Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Go down under at Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico

Carlsbad Caverns
If you’re traveling through southern Mexico and Carlsbad Caverns isn’t on your list of sights to see, put it there. This phenomenon of nature is well worth the detour.

Located in the Guadalupe Mountains, Carlsbad Caverns was formed 250 million years ago when it was the coastline for an inland sea. Inside you’ll find 119 caves with stunning stalactite and stalagmite formations. Some look like big boulders, others like gigantic icicles.  These limestone formations are all stunning.

The formations can be found in “rooms,” some of which are huge. The Big Room, for example, got its name because it’s the biggest down there. It is 4,000 feet long, 625 feet wide and 285 feet high. It is the fifth largest cavern in North America.

Formations and caves have names, such as the Balloon Ballroom, Witch’s Finger, Chocolate High, Halloween Hall and Left Hand Tunnel. Signage throughout describes what you’re looking at. 

And, of course, there’s the Bat Cave, so named because the cavern’s majority of bats sleep here during the day. They leave at sunset in swarms that’s a sight to see if you’re there at the time.

Carlsbad became a national monument in 1923 and a national park in 1930. 

Carlsbad Caverns

The caverns are accessible by hiking down a trail from the natural entrance or by elevator. I hiked down the trail when I first visited there in 1972 and found the paved steep walkway and handrails slippery with bat guano. To say the least, I was perturbed when I got to the bottom and saw the elevator.  I took it back up. When I visited again in the spring of 2017, I took the elevator both ways.

The caverns are handicapped accessible. Wheelchairs are permitted on the main trail, but only to a certain point. After that, you’ll have to retrace your way back to the “lobby.”

Carlsbad Caverns is open daily, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.

You can see more pictures of Carlsbad Caverns on my Youtube slideshow.

Monday, December 11, 2017

White sand glistens in New Mexico

Driving in White Sands
It may look like snow and ice are covering the roads and hills, but don’t let appearances fool you. It’s sand. White sand. Like in White Sands National Monument.

The white sand here is considered one of the world’s natural wonders. You can walk on it (even barefoot if you want), slide on it, camp on it, hike on it or bicycle on it.

The white sand is actually salt gypsum crystal, but from a distance you’d be hard pressed to differentiate it from snow. The gypsum comes from the nearby San Andres and Sacramento mountains. Rain dissolves the gypsum and carries it to the Tularoso Basin where it dries out and becomes sand. Thanks to the wind, it then forms into dunes.

The monument is located in southern New Mexico, about 16 miles southwest of Alamagordo. The white sands have starred in a few monies, including Hang ‘em High and Young Guns II.

 During World War II, White Sands was used as a missile testing site. Testing continues today. The National Park Service warns hikers they might come across active missiles, which should not be disturbed. At times the monument is closed when missiles are being tested.

Otherwise the monument is open daily except for Christmas Day.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

St. Stephen's: a scene of peace in Fort Stockton, Texas

St, Stephens
An old wooden church sits quietly on a street corner in Fort Stockton, Texas.

Constructed in 1896, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church is the oldest church in the Pecos region. Originally called St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, It was built in Pecos, 54 miles northwest of Fort Stockton, and moved to its present location at the intersection of Second Street and Spring Drive.

Members of the congregation bought the old church and placed it on land donated by Dr. D.J. Sirley.

Interior furnishings in this Victorian-style church include an ebony cross.

Services are held every Sunday at the church.

The church has been a Texas landmark since 1966.

Another view of St. Stephen's

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Alamo: most sacred ground in Texas

The Alamo
There is no more sacred ground in Texas than the site of an early Spanish mission, Mission San Antonio de Valero, more commonly known as The Alamo. Texans today consider it a shrine. It is an icon for the Lone Star state.

 The mission might have ended its days in peaceful obscurity except for a bloody battle that took place there in 1836 during the Texas Revolution for independence from Mexico. It was the turning point in the revolution. While the Texans may have lost the battle of the Alamo, a few months later they won their war for independence.

 Located in what today is the heart of San Antonio and surrounded by modern skyscrapers, the Alamo was built by the Franciscans in 1718. It was a combination of mission, hospital and fortress on the banks of the San Antonio River.  

A tour guide points out bullet holess
The battle for the Alamo began on February 23, 1836, when Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna amassed 6,000 troops outside the mission. With Texas defenders numbering only around 200, the conclusion was foregone from the start. Still, the Texans held on for 13 days before being overrun and massacred by the Mexican Army.

