Hamms do New Mexico!
Next up on our 50-state tour is New Mexico. We chose this state because of its close proximity to where we currently live in Texas. It was perfect for a long weekend away, but we only spent two days here. Given that we had such limited time to work with I had to keep our destinations limited to just 2 or 3. And they were 2-3 hours from each other, which made for good rest times for the boys, but were hell on the drivers (ahem, me and their dad). We were to leave around 2am Saturday morning to make the roughly 4-hour journey to Carlsbad, NM, but we rarely ever leave when we are supposed to. We had to get some last minute items at the store Friday evening, finishing packing up, clean what the boys already messed up (that was cleaned prior), make sure the cats were okay, and load the car.
I let Hammy care for the boys while I took care of everything. He took the first shift of sleep while I finished up and then I was to lay it down. By the time I laid down it was already 1 a.m. I told myself, “self, we will leave at 3 a.m., I’ll wake them up at 2.” I was supposed to then grab me an hour of sleep, but nope, I had to crush some candy and figure out how to post Instagram stories. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep. So here I was at 3 a.m., going on my first full day of being awake and trying to hit the road for a 4-hour drive. (Do not try that at home, kids. You need your rest if you’re going to drive long distances, or at all really.). I pop up at 2 a.m. like I’m late, wake the Hamm clan and we get dressed and ready to take on the open road.
I had mapped out everything for this trip. I knew how much the gas was going to be (fueleconomy.gov), how much it would cost us to visit each site, the driving distance between each waypoint along the route, when to take breaks, etc. If you want to know more about how I plan for trips, check out this post. The cats were squared away, the kids were washed and dressed, the snacks were packed and we were ready to get on the road. We ended up leaving around 4 a.m.
It took us about 5 hours to get to Carlsbad but we ended up getting there around 8am, thanks to the time change. The drive felt shorter than what I thought it would be, but it was kind of ugly. It was just oil fields and some cows. The roads were rocky, bumpy, and full of holes. There were a few good spots of new road, but overall, the roads were hell on our tires. I’m so glad I decided that we need to stay above half tank while on this trip because it was not uncommon for us to go 70 miles or so without hitting one town or seeing a gas station. That didn’t bode well for my scheduled breaks. We had to pull over on the side of the road a few times to stretch and take walks with the kids (if they were awake). Those snacks came in clutch too, as there weren’t any convenience stores for MILES AND MILES. Another thing, the speed limit on these wide, open, empty highways were offensively low (55mph, c’mon now). We weren’t in Texas anymore, kids…we have some 85mph roads back home and for the most part our highways are averaging 75mph. We often had to check our speed while driving, I didn’t want another out-of-state speeding ticket (shoutout to the Smyth Co. Sheriff’s Dept. in VA).
As we got closer to Carlsbad, it began to look a little better in terms of landscaping, but there still weren’t many signs of life. I can see why the aliens chose New Mexico as their landing spot, there aren’t many humans around so they can do their thing uninterrupted by Earth’s most intelligent bipedal pests. Carlsbad was nestled in some mountains (or maybe they were large hills? I barely made it out of Geology). As we got closer to the caverns, the mountains (or hills) got bigger and steeper. It was gorgeous. We saw so many little caves tucked away in the mountains and all kinds of birds. It was about a 7-mile drive around a windy, uphill road from the “Carlsbad Caverns” sign to the actual visitor center. There were designated spots you could pull over and snap some insanely gorgeous photos of the caverns. We finally made it to the top and ultimately, the visitor’s center. I felt like Rocky Balboa. There weren’t as many cars there as I thought there would be, but then again it was around opening time when we pulled in, so that played a role, I’m sure.
We decided this was one attraction that Aidan was going to need his (transport) chair for. There was no way we were going to be able to get him to walk through a crowd in an unfamiliar state, in an underground cave, in the dark. We made it inside and headed to the ranger station to get our tickets. We did not use the Access Pass (which is a lifetime pass for those with disabilities to gain entry into all national parks for free, find more information in this post). Instead we used Jojo’s 4th grader pass, which you can obtain at everykidinapark.gov. It’s a special pass that allows 4th graders and their families access into national parks for free for an entire year. You obtain the pass online or in person. We did his online and then got the physical card in person. It was so cute watching him sign his little card. He’s legit now.
After we get our receipt for the tickets, we head to the elevator to gain access to the “Big Room,” which is the caverns largest cave. I don’t know if it is the largest in the world or anything like that, but it is 6 football fields big and it can take you hours to walk it completely. There is wheelchair access in this room, but you will not be able to go everywhere in the room. There were signs posted that let us know where we couldn’t go with Aidan and his chair. The ranger at the elevator let us know what we could and could not do in the cave. Basically don’t eat, drink, or touch anything. Same ol’, same ol’. We loaded onto the elevator and it took us 750 ft. underground. If I would have known beforehand that we were going that far underground, I would have thought twice about going.
The cave was amazing. It was dark and cold, probably because we were so far underground. There were a lot of wheelchair accessible ramps we could follow and we covered a large chunk of the cave before Aidan decided he had had enough. He didn’t have a meltdown, he was just…loud, and getting louder by the minute, so a meltdown was imminent or he was going to bring down some cave ceiling. Either way, it was time for us to go. We spent about 45 minutes in the cave. Which is a good amount of time for us. We headed back to the ground floor and checked out some of the exhibits on display before heading back to our car. We gassed up in town and headed out for Alamogordo and White Sands National Monument, which was about 3 hours away.
