Home from yet another road trip that we try and take each fall. This one ran later than our norm due to work conflicts, but… ended up being a good time to go aside from the mad rush to prep for Thanksgiving and Christmas shopping as soon as we got home! This trip came in a little under 5000 miles in 17 days.
Before leaving town, I learned something that probably most of you already know, but I’ll repeat anyways. I had an intermediate SUV reserved thru Budget—best rate going—for $775 for 3 weeks time. Kept checking on rates and just about a week before leaving, I found a rate thru Enterprise for $675. Ended up with a Ford Flex. NOT what we’d anticipated but it worked out great—3rd row of seats fold down flat and we had plenty of space for all the “stuff” required to maintain us for the 17 days. Averaged 23 mpg. Not the best, but not bad for the vehicle size.
We set off from central Ohio in the afternoon with St Louis as our first stop. We’ve been past the arch many times, but had never stopped. Didn’t get there in time to go inside, but that’s okay. We got some awesome photos of it lit up at night. Left St Louis and made the Budget Lodging in St Clair our first overnight stop. Have driven in St Louis during rush hour in the past and definitely preferred to be “out of town” the next morning. A place called “budget lodging” doesn’t sound like much, I know—but they get good reviews on TA, so… we gave it a whirl. It’s budget, yes, but—very clean and people working there were very nice. I have no hesitation in recommending it for a good place to lay your head along the way. tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g44877-d530531-…
The following day, we headed to Oklahoma City. Decided to get off the main highway take Rt 66 from Sapulpa to Edmond. Interesting bits of things along the way—abandoned buildings, bits of road to nowhere and of course Rock Café, POPS and the round red barn
Stayed in the Sleep Inn in OKC—not far from Edmond. The hotel was actually really nice and new—very pleased with it. Continental breakfast was better than most with several hot items. tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g51560-d446434-… Our full day in OKC was spent wandering thru Bricktown early in the morning. More of an “evening” place, but rather nice when everything was closed and quiet The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum is a must do! It’s not the first time we’ve been there but made it a point to add it to our list again. Tons of artwork and history—all things “western” in movies and real life. It’s a wonderful place. http://www.nationalcowboymuseum.org/ The other “must see” in OKC is the memorial. It is equally sad and beautiful. If you get a chance, listen to the ranger give a talk about what happened that day and what the different parts of the park represent. Brought tears to my eyes even after all these years since the bombing. http://www.oklahomacitynationalmemorial.org/
An 8 hour drive thru Texas on secondary roads to Carlsbad was on the slate from OKC. We were surprised at the number of small towns with abandoned buildings along the way—
Stayed at the Best Western in Carlsbad tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g60761-d92799-R… No lodging in Carlsbad gets “raving” reviews so we took Tet’s advice and went with the BW. It was actually quite nice. Huge room and very clean. People working there were all very nice! Had dinner at their restaurant—it was easy and we were tired Dining room was closed and a temporary kitchen was set up—salad bar set up in a room along with stacked chairs…. Not the best atmosphere, but food was quite good and service was excellent. Spent the next morning in the caverns. WOW! Neither of us were really into caverns- but decided it was a must do. SO glad we did! We stuck with the natural cavern entrance and the great room self-guided tours only. Those 2 are covered under the national parks pass. It was enough for us and we spent 5 hours wandering and taking photos. Tripod required! Such an otherworldly place…. Just amazing! After 5 hours underground, I did decide I was not born to be a dwarf The natural entrance is a long haul…. A mile and ½ and all downhill, but if you’re in decent shape, it’s a great way to enter. There are elevators for those who do not want to make that trek and we used them to leave the caverns. http://www.nps.gov/cave/index.htm In my opinion—despite the caverns being out of the way—they are definitely worth the trip.
Stopped by the Guatalupe Mountains—the McKittrick section—on the way to Las Cruces for the night. Too late in the year for any fall color that it’s known for, so made the hike very short and sweet.
A Best Value Inn with the largest chili in the world in the front parking lot was our choice for lodging in Las Cruces. Got there just before dark…. Hmm…. Not the best area in town, it seemed, and we almost kept driving. Instead, I walked in and scoped things out. What a great welcome we got! Chips and salsa brought to our room- room was cute and clean- courtyard garden was great and it was very, very quiet. Don’t let the area throw you off. tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g47087-d92878-R… Asked for a recommendation for dinner—in the mood for some spice and had dinner at a small, local little restaurant called Los Mariachis. Food was plentiful, good and inexpensive. We were introduced to a green chile concoction that Mr Wings opted to eat with a spoon???? Chiles from Hatch. That was the key. We tucked that info in the back of our brains for later.
