Marfa and Fort Davis, Far West, Texas

After departing Carlsbad Caverns NP we traveled through oil country (see Carlsbad Caverns blog) and on through a number of small Texas towns on our way south. Our first stop was in Pecos. We stayed just a short while as the traffic from the Mid-Continent Oil Field has just overwhelmed the town with heavy trucks crossing through the main intersection from all four points on the compass.

We stopped for a picnic lunch in the tiny town (pop.479) of Balmorhea (bal-mor-ray). Balmorhea has a small water canal that runs through town surrounded by Cottonwood trees offering a shady, tranquil spot for our meal and a break.

From Balmorhea we continued south on Texas Route 17 to Fort Davis. Historic Fort Davis, managed by the National Park Service sits just outside of town. This fort operated from 1854 to 1891. Throughout much of its tenure the cavalry and infantry troops stationed here were tasked with protecting emigrants heading west to California from Native American attacks. During the Civil War the Union troops were withdrawn from the fort and it was occupied by Confederate troops from Texas.

Afte the war the fort was reoccupied by U.S. Cavalry troops including several companies of Buffalo Soldiers. From that point forward the troops were again focused on providing safe passage for emigrants and commercial freight operators. With the surrender and deportation of the majority of the Native Americans towards the end of the century the fort was abandoned.

Fort Davis is a great stop if you are interested in the history of the American West. The fort is in excellent condition and you can visit recreated barracks and living quarters.

We stayed the night at the Hotel Limpia (constructed 1912) in the town of Fort Davis (pop.1210). The Limpia is a charming western hotel with an excellent restaurant – Blue Mountain Grill.

Our next stop on this leg was Marfa, Texas. Marfa (pop. 1,981) is another town in Far West Texas that started out as a water stop for the railroad. Today the rail still exists and is operated by the Union Pacific Railroad with six to ten freight trains crossing through the middle of town each day.

During WW2 Marfa was home to a Army Air Corps training base which was abandoned after the war. Marfa became famous as an artists colony after NYC artist Donald Judd moved there in 1971 and purchased some of the empty hangers to permanently house collections of his work and those of other minimalist artists.

While we enjoyed Marfa we came away somewhat disappointed after reading and hearing all of the hype about the town. The minimalist large “art” installations are just not our cup of tea. The town itself is still charming with many examples of well preserved western architecture. There are a number of interesting shops and excellent restaurants albeit the prices are inflated for the tourist trade.

If you do go to Marfa we highly recommend the Hotel Paisano as a base for your stay. The hotel was orignially constructed in 1929 and served as a hub for cattle ranchers and tourists for several decades. The hotel fell into disrepair in the early 2000’s but was purchased and entirely renovated. Today it is a charming hotel with a good restaurant and bar along with great courtyard for relaxing with a cocktail or two.

A political/cultural item we would mention regards a phenomenon we have seen in several places. As Marfa became know as an artists colony a number of “outsiders” have come to town and purchased and renovated properties effectively pricing locals out of the market. The county enacted an adobe tax on adobe structures to capitalize on the rising market which raised property taxes 60% for all owners of adobe structures. Local folks who have made no improvements to their modest adobe homes are caught up in this and are hurting.

Lastly, and very importantly there is an excellent third wave coffee shop in Marfa trading as Do Your Thing Coffee and a very good roaster in town – Big Bend Roasters.

We are off to the rugged backcountry of Big Bend Ranch State Park.

Be seeing you!

The Hotel Paisano
Santa Maria, Federico Archuleta, #el_federico
Presidio County Courthouse, Marfa, Texas

Fire Station, Marfa, Texas
Jeff Davis County Courthouse, Fort Davis, Texas
Fort Davis, U.S. Eighth Infantry, 1854 Texas Confederate Rifles, 1861
Hotel Limpia, Fort Davis, Texas

Adobe Tax

Jaguar XK 140

Alpine, Far West Texas

We made the short hop east while staying in Marfa to spend a pleasant afternoon in Alpine, Texas. A brief history of Alpine can be read below on a photo of the town placque. Alpine’s origins lie with the railroad but today it is anchored by a state university.

The good news for us is that Alpine has a vibrant street mural scene, a terrific book store and a solid coffee shop to complement the classic early 1900s western architecture. There are 45 street murals in downtown. As those of you who follow us know that is a winning combination for us.

You can see more street art and coffee experiences on our Instagram accounts: #streetartfromtheroad/#fikawithfiona

Be seeing you!

