Balmorhea Texas Carlsbad Caverns New Mexico

Texas: Balmorhea State Park & Pecos

New Mexico: White's City, Carlsbad Caverns & Carlsbad

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Some Key West Adventures ** More Texas Adventures ** 2003 Travel Adventures


Texas: Balmorhea State Park & Pecos

New Mexico: White's City, Carlsbad Caverns & Carlsbad

Places Visited:

Texas: Balmorhea State Park & Pecos

New Mexico: White's City, Carlsbad Caverns & Carlsbad

We plan to be in New Mexico for the next month or so. If you have anything you think we should do or see please let us know.

Sunday, June 8, 2003 We drove 229-miles to Balmorhea State Park Balmorhea, Texas. 50-amps water & cable $14 no shade.

We were scheduled to do a variety of things to the kid goats less than a year old today but several things conspired to unravel the plans. Maggie is still not feeling well enough to work goats and the sky looks like rain. Everyone turns out to herd goats to pastures with protection from possible hail. Maggie decided to call off the planned activities. With that decision Joyce and I knew it was time for us to continue our journey west. We have already stayed two days longer than intended.

By noon we have the motorhome ready for travel and say our good-buys. It has been a wonderful time but we need to be moving on.

We have made some great friends, had a wonderful time and learned so much about this unique lifestyle. Everyone we came into contact with has been so gracious and helpful. They are truly wonderful people.

Heading west on I-10 out of Sonora can be a boring drive. Not to us. We have a long list of things to look for and experience. We have each item of interest listed in our SA-8 mapping program on the laptop that is connected to GPS. As we travel these notes pop up reminding us to look for this or that and what mile marker to look for them. We are looking for road-cuts at specific mile markers that show certain geological features. This information is presented in the book Roadside Geology of Texas. The information it provides is so interesting and presented in such a way that non-geologist can better understand what they are seeing.

Shortly after leaving Sonora we pass the sign directing visitors to the Caverns of Sonora one of the most beautiful caves in the world. Many professional speleologists consider it to be "the-best" cave tour in the world. We did not stop this time but have toured it before and highly recommend it. If you are an RV'er they also have an RV-Park.

After passing the road to the caverns there is nothing until we get to the small town of Ozona. Ozona is the only city in a county larger than Delaware. How about that for some trivia. Ozona also is home to "The Davie Crockett Museum". It is Sunday and we are sure that it is not open otherwise we would have stopped. For RV'ers they have a nice RV-Park just off I-10. We are amazed at how individuals like Davie Crocket, Jim Bowie and others traveled around the country on horseback in the mid 1800s. Those people rode horses farther and to more places than most individuals travel today in automobiles.

At Mile Marker 339 we exited I-10 to take a side trip on Texas 290, a "scenic-drive" if ever there was one. Texas 290 makes a dip to the south of I-10 then turns west and runs parallel with I-10 through old Fort Lancaster (now a State Park) and the small city of Sheffield before returning to I-10 around mile marker 325. We were going from east to west today. That piece of information is important if you are traveling in a motorhome or RV because there is a steep grade to negotiate. Shortly after exiting I-10 we realized that we were riding on the top of Edwards Plateau. Road signs warned of a steep decent ahead. The signs were not joking. Texas 290 rounds a bend and dramatically the Pecos valley is spread out in all its glory. The grandeur of the view overwhelms you then immediately the reality of the grade sets in. There is virtually no traffic on the road so I dropped down to 2nd gear and let the exhaust break hold our decent speed to under 10-mph. At that speed we enjoyed the view for the maximum time. The only other vehicle we saw on the entire descent was one old bus conversion motorhome struggling up the long, steep grade, obviously in the other direction. It is impossible to adequately explain the awesome view but the Edwards Plateau is a thousand feet or so above the Pecos Valley. In my opinion the view is best when going from east to west since you can view the valley while descending into the canyon. This edge of the Edwards Plateau appears to be an escarpment that drops dramatically into the valley below. Texas 290 has been carved out of the side of a canyon wall as it makes its dramatic descent to the valley below. There should be no problem for automobiles but heavy RVs should exercise caution. The grade is LONG and STEEP, be prepared. In my opinion, it would be a dangerous grade to descend in a diesel powered rig without exhaust breaks. With that said everyone, properly equipped and transiting that section of I-10 should make the detour and enjoy that view and scenic road especially from east to west.

Mile Marker 297 has a roadside park that displays the three-toed footprints of a flesh-eating dinosaur. This dinosaur was kin to Tyrannosaurus Rex. Looking at the current desolate terrain it is difficult to visualize a time when this part of Texas was a swamp. However, the footprints in solid rock provide evidence of those terrifying animals that roamed long ago in this watery swamp.