From Las Cruces, we headed to the Gila Cliff Dwellings north of Silver City. A 40 mile trip up into the mountains that took nearly 2 hours. Whew! Glad I’d taken that Dramamine! Beautiful drive and goes thru the old mining town of Pinos Altos. We’d been there before so didn’t stop. Gila is another one of those “out of the way” places to try and get to but without the draw that the caverns have. It’s not even a large park, but…. it is great! Mile and ½ round trip to get up to the dwellings—the last bit is hard on the old legs, but worth the effort. There are 5 caves and 3 of them, the trail goes directly into and thru them. VERY cool to be able to wander inside. Loved this little park! http://www.nps.gov/gicl/index.htm
Stayed the night in Silver City, NM Also not easy to find good hotel reviews there. The Econo Lodge had been remodeled and getting positive reviews so decided to go for it. Econo Lodges are on the bottom of my list of places to stay, but…. there you go. It actually had been totally redone and was clean and nice. No problems at all and the girl at the front desk was really sweet. Sent us to another local, family owned place when we requested the best burgers with green chiles (yes, we were hooked on the chiles!) La Cochina was the name of the restaurant and the chile burgers were awesome!
From Silver City, we headed down to Tombstone for day/night. What can you say about Tombstone? Well…. it’s Tombstone! A must stop for any western fan. Is it cheesy? Of course—but I must say the town that refused to die has found another way to live on—tourism. It’s actually great fun. Everyone in town in period clothing, cowboys wandering the street, servers in the restaurants all in period clothes. We ate at Big Nose Kate’s. http://www.bignosekates.info/ Server recommended the Rueben and brisket. Both were excellent as was the service and atmosphere. For the overnight stay, we chose the Tombstone Bordello. Had very good reviews on here- tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g31381-d501687-… I felt it was a bit of a mixed bag. An old building, of course. Love that. We had the Fallen Angel room (which seemed appropriate for us) Small balcony off the room. I would just like to have seen some attention to detail overall. Carpeting going up the stairs was very old and not clean. The room was rather sparse and just felt like it needed some care. Screen door was torn out to the balcony. It could be a lovely place, but just had the feel of a bit of neglect. On the other hand, the hostess was awesome and the breakfast NOT for the health conscience (and delicious!) Breakfast is cooked for you personally as you come downstairs. 2 eggs, toast, bacon, sausage and hash browns all loaded onto your plate. Can you say cholesterol??? Lol Great food tho and we loved it. Fresh juice and coffee, too, of course.
Leaving Tombstone, we headed towards Willcox for the night via several ghost towns and Cochise’s Stronghold. A dirt road took us past the now abandoned mining towns of Gleeson, Courtland and Pearce. On the way into Tombstone, we stopped at Fairbanks. A bit different since it’s been managed by the parks system. We love photographing old abandoned buildings, so took our time wandering the back road and taking some shots of the remains of the mining towns. We’d planned to tour Shakespeare ghost town, but decided to pass. We had filled our desire for them by that point and preferred the more “neglected” little spots we found along the way.
Cochise Stronghold. Mr Wings and I both agreed that it was one of the highlights of the trip. A 6 mile round trip to the top. It was a constant uphill hike with an elevation change of about 1000 feet. We just loved the feel of the place, tho and well worth the efforts it took to get there. The 3 miles down were hard on the knees, of course, but still better than the uphill climb! Cochise is supposedly buried there—just walking where this historic figure walked…. We just loved everything about it. We had the place to ourselves. Dirt road to get into the park, by the way. http://www.cochisestronghold.com/
Overnighted in Willcox at the Days Inn. No problems with the hotel or room. tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g60773-d74656-R… Willcox hasn’t much going on, so be warned! settled on a Pizza Hut for dinner since even the hotel employee hadn’t a good recommendation for dinner. No worries—after all the hiking, we could’ve eaten just about anything!