Cruising Big Bend, Tom Curry
Flying Shaman, Kerry Awn
From Paradise to Calamity Creek, Pauline Hernandez

Front Street Bookstore, Alpine, Texas
Cedar Coffee, Alpine, Texas

Holland Hotel, Alpine, Texas
Mini Cooper 1000

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

We spent a day at CCNP exploring the Big Room which is one of the 119 caverns that have been discovered so far. The Big Room is the 5th largest limestone cavern in North America. It is 4000 feet long, 255 feet high and over 600 feet wide! The Big Room presents a fantastical display of columns, stalactites, stalagmites, draperies, soda straws and popcorn. You can actually see the formations happening as water draining downward leaves deposits of calcium carbonate – quite fascinating to see this happening real time.

You can reach the Big Room by elevator or hike in via the natural entrance to the cavern. We hiked down the series of switchbacks which eventually take you down 800 feet to the cavern floor. We thought the most breathtaking views we experienced were on the hike down – so we were glad we hiked down. We did however opt to take the elevator back up to the surface.

While this national park is largely about the massive cavern system below the surface there are a number of good hikes in the canyons within the park and a terrific 9.5 mile loop drive (unpaved) through Walnut Canyon.

We recommend a visit to this park in conjunction with other attractions in the area but not as a single destination. Carlsbad is adjacent to Guadalupe Mountains National Park and can easily be combined into a single destination trip.

One thing to remember is there is no lodging or camping within CCNP. It really is a day use facility. We camped on public lands in the Chihuahuan Desert about five miles south of the park – primitive camping.

Be seeing you!

P.S. If you travel from the north avoid Texas Route 652 if at all possible. Route 652 begins at the New Mexico – Texas border and connects to Route 285. Route 652 runs right through the heart of the Mid-Continent Oil Field which is in the middle of a major boom. The roads are a mess and the two lane road is congested with heavy trucks driven by crazed people!

Video Clip – Camp Site Chihuahuan Desert, Mile Marker 10

ABQ – White Sands – Lincoln National Forest

After our stay in ABQ we began our journey to southern New Mexico to visit White Sands National Park and Carlsbad Caverns National Park. We travel the backways as much as we can in order to take in as much natural beauty as possible. Fortunately, New Mexico offers many opportunities to travel overland on dirt roads and trails through public lands managed by the BLM and NFS.

From ABQ we journeyed overland via the Quebradas Backway which took us through rolling hills and canyons. Beautifully striated ridgelines are in view to the west throughout the length of the backway.

After completing the backway we continued further south stopping in Truth or Consequences before camping north of Las Cruces. Truth or Consequences was originally named named Hot Springs for the 40 different hot springs located in the town. The town changed its name to Truth or Consequences in 1950 to in order to have the radio show of the same name aired in town for the shows tenth anniversary. Our only recommendation if you find yourself in T or C is to stop into Ingo’s Art Cafe, have a cup of coffee and meet Ingo.

White Sands National Park is the largest gypsum dunefield in the world. It is truely unique with its ever changing landscape of wind sculpted dunes that cover 275 square miles of the Tularosa Basin. The other unique feature is that the national park sits inside the White Sands Missile Range. When missiles are being fired the park closes for obvious safety reasons – check before you go so you are not disappointed.

We think the park can be experienced in one day by driving the loop road and taking a couple of hikes into the dunes. You will also see kids sledding on the dunes.

Video Clip

Video Clip

After leaving White Sands we traveled up into the Sacramento Mountains of the Lincoln National Forest. The Sacramento Mountains rise right up out of the basin floor to an elevation of over 8000 feet above sea level. There are a number of vista points that provide surreal views of the White Sands dunefield below.

Lincoln NF has hundreds of hiking trails through out the forest. The town of Cloudcroft sits at the top of the range, a cute mountain town that is a good base camp for hiking in the forest and offers several good restaurants and coffee shops. High Altitude outfitters is an excellent shop for anything you need for your outdoor activities and Black Bear Coffee will get you caffeinated. A number of the trails utilize the railbed from the former Almagordo & Sacramento Mountain Railroad which hauled timber down through the Fresnel Canyon. The railroad shutdown in 1947 but a number of the impressive trestles are still standing and can be seen while hiking. We also came upon several abandoned homesteads while hiking in the forest.

Be seeing you!

Turquoise Trail: Cerrillos, NM

After our pleasant stay in Santa Fe we traveled the 50 miles to Albuquerque via State Highway 14 also known as the Turquoise Trail. Highway 14 winds through rolling hills and provides long views of several mountain ranges. We stopped to explore the tiny village of Cerrillos.