Just west of the fossilized footprints we pass the wind energy capital of Texas if not the world. On mesas surrounding I-10 hundreds of wind generators are producing electricity. The sheer number of these structures with huge three-blade propellers spinning in the wind are a sight to behold. If you want to see more it is easy to take a side trip to the north on county roads and see even more of them.

West of Fort Stockton the Davis Mountains come into view on the south west horizon. We are headed to Balmorhea State Park and know that it sits at the foot of those mountains. The Park is situated around a huge spring. Water in this desolate landscape is an "oasis" for people as well as wildlife. In addition to a huge natural swimming area the State Park has cabins and an RV-Park. The "oasis" attracts and concentrates a wide variety of birds and wildlife. Joyce and I are going to spend a day or so enjoying the wildlife before we head to Carlsbad, New Mexico.

Driving I-10 from east to west across Texas is a visual geology lesson. East of San Antonio, Texas is mostly flat, from San Antonio west for several hundred miles you go through the Hill Country that has been thrust upward by forces deep in the bowls of Mother Earth. Erosion has worked its miracle on this uplifted portion to create the Hill Country.

The amount of water a region receives plays a major part in what the topography will look like. On the eastern side of the uplift where rainfall approaches 30 inches per-year the topography consists of rolling hills. By the time I-10 reaches Fort Stockton annual rainfall has decreased to 14 inches per-year and rolling hills have given way to sharp edged mesas and buttes. West of Sonora and particularly west of Fort Stockton is west Texas desert.

The Pecos River flows east out of mountains around Carlsbad, New Mexico until it encounters the Edwards Plateau. Upon meeting the Edwards Plateau it turns south until it joins the Rio Grande, River southeast of Langtry, Texas. Joyce and I took note that the Edwards Plateau is a "divide" of sorts. Water flowing east from the Continental Divide stops its eastward trek and must flow south upon reaching this new "divide". Now I have to do some research and see if scientist actually recognize the Edwards Plateau as some kind of divide for the Pecos River watershed.

Monday, June 9, 2003 Balmorhea State Park Balmorhea, Texas. 50-amps water & cable $14 no shade.

East of Balmorhea is desert. West of Balmorhea is the Davis Mountains. Rain over the Davis Mountains percolates into the aquifer before surfacing in the Balmorhea spring. Water from the spring at Balmorhea provides water to irrigate crops in the desert after it flows through the giant swimming pool at Balmorhea Springs State Park.

Water from the spring has attracted man since the beginning of time. European settlers recognized the value of this water source and began constructing canals as early as 1851, to irrigate crops in the surrounding desert. A thriving farming community has existed since that time as a direct result of that irrigation. In 1935 the Civilian Conservation Corps began construction on the park's swimming pool and other buildings. The pool they constructed is the largest spring fed swimming pool in the country. An acre or so of the bottom of this pool looks to be natural with native rock cemented together making up the sides. One arm off the huge pool has cement sides and bottom that resemble a normal swimming pool except that it is about an acre in size. A wide concrete walkway goes around the entire pool area. The part of the pool that has a natural bottom is from 20 to 30 feet deep and is used extensively by scuba divers. Water from the spring flows into the giant pool before entering into the regions irrigation system.

We spent the day around the park chilling out and watching wildlife. About the only wildlife we have not seen is javelina (collared Peccary) that are regular visitors in the Park.

Around 8 PM a vicious sand storm came rolling in off the Davis Mountains. We had been watching a large thunderstorm to the southwest of us over the Davis Mountains for most of the afternoon. For hours the storm did not move it just pounded the highest peaks of the Davis Mountains. Then around 8 PM the dark clouds and lightning started moving north. At this time a brown cloud about 10 miles wide that stretched from the ground to high in the sky started moving north adjacent to the black clouds in the thunderstorm. As this frightening swirling cloud approached us it appeared to be a tornado so Joyce and I took shelter in one of the bathhouses. For a 10 to 12 minute period violent winds approaching 80-miles per-hour buffeted the area. It was a Texas thunderstorm the locals told us. Sand and dust is everywhere, in our noses, mouth and hair. It completely blankets the automobile and motorhome with grit and grime. At the end a few drops of rain fell. The few drops of rain turned out to be exactly like the locals said it would be, just enough to make the dirt and grime stick to the car and motorhome. What an unholy mess. Joyce and I are lucky to have spotted it coming and had enough presence of mind to take shelter in the sturdy bathhouse. At the campground terrified campers in tents and popups realized they had survived. Shortly they were scurrying about trying to locate possessions in the surrounding desert vegetation. The only thing of ours missing was a doormat that I located about 100 yards away under a mesquite bush. I have no idea how the tenters will ever get the sand out of what remains of their tents. Some may be lucky to find their tents. The next day when we turned on the air conditioner in the Saturn we got blasted with sand and dust all over again. Things will be a total mess for days if not forever.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003 We drove 129-miles to Whites City RV-Resort. Full hookup with 30-amps in the blazing sun. Guests can use the Best Western pool and other facilities. $20

