet. The sand stays cool even in the summer so it was very cool in the winter. I kept my hiking boots on and the boys went barefoot.

Let the sledding begin. The sand can get hard at the bottom of the dune so when picking a dune to sled down, we looked for ones that had a slope at the bottom instead of straight down. We also learned to look out for any vegetation at the bottom as it stops you abruptly and you can go flying off your sled. I know from personal experience. 😦

So much fun!

It has been described as the largest beach without an ocean. The white sand is awesome. The sand is made from gypsum, as opposed to quartz, so no worries about getting it in your eyes. The gypsum will dissolve and not scratch your eyes like sand made from quartz.

I mean, look at that kid’s sandy face. Pure joy!

After a few hours of sledding down and then trekking back up the dunes, we decided to take a break and come back in the evening. So on our way into Alamogordo, we saw this huge structure with a sign that says – World’s Largest Pistachio. I immediately Googled it. Sure enough, it is a 30-foot pistachio sculpture at McGinn’s Pistachioland. So we decided to go back and give it a visit.

For $6 we took the farm tour. James, our guide, was phenomenal! He was so entertaining and kept us involved. Considering the 45 min-1hr tour was just a loop through the pistachio trees and grapevines, his information and personality made all the difference. Ninety-seven percent of pistachios come from California, two percent from Arizona, and only one percent from New Mexico. We learned so much and had a blast. Another great impromptu stop that was way better than we thought it would be. If you’re ever in Alamogordo, New Mexico stop by McGinn’s Pistachioland.

Included with your tour is a coupon for a free cookie (a large cookie- chocolate chip or chocolate chip pistachio) or $1 off ice cream. That’s almost like getting the tour for free. We used our coups for the free cookies and sprung for an ice cream cup ($3.50) to share. We ordered pistachio almond, of course. I love pistachio almond but no one else in the family had tried it, so it was a perfect opportunity for them to try it. All three enjoyed it. Win! The store also has a sampling station. It was great. They have all these different flavors. Salted roasted is the most popular. I liked the dill pickle pistachio. Trev and Mason liked the cocoa pistachio. Tuck, well, he didn’t try any of the flavors.

With lunch and a sweet snack in our tummies, we headed back out to Whites Sands for some more sledding. Yes, the mountain in the background is actually snow capped.

Tuck decided to make snow, I mean, sand angels. Why not, right?

The park service does a guided sunset stroll. All four of us started the tour but one by one we slipped away. No disrespect to the volunteer. The boys were just more interested in playing in the sand than listening to her. Oh well.

But we still stayed for sunset. We had a pretty clear sky but the volunteer said that sunset is prettier when there are clouds to show the intense colors reflecting off the sand. But we still had a nice sunset.

The next morning we headed over to White Sands Missile Range Museum.

This was kind of cool because it had a couple of the Nike Hercules missiles like the one we saw in the Everglades in Florida. So it’s so great when we can tie things together.

Tuck got a kick out of this one called Mace. He loves his bro.

The museum is free. It was closed the day we showed up. Oops! But we still got to see the outside exhibits.

We stayed south because we hit northern New Mexico on another trip. If you are ever in Albuquerque in the fall, check out the Balloon Fiesta. We went a couple years ago and it was a great experience. Make sure and set your alarm and attend Dawn Patrol. Totally worth getting up at 3am. Lots of things to be enchanted about in New Mexico but now it’s time to hug a cactus.

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