Cerrillos was a mining town for several centuries with the Tano Indians mining turquoise from the surrounding hills. Later the Spanish and Euro-Americans mined lead, silver and gold. As the mine played out during the early 1900’s the population dwindled.

Today the population of Cerrillos is 229 people. What remains is a classic western town with dirt streets lined by a saloon, general store and a trading post. There is also a Catholic church still operating despite the diminutive population.

The town has been used for the filming of several western genre films for obvious reasons.

We enjoyed this stop very much. All of the local folks we met were quite friendly. The residents really like their way of life and sense of community here.

Madrid, the town directly south of Cerrillos is very cute but has developed into much more of a tourist draw with losts of touristy shops and restaurants if that is more your speed.

Be seeing you!

Stock Photo – Main Street
First Street

Tiles from Courtyard, St Joseph’s Church
Wooden Statues in St Joseph’s Courtyard

New Mexico Street Murals: Farmington to ABQ

Our drive south through New Mexico has been delightful. We have met many nice people from NM. The scenery is spectacular and the temperatures are increasingly warmer by the day.

An added bounus on this trip to date has been the street mural scene. We have found excellent murals in every town (regardless of size) and a plethora of murals in the many distinct neighborhoods of ABQ. We could literally spend a month in ABQ and not find every one of the murals.

We have included a small sample of our favorites for your enjoyment. Wherever we have been able to identify the artist or organization we have noted that in the caption.

Be seeing you!

Farmington, NM

Heck Ironcloud

Skindian

Santa Fe, NM

Guernica

Albuquerque, NM

Echoes of the Future, Kevin Zuckerman, etal.

Untitled, Larry Bob Philips
Silence, Compassion and Social Justice, Ernest Doty
Fracking, Larry Bob Phillips
Untitled, Kerry Bergen

The Mother Road, Working Classroom

Conductor, Chris Stain

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

During our stay in Santa Fe we traveled south through the Cochiti Pueblo to hike at the KKTRNM. This monument is jointly managed by the Cochiti Pueblo and the Bureau of Land Management as the monument is only accessible by travel through the pueblo. The monument is a geologist’s delight as the Jemez volcanic eruptions left a thousand feet of tuff which has eroded into formations of caprock topped hoodos and tent rocks.

The hiking here features a short loop trail that provides fine views of a number of caprocks and several clusters of tent rocks. The real treat is the out and back slot canyon trail which winds its way up to a small table top at 6,760 feet elevation. The 360 view from the top is expansive and also provides a great birds eye view of several large formations of hoodos.

The Cochiti people are descendants of the Ancestral Puebloans (Anasazi). There are apx. 528 Cochiti remaining on the pueblo today. The total territory of the pueblo is just 1.2 square miles while the reservation manages about 54,000 acres of land.

The Cochiti were permanently displaced from their original lands by Spanish conquistadors in 1598. Subsequently, the Catholic Church followed the conquistadors and began to force the Cochiti to practice Catholicism. You know the rest of the story………

We definitely recommend spending time here if you are in either Santa Fe or Albuquerque. Our only caveat is that this monument is very crowded in the summer months due to very limnited parking at the trail heads. Also, this is a day area with no camping.

Be seeing you!

Georgia O’Keffee

We are off the road for several days to explore Santa Fe, New Mexico. Our first stop (well second actually – fika at Iconik Roasters – we spent the afternoon basking in the brillance of the 300 or so works on display at the eponymous museum dedicated to her life and work.

Maria has long been an avid fan of her painting. Stephen on the other hand had not given her work serious attention – thinking her a painter of pastel colored flowers.

O’Keffee produced about 3000 works in her 60 year career. The museum owns 1100 of her works – phenomenally all but two were donated to the museum. The 300 paintings on display are grouped across eight galleries that relate to various phases of her life and creative focus.

O’Keffee split her time between New York and New Mexico for about thirty years. After her husband passed away she moved to New Mexico permanently although she traveled to South America and Japan several times.

O’Keffee was initally critized by the male dominated artistic community for her use of bright colors. She loved color and refused to adopt the darker tones that the prominent artists of the time considered appropriate. Her strength as a woman and commitment to what and how she wanted to paint what she saw is evident through out the exhibits and the narrative of her life.

We have included a small sample of photographs of we took at the museum. The paintings featured below cover the period 1917-1958 and represent work from New Mexico and New York.

The Georgia O’Keffee is a must when you visit Santa Fe.