We drove north from Balmorhea, Texas through Pecos, Texas then into Whites City, New Mexico. From Balmorhea to Pecos we traveled Texas 17 through towns like Saragosa, Verhalen, Goban, Valleyfarm, Worsham and Locker. The drive was straight as an arrow following a rail line. The towns may have names on a map but most do not even have a store. The only way to tell we were passing through one of these "cities" was the GPS mapping system. Most only consisted of a few buildings and possibly a road intersecting with Texas 17. This area is desolate.

We stopped in Pecos and spent three hours going through the "West of the Pecos Museum". For a city the size of Pecos they have done a good job of putting together a history of the area. From the museum's section on Balmorhea we learned that many people earned their living in the calera pits and nearly all homes in nearby towns were made from cement mixed from the Brogado calera pits. When I saw the term "calera" pits and "cement mixed" from calera pits it made me wonder. What is calera? I have a sister and brother-in-law that live in Calera, Alabama and my brother-in-law works for a cement manufacturer in Calera. Coincidence? I think not. Calera must be some kind of limestone or similar substance. However, "calera" is not in any of my dictionaries or encyclopedias. Does anyone want to research the word "calera" and see what it means? Thanks in advance.

The West of the Pecos Museum in Pecos, Texas is one of the things you should visit when in the area. The museum is located in the old Orient Hotel built in 1896 and added to in 1904. The two story red sandstone building; a Saloon with bedrooms upstairs was constructed in 1896. In 1904, a three-story addition constructed of concrete blocks produced with a hand-operated molding machine increased the size of the famous Orient Hotel. It was the finest Hotel between El Paso and Abilene. Wild West shoot-outs took place in the Saloon located on the first-floor. Plaques on the floor commemorate where the "looser" of each gun battle fell. Bullet holes from these shoot-outs are pointed out on the walls.

Out of Pecos we travel north on US-285 to Malaga, New Mexico before turning west on NM-396 into White's City and Carlsbad Caverns National Park. The drive north of Pecos was even more desolate. Vegetation has a hard time surviving on salty, gypsum-rich Permian basin deposits of the Chihuahuan Desert. Desert plants are only a few feet tall and scattered. From Pecos to Malaga on US-285 we are constantly gaining altitude. It appears to be a constant grade of 1% or more. There is NO coasting. The engine is constantly under a load.

Information for RV'ers concerning Carlsbad Caverns NP follows: There is NO free overnight parking of RVs (boondocking) in the National Park or in White's City. White's City is at the entrance to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. There is an RV-Park in White's City operated by the Best Western Motel. Full hookups with 30-amps is $20. Electric and water sites are less. Other RV-Parks are available in Carlsbad but that is 20-miles north of the National Park. Now you know your options.

From White's City, at the entrance to the National Park, it is a 7-mile drive through Walnut Canyon to the Visitor's Center and the Cave entrance. RV's can make the drive and many do. However, if possible it would be better to drop the RV in White's City and drive the tow car into the park. There is plenty of parking for your RV at White's City. You just can't boondock overnight.

The road to Carlsbad Caverns starts in Whites City. For most of the seven-mile paved drive, the highway follows Walnut Canyon upstream. Except during floods, the canyon is dry, its floor dominated by white limestone cobbles and boulders. Small, scattered walnut trees give the canyon its name (emphasis on SMALL and SCATTERED). Cliffs of weathered limestone make up the canyon walls and desert plants carpet the slopes. Several miles down into the park the road stops following the canyon and begins its climb out of the canyon with a big horseshoe bend and starts the CLIMB up the hill. A massive cut-stone guardrail on the downhill side of the road was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Depression. We also learn that the CCC constructed many of the park facilities.

The Caverns are situated on the northern edge of the Chihuahuan desert that we crossed in the motorhome yesterday. At the Visitors center we realize that we have climbed to the top of the escarpment we had been seeing in the distance while traveling this way yesterday across the desert. Awesome views stretch far south into Texas where on clear days you can see the Davis Mountains more than 100 miles to the South. The entire eastern escarpment of the Guadalupe Mountains is visible, including the high peaks of Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas.