 Mexican troops had been stationed at the mission since the early 1800s, but were routed from their post by Texans in December 1835. Getting the mission back was revenge for them. 
Davy Crockett
National Archives photo

Among the Texas dead were William Travis, fort commander; Jim Bowie, 40, frontiersman and inventor of the famous Bowie knife, and Davy Crockett, 49, former Congressman and famed frontiersman. You can read about how the trio ended up in Texas, far room their homes, in Three Roads to The Alamo by  William C. Davis. A list of the defenders who died during the battle can be found on the Alamo's official wesite.

 If you visit the Alamo today, you’d be hard pressed to imagine the bloody conflict that took place there. The setting is an oasis filled with lush vegetation and a slow moving canal filled with vibrant orange fish. Since Texans consider the Alamo a shrine, visitors are cautioned to dress and behave respectfully while they’re on the grounds.

 The Alamo is open daily, except for Christmas Day, at 300 Alamo Plaza. Admission is free.

 More photos of the Alamo can be found on my YouTube slideshow, Remember the Alamo!.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Stunnning chapel in Arizona's stunning red rock country

It’s not often a church is a city’s major tourist attraction. A few that come to mind are St. Peter’s in Rome, Westminster Abbey in London and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.  You probably wouldn’t put a tiny church in Sedona, Arizona, on the list.

Side view of the Chapel of the Holy Cross

Yet the Chapel of the Holy Cross is the most visited and photographed place in Sedona, an upscale community in north central Arizona. Sedona is very scenic, surrounded by gorgeous red rock where off-road vehicle tours of the area are popular.

The view from the altar
It is this very setting, however, that makes the chapel so spectacular.  It is built on red rocks with more red rocks and brilliant blue skies as a backdrop.

The chapel is stunningly simple; there is elegance in its demeanor. It is a place that brings peace to the soul. This is just what its founder, Marguerite Brunswig Staude, intended.

A student of the visionary architect Frank Lloyd Wright, she designed the chapel to be inspirational in memory of her mother.  She paid for the chapel herself. It is now administered by the Catholic church, but is considered to be non-denominational, inviting all faiths to pray here.

A small shrine along the walkway

The design was ahead of its time, featuring a large cross that spans the width and  of the small chapel andlenghtwise extends down to the red rock below.. Plain glass windows behind the cross allow worshippers to look to the heavens for inspiration. The chapel’s interior has no Stations of the Cross found in Catholic churches, but rather four colored panels – two on each wall. Simple benches provide seating.

Parking and walkway to the chapel
The Chapel of the Holy Cross is located at 780 Chapel Road; take the Chapel Road exit off Highway 179 to the end. It is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. A few handicapped parking spaces are available at the entrance ramp, but otherwise you’ll have to park alongside the road and walk up the hill.  The walkway to the chapel is another uphill climb, but it’s paved and is wheelchair accessible. 

Monday, July 31, 2017

Sab Antonio River Walk: a Texas oasis

Like any big city, San Antonio, Texas, is a bustling place, filled with tall buildings and heavily trafficked streets.

Escaping this busy concrete jungle is easier than you might then.  Why drive miles out into the country when you can find an oasis in downtown San Antonio? Just head for River Walk.

River Walk is a series of waterways that runs several miles through San Antonio’s city center. It is second only to the Alamo in the hierarchy of the city’s top tourist attractions. As well it should be.

Wide sidewalks line both sides of the canal. There is lush greenery everywhere, plus fountains and islands used by tour boats to reverse their course. This isn’t Venice, but it’s easy to imagine a gondolier singing "Santa Lucia” as he glides his craft through the water.

Also lining the canal’s banks are shops, galleries, restaurants and bars, and major hotels. River Walk is indeed a world class entertainment center.

There are several public staircases linking the street to River Walk. You can also access it, as we did, from the lobby of a hotel. On-street parking can be difficult to find at times, so you may want to use a hotel’s parking lot.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Desert plants shine in West Texas garden

Desert garden at Langtry, Texas

Whether  you have a green thumb or are just need a break from driving through West Texas, a stop at the Judge Roy Bean Visitor Center at Langtry might be just what you need. 

The center is home to the original saloon/courtroom where the judge dispensed both booze and justice. The building stands in an oasis of more than 100 plants native to the Desert Southwest.  

This xeriscape garden features a variety of cacti, from yucca to prickly pear to ocotillo, as well as dozens of trees and shrubs.  The garden is particularly pretty when the cacti and other plants are in bloom. Plants are labeled, so they’ easily identifiable. The visitor center also has a brochure with a detailed listing of the garden’s offerings.

There’s a wide paved walkway leading though the garden. It only takes a few minutes to walk, plus the trail is wheelchair accessible.

The garden is available during visitor center open hours: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Memorial through Labor days, and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. the rest of the year.

If you want to see more pictures of Cactus of the Desert Southwest, check out my YouTube slideshow.