Mesa and Road East, 1952
Ritz Tower, 1928
Green and White, 1957-1958
Church Steeple, 1930
Autumn Trees – The Maple, 1924

Black Hollyhock Blue Larkspur, 1930

Church Bell, Ward, Colorado, 1917

Bandelier National Monument

As we mentioned in closing our last post we were planning on traveling south to spend two days exploring and camping at Chaco Culture National Historical Park near Nageezi, NM. Chaco Canyon was occupied as early as 900 B.C. and as an archaeological site is on par with the fantastic Mesa Verde cliff dwellings. Unfortunately, the storm that passed through northern New Mexico rendered the 25 mile dirt road into the park impassable.

Not to worry! Northern New Mexico is rich with significant archaelogical sites. In fact, there are 19 ancestral locations which can be accessed in the Four Corners Region. So after a brief stopover in the badlands surrounding Angel Peak we set our sights on Bandelier National Monument.

The Angel Peak Recreation Area is managed by the BLM. It is a beautiful area of desolate badlands, occasionally marred by oil or fracking sites scattered through out the 10,000 acres. Angel Peak is still worth a visit.

We joined Route 96 to make the drive to Bandelier NP. Route 96 runs north then east skirting the northern boundary of the Santa Fe National Forest and parallels the Old Spanish National Historic Trail. This area is sparsely settled with only five settlements along the 60 miles -between Cuba and Abiquiu. The total population of all of the settlements is apx. 500 people.

Abiquiu is where artist Georgia O’Keefe did much of her painting while in New Mexico. We plan on visiting the Georgia O’Keefe Museum when we visit Santa Fe.

Badlands in Angel Peak Recreation Area
Angel Peak (elev. 6988 feet) Background Upper Left Frame
Sangre de Christo Mountains
Rio Chama from White Rock

Bandelier National Monument is a relatively small (33,000 acres) monument but protects an area of mesas and canyons where humans lived as long as 11,000 years ago. This area features both cliff dwellings and multi-room dwellings on the canyon floor. Much of the material here is tuff (compacted volcanic ash) which allowed the Puebloans to carve into the cliffs.

There are a number of dwellings where you can climb up into cliff dwellings using ladders modeled after the ladders the Puebloans used. The Alcove House pictured below provides the opportunity to climb up a series of ladders and provide the view of the canyon that the Ancesteral Puebloans had so long ago. Additionally, there are many petroglyphs on the cliff walls.

Alcove House
Maria Climbing One of the Four Ladders required to Reach Alcove House
View from Alcove House – 140 Feet Above Canyon Floor

Large Kiva on Frijoles Canyon Floor

BNP was closed to the public during World War 2 as the buildings and lodging were appropriated for the Manhattan Project which was based in nearby Los Alamos. The Bradbury Science Museum in Los Alamos depicts the history of the Manhattan Project which produced the first atomic bombs which were dropped on Japan in an attempt to hasten the end of the war with Japan. Replicas of the “Fat Man” and “Little Boy” atomic bombs pictured below.

Bradbury Science Museum, Los Alamos

BNP is within easy driving distance of Santa Fe. The park offers primitive camping and there are hotels in nearby White Rock. We would recommend visiting in the off season as parking is limited and the crowds make for lines if you want to climb up into the dwellings (according to the park rangers). We recommend one to two days here in order to hike the Frey Trail, visit the Long House, the Alcove House and the Falls Trail.

Be seeing you!

P.S. The Revolt Coffee truck is parked on Route 4 in White Rock so you can grab a great coffee to go on your way into or out of the monument.

Bisti/Di-Na-Zin Wilderness Area

From Mesa Verde National Park we traveled south into New Mexico spending our first night in Farmington (fika @ Studio Bake Shoppe). From Farmington we journeyed due south on NM371 through the Navajo Nation to access the Bisti Badlands. As wilderness areas by defintion allow no motorized traffic the only access from the parking area is by foot. There are no trails or markers of any sort. So bring your compass and utilize your gps. Line of sight navigation is impossible as once you enter into the outcroppings you are in a maze of strange sandstone, shale, coal, mudstone and silt formations. There are a plethora of hoodoos and just strange looking features that evolve based on the ongoing wind and water erosion that takes place with these soft materials.

The closest lodging is in Farmington which is apx. 40 miles north. There is no developed camping within the vicinty of the access area. However, exploring here is an easy day trip from Farmington. We boondocked in the wilderness area.

Our next segment will be at the Chaco NHP to visit more ancesteral sites assuming the road is passable in the aftermath of the major storm the occurred overnight.

Be seeing you!