White Sands National Monument
The drive here was better than the drive to Carlsbad. It was full of open road as well, but prettier landscaping. Again, not many towns and gas stations. I thought Carlsbad was in the mountains, I was mistaken. We drove through some incredibly high mountains (for us) on the way to Alamogordo. It was sunny and hot when we left the caverns, a steaming 87 degrees. Once we hit those mountains though, the temp dropped to 60 degrees and it was dark. Our ears were popping and I could have sworn my breathing was off. Those towns in the mountains are something out of a postcard, or a 50s film. They are so…unchanged by time. The people looked friendly enough, always waving and there was a festival of some kind in every mountain town we came across. I was just ready to get to these sand dunes so I could roll down them a couple of times and then pass out in my hotel room.
Once we left the mountains, the temperature warmed back up and we were pretty close to the dunes, only it had been raining. I worried we wouldn’t be able to visit the dunes because of the rain and I didn’t want to redo our schedule, even though I had accounted for the weather. But the rain let up and it didn’t look to rain all that much in the area near the park. This town of Alamogordo has a mountain backdrop, it’s so beautiful. Not fun to drive through, but very pretty to look at. So, we finally hit the park, and there weren’t many cars in the parking lot, which I thought was pretty good. We arrived around 4pm. The park closes around 9pm so we had plenty of time to slide around out there. As usual the visitor center had souvenirs and a few exhibits. It cost us $20 for a sand sled. The wax for the sled was an additional $2. I didn’t get the wax, I mean I just paid twenty for a plastic sled! And I watched several videos on YouTube that stated that the wax doesn’t really help you slide down. I took a chance.
We were told that the best dunes to slide down are about 8 miles from the visitor’s center, so we load back into the car. We get to the gate, fully expected to show the kid’s pass for entry but there was no one in the booth and a sign that pretty much said, “go ahead.” And go forth, we did. So, 8 miles down the road we found the perfect dunes. And now I realized why the parking lot was pretty empty, everyone was already at the sand. We found a pretty empty area to slide down and parked the car. I didn’t expect Aidan to climb the sand, and he didn’t. He copped a squat on the sand and played in it. He was happy there. I was happy he was happy. Now, off to try to climb this sand. It was a lot harder than it looked on video. Think it had something to do with our shoes, but I was not about to take my shoes off. I wanted to change clothes when we go there, but I brought warmer weather outfits for the dunes and it was kind of cool out there. So, we didn’t change.
I got to the top of the dune, after the effort of a lifetime. It was time to give this slide a try, but first, take pictures. And video.
I didn’t do too well on my first slide. At all. We were told to keep sliding down the same spot to break it in and build up speed. So, we kept sliding down that same spot. And they were right, we did get faster and faster. We were experts by the end of it all. Jojo found some wax in the sand, and we ended up using that on our sled. I don’t think it really helped us go any faster. After about 90 minutes, it was time to check-in to the hotel and get some dinner.
Hotel. Dinner. Meltdown. Messed up the hotel tv. Fixed the hotel tv. Meltdown. Sleep.
Next morning, we headed out for Roswell.
The drive there involved going back through the mountains, but a different way. We got there in about 2 hours. Once there, we realized there were a lot of people here, more than you would think would be in a town like this. Turns out, it was UFO Fest. In all my planning, I didn’t realize that that was this weekend. My bad. I didn’t know how the kids were going to do here, but no turning back now, gotta stay the course. We had a few spots on our list to visit here, so we needed to hit the ground running. First up, the welcome sign. There were quite a few people here, so we had to wait our turn to take pics. The kids don’t wait too well, but they actually did pretty well. There weren’t that good with the actual pictures.
Next up, the zoo. The zoo was supposed to be a pretty decent one for being in a town that size and best of all, it was free. Can’t beat free. Unfortunately, it wasn’t open for some reason. So that was disappointing. We didn’t have time to be that sad about it though, we kept it moving to the Wildlife Refuge. This place was open, but the visitor’s center was closed. It was full of trails and paths that you can follow to see different kinds of birds, trees, squirrels and other wildlife. We saw some pretty gangsta lizards, ran me off the trail a couple of times. The refuge runs along the Pecos River and houses Bitter Lake, which we did see, but couldn’t quite get close to. At least not by the trails we were on. They had a driving tour we could have taken, but we decided to continue on to the “Alien Zone” downtown.
We finally found the UFO Mcdonald’s. It wasn’t as cool as it looked online. Don’t get me wrong, the UFO shape was cool, but the inside was just….Mickey D’s. I guess I thought it was going to look like a spaceship inside. It didn’t. Got the kid some fries and moved to the UFO Fest.
The Festival was cool. Full of vendors, food, car shows, and music. It was too loud for the kids, but they did pretty well. It was so hot out that we didn’t spend much time out there and headed off towards the UFO Museum.
This was also another one of those places that wasn’t as cool as it was online. For all four of us it was $14. Not bad. There were several exhibits in there ranging from photographic evidence to radio broadcasts. There were some props and sets from movies and shows depicted the events that allegedly happened in Roswell. Being that it was UFO Fest, the place was full of UFOlogists. Apparently, that’s a thing. It was hard to see everything in there because it was crowded, but it was small and not a whole lot in there to see or interact with.
Jojo ranked Roswell overall as the least fun place to visit of the three, and I agree with him.
Once we finished up with the museum, we headed home.
Overall, our trip to New Mexico was a success, and I give it a 9 out of 10 in terms of destinations and attractions. The kids handled the entire trip well. I cannot wait to see what we do in the future. I’m thinking Colorado, but we shall see.