We ate an early dinner in White's City before heading to the National Park Visitors Center parking lot and walking the 500-yards to the main Cave entrance to Carlsbad Caverns. Every night during the summer an amphitheater at the entrance to the cave fills up to view the nightly exit of 300,000 to 500,000 Mexican Free tail bats. As you know we have missed several other bat cave tours but tonight we hit the jackpot. Just after 8:00 thousands of bats started exiting the cave in a circular motion similar to a whirlwind. The mass exodus of over 5,000 bats per-minute lasted for the next thirty minutes and possibly longer. We left after 30-minutes and the exit column appeared to be as thick then as at the beginning. The Ranger said the cave was discovered in the late 1880s when ranchers went to investigate "smoke". Of course the "smoke" turned out to be bats exiting the cave. At one time the cave was home to 9-million bats. I can only imagine the sight of 9-million bats emerging from the entrance.

Female bats consume ½ their weight in insects during a nights flight especially when nursing. Males consume about 1/3 their weight. While spending the day in the cave 9-million bats do a lot of "pooping". The result is a lot of guano. Between 1903 and 1923 the guano was mined. Miners were lowered 170 feet into the bat cave. Over 100,000 tons of guano was mined most of which was shipped to orange groves in southern California. Now you know why California oranges taste strange. Just joking! VBG

Guano in the bat cave remains over 20' deep in the bat cave today. Bats enter and exit from the main cave entrance. It is the same entrance that visitors use to walk down to the "Big room" if they do not take the elevator. Somewhere between the entrance and the 750 foot level there is an entrance to the "bat cave" where the bats roost. Visitors are not allowed in that part of the cave system. As you might suspect visitors are not allowed to be in the entrance cave when bats may be exiting.

All day long and particularly in the evening prior to the bat flight, hundreds of cave swallows dart in and out of the cave entrance as they make trips to and from their nest somewhere in the cave. It is uncanny how the swallows disappear just before the bats exit. It just makes sense the cave swallows would want to be snug in their nest before the bats exit every night. I can only imagine the predicament a swallow would find itself in if caught trying to fly into the cave against the flow of all those bats.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003 Whites City RV-Resort. Full hookup with 30-amps in the blazing sun. Guests can use the Best Western pool and other facilities. $20.

The Chihuahuan Desert, one of this continent's four great desert regions, extends from deep in the Mexican state of Chihuahua north into Texas and New Mexico. Carlsbad Caverns National Park is located in the northern tip of this ancient desert. This morning we drove the "Walnut Canyon Desert Drive" in Carlsbad Caverns NP. The scenic drive is a gravel path into this desert world. The 9.5 mile loop follows the top of the Guadalupe Escarpment for a few miles then turns and dips into upper Walnut Canyon. From there it follows the canyon floor back to the park entrance road and PAVEMENT.

Before starting this "scenic-drive" we purchased a guide keyed to numbered areas along the route. From the top of the escarpment we can see what seems like forever across the Chihuahuan Desert south of us. Actually the view ends with the Davis Mountains some 100-miles distant. To the southwest extends the backbone of the Guadalupe Mountains, ending in the plunging cliffs of El Capitan.

With the help of the guide we learn to tell the difference between Torrey yucca and soaptree yucca. Once the characteristics of each is pointed out it becomes fairly easy for us to tell the difference. We also learned to identify the lechuguilla (lay-choo-GHEE-ye) Plant. It has sword like leaves and poses a hazard to travel in desert regions. It can pierce the legs of horses and mules and seriously injure a thrown rider. The stiff, pointed blade can also puncture automobile tires and slice the soles of hiking boots. Like the century plant it sends up a single stalk after many years, blossoming only once before it dies. Lechuguilla like sotol are indicator plants of the Chihuahuan Desert ecosystem.

The scenic-drive along with the guide has been very educational for us.

After the scenic-drive we returned to the Visitors Center at Carlsbad for lunch then took the elevator 750-feet down to the "Big Room" where we walked the mile or so of the "Big Room" tour of the cave. There are many different cave tours available. The "Big Room" tour was the only one Joyce would agree to do. I wanted to walk down the cave entrance where the bats exited last night. That walk ends in the "Big Room" near the elevator shaft. That experience will have to wait, possibly my grandson will do it with me some day.

Thursday, June 12, 2003 We drove 17-miles to Windmill RV Park; Carlsbad, New Mexico. Full hookup 50-amps some shade, modem connection, laundry, cable and pool for $23.04 per-night.

