Hello family and friends! Greg and I have returned to one of our "old" haunts, White Sands National Monument. We had a little time on our hands before returning to Colorado so G emailed our boss from last year and asked if they needed help. It turns out that they were in desperate straits since four of their volunteer rangers left early due to family and medical issues. We are performing the same roles as last year--working in the Visitor Center and leading hikes out onto the dune field. We opted not to live at the monument but instead have parked the rig at Hollomen Air Force Base. It has so many more amenities then the lot at White Sands. Groceries and gas are close at hand and there is also a library. The big bonus is a state of the art gym facilities. G and I go there about every morning except Sundays. I am now running on the treadmill and have been averaging 3.7 mph--not real swift but I figure it is higher since I jog on a 4 degree incline. I have not gotten to the point where I can run a straight 45 minutes without a break but I am seeing incremental improvements in time spent running. Go me!
Up until now, G and I had just been redoing activities we enjoyed last year. We've eaten Can't Stop Smoking BBQ, savored custard ice cream, visited Mesilla and ate Mexican food at Josefina's.
Today, we ventured into new territory. We returned to Texas and visited a state park that has been on my bucket list since the days we camped in a pop up trailer with our daughters. The name is Hueco Tanks State Historic Park and it is located about an hour and a half from White Sands near El Paso.
Let me tell you a little bit about the geology of the area. It is quite rocky there with many crevices and caves plus there are bowl shaped indentions throughout the three mountains (North, East and West Mountains). The bowl shapes or hollows are called huecos. It seems that many, many years ago (more than 30 million), magma under the surface pushed its way into limestone layers. When it cooled it had left pockets of bubbles. Tectonic activity lifted the layers upward, fracturing them as it went. The landscape changed into a rocky series of formations with numerous huecos. These hollows range from small bowl size to a child's swimming pool size. They hold the rain water and became a known source of it to the Mogollon Indians and later to the Apaches.
This area unlike the surrounding desert has sections of lush vegetation and little hidden gardens of trees and scrubs. Lizards and ocotillo abound here. This was most interesting!
We had really come to Hueco Tanks to see the pictographs left by the Ancient Ones as well as the Apaches. This state park allows only seventy people a day in to explore the area. You don't even get to go to all three mountains but are limited to North Mountain. East and West Mountain are only accessible by guided hikes which take place on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. We had reservations for both a guided and self guided tour.
We did have adventures! Our first was on the guided tour. After all the safety instructions, our hike leader lead us toward East and West Mountains. Before reaching there we stepped off the main path and headed towards what is known as Newspaper Rock. The path was maybe an 18 inch width with shrubs and cacti on each side. We came to a 90 degree bend in the path and there our guide began speaking about avoiding a particularly vicious cacti that was at this spot.
As he tuned to continue on the path, all of us heard a loud rattling noise---believe me, our guide stopped immediately in his tracks and did a quick about face. He was visibly shaken because there in our way lay a large rattlesnake. As he slithered, slowly (I mean slowly, slowly) I took pictures. Luckily, I already had my camera in my hand. Sooo, we did not make it to Newspaper Rock at that point. At the end of our tour, we came back to it.
We were led to several different areas with pictographs. Honestly, G and I have seen better preserved and more numerous ones else where. We had not seen pictures of masks nor had we seen the signatures of so many travelers thru this area. When gold was found in California, this area became a watering station for overland coaches including the Butterfield Mail and wagon trains.
These people (including one with the last name of Taylor) etched their names in the rocks and caves. This was also true for the buffalo soldiers who were charged with controlling the Indian tribes in the area. One area almost exclusively devoted to these was Newspaper Rock, a sheltered area at the base of North Mountain.
All in all we were out with the hike group two and a half hours. We returned to our starting point in time for a picnic lunch and then, it was off to new adventures. What fun Greg and I had! We scampered up these rocky slopes aided by the numerous small huecos which became hand and foot holds for help in gaining elevation.
All alone we became explorers, sliding between narrow crevices and crawling into dwarf size entrances to see what we could find. G would go one way and I another--something about him not fitting into tiny holes.
At one point, I found myself flat on my back, inching feet first under a slab of rock whose side ceiling exhibited a large number of small and medium sized hollows. What should I discover but pictographs! I'm not sure many people have found these! What fun! What adventure! We would explore large crevices which led to cave like structures which opened up into small tree shaded areas---a private retreat. It was an amazingly wonderful way to spend the afternoon! Needless to say we came home happy and content!