We said good by to Whites City and headed for the city of Carlsbad 20-miles north where we are going to spend a few days. We have to get prescription medicines and do laundry. We have really had a good time the past two weeks but it is now time to slow down and take care of essential chores. One other thing we need to do is go through all of our New Mexico material and organize it into folders by city. Some things have been put off and put off but we are now in New Mexico and have to get our information in order.

Once in Carlsbad and after lunch we headed out to find "the flume". The "flume" is one of the things everyone visiting Carlsbad should see. Why would anyone want to see a "flume" when almost no one even knows what a "flume" is? That is the reason I want to see it! According to the dictionary, a flume is a narrow gorge with a stream flowing through it, usually, or and artificial channel or chute for a stream of water. The flume in Carlsbad is the latter.

Back in the late 1880s a project to dam and use the water from the Pecos River for irrigating fertile but arid land took shape. The dam was built creating Avalon Reservoir. At the same time the canal system was constructed. However, much of the fertile land was located on the west side of the Pecos River while the canal carrying irrigation water was on the east side. In order to get the water to the west side of the Pecos they constructed a wooden flume 475 feet long by 25 feet wide carrying 8 feet of water across the river. The wooden flume completed in 1890 worked well until 1902 when it was destroyed in a flood. This time the flume was rebuilt in concrete, at that time it was the largest concrete structure in the world. That same concrete flume is still in use today as part of the area irrigation system. At one time the flume was featured in Ripley's "Believe It or Not" as the river that crosses itself since Pecos River water from Lake Avalon flows across the Pecos River in the "FLUME" to irrigate farmland located west of the river.

The only disappointment for us was that the Pecos River was dry. In other words the Pecos River was not flowing under the flume. We could see the dry river bed but dry it was. I suppose Ripley's Believe it or Not does not think it is so unique since there is no Pecos River for it to cross. None-the-less the flume is a unique structure performing a unique function and we enjoyed seeing it. It is especially awe inspiring knowing that it was constructed in 1902.

Back at the RV-Park I asked the locals in the office what happened to the Pecos since we did not see it under the flume. As usual "locals" have no idea. They also did not know the source of water in the flume. They do not know where the Pecos River in downtown gets water since as far as they know the Pecos River flows under the flume. The Pecos River has water in it as the river passes through the town proper. I am beginning to suspect that the "Pecos River" in the downtown area may just be a lake formed in the traditional riverbed of the famous Pecos River. A dam across the old riverbed south of town and water supplied by the irrigation system may keep just enough water in the "lake" "river" to give the appearance that the Pecos still flows through town.

Friday, June 13, 2003 Windmill RV Park; Carlsbad, New Mexico. Full hookup 50-amps some shade, modem connection, laundry, cable and pool for $23.04 per-night.

The Living Desert Zoo & Gardens State Park here in Carlsbad was our first stop today. Through both indoor and outdoor exhibits we were able to view up close many of the Chihuahuan Desert plants, animals, birds and reptiles. A 1.3 mile trail meanders through various rock formations typical of the desert uplands. The large visitor center has a number of very professional exhibits on the area's plants and animals, as well as geology and history. The hands on discovery section was educational as well. Joyce and I both enjoyed looking closely at a cross section of a Juniper tree that was in excess of 150-years old. Someone had painstakingly counted the growth rings and marked them at 25-years intervals. The most remarkable thing about it was the size. It was less than one foot in diameter. Trees do not grow fast out here.

The 1.3 mile trail was well marked with information on types of desert shrubbery, plants, trees, cactus and succulents all the way from pinon pine to prickly pear. We were able better hone our skills of naming the regions plants.

After lunch we toured the local historical museum. Carlsbad has put together a nice museum showcasing a number of interesting collections and preserving some old equipment from the 1800s.

I questioned a policeman about the Pecos River today. He was as clueless as other locals at the RV-Park except he tried to act like he knew something. In a very authoritative voice he told me that "none of the water in the irrigation system came from the Pecos River, it comes from Lake Avalon". When I ask him the source of water in Lake Avalon he said he didn't know but the irrigation water came from Lake Avalon NOT the Pecos River". DUH! Even a cursory glance at a map and you will see that Lake Avalon was created by a dam across the Pecos River. Plus all the written information about the flume talks about how they constructed a dam across the Pecos. I guess that is why he is a policeman.

I did some scouting around in the car today. The "Pecos River" in the downtown area is indeed a lake in fact it is called Lake Carlsbad as well as the Pecos River. Several dams within the city limits are the only reason the Pecos River has any water at all. There is NO water flowing south of the southern most dam on Lake Carlsbad. I would not be at all surprised if the water in Lake Carlsbad is the treated runoff from the cities waste water treatment facility.

Mike & Joyce Hendrix

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Mike & Joyce Hendrix

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