Off to the Chiricahua Mtns the next morning. Awoke to the only rainy weather we had the whole trip and temperatures had dropped from low 70s thus far to 50’s for a high. The fire of last year has really ravaged the Chiricahuas. Between that and the rain…. It was a little depressing, but we bundled up, threw on our rain ponchos and headed down the trail to the bottom of the canyon. Halfway down, the weather cleared and had sunshine for the hike back up. The legs were not up to par after the Cochise hike the previous day, but we made it—fortunately, it was “only” a mile and ½ hike back up to the rim. That was bad enough! Lol It’s a beautiful park full of unique rock formations. http://www.nps.gov/chir/index.htm Nearby is the national monument/park of Fort Bowie. A special thank you to VCV for letting me know about these two places, by the way. I’d not thought to even include them in this trip and am SO glad I did!
Fort Bowie is rather unique—8 miles on a dirt road to get to the trail head and then a mile and ½ hike to the ruins. There is no closer way to get in. It’s a great walk, tho—you pass by many historical event sites, a cemetery, an Apache “camp” etc. It’s level for some of the trail, but of course… Fort Bowie sits up on the hill, so it’s another uphill hike. Sigh… legs were definitely protesting! It’s a cool place, tho—lots of ruins. Hiking out was mostly downhill or level (thankfully!) The highlight of my day came back at the trailhead. Mr Wings was not with me-- I heard a slight noise (this is a remote location, so very quiet) Turned to look and saw 3 gray wolves trotting down the hill just below me. I tried to get a photo, but… they were gone in an instant! Wolves??? Here??? Apparently they are not common in the area—only a handful—so I was thrilled to see them. I immediately thought “are these really wolves? Or they spirits of the Chiricahuas who once roamed here?” You be the judge— I know what I believe. Either way, it was an awesome experience and one of the highlights of my trip.
Lordsburg was our overnight stop this night. Best Western Skies Inn. It was a great hotel. Small town, but hotel felt new and roomy and comfy! Really liked it and definitely would recommend it. tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g47095-d92893-R…
Off the next morning for the place we’d planned the entire trip around. However… along the way, we went thru the town of Hatch, NM. Ah, yes—that info in the back of our brains… Stopped at one of many road side vendors and bought a big bag of dried green chiles and a smaller bag of ground green chile powder. Add to that, 2 cans of green chile sauce. We now have supplies to keep us for a little while back in the non-chile state of Ohio
Back to our destination—It had been on our list of things we wanted to do for a long time, but since we do not typically travel so late in the fall, it’s never worked out. The Bosque del Apache. Thousands of sand hill cranes and snow geese migrate and winter there. What can I say? OMG!!!!! The skies were filled with birds every sunrise and sunset. Both birds head to the water for the night, then fly to the fields to feed during the day. The temperatures were in the teens and 20’s out there waiting for sunrise, but SO worth it! The cranes take off in small groups—the snow geese all at once. WHAT a sight! We planned the visit to be leaving the morning of Nov 13th. The Festival of the Cranes begins that day and we did not want to fight the hordes of photographers. It worked out perfectly. By the time we reached the Bosque, the crane count was 4500. The snow geese? Probably 4 times that many. The number of birds literally doubled over the 3 days we were there. It was just awesome. Also saw raptors, coyotes, pheasant…. Great place for those who love birds. www.fws.gov/southwest/refuges/newmex/bosque/
To top off the visit, we opted to stay at the Fite Ranch. I cannot say enough wonderful things about it. The owner is the nicest person in world! The lodging was perfect! We had a one bedroom “apartment” Full kitchen, living room, bedroom and bath. All spacious and every attention to detail was given to this place. It’s called a B and B but isn’t like what you’d expect. Most lodgers are headed out before sunrise for the Bosque (the ranch is about 20 minutes away) so instead of the conventional breakfast, the apartment is stocked with milk, coffee, juices, cereals, fruits and every evening, she brought fresh baked muffins for the next day’s breakfast. It worked out perfectly. The ranch is truly out in the middle of nowhere—We’ve never seen such stars! It was by far, our favorite lodging on the trip! To top it off, I had been telling here about our new fondness for green chiles. She left 2 bags of frozen chiles that she’d harvested in the freezer for us to take home. How sweet is that? Absolutely perfect. There was not one thing I would change about this place. http://www.fiteranchbedandbreakfast.com/ To top off our stay at the Bosque, we stopped at the San Antonio Crane restaurant. Small, family owned place—maybe 5 tables inside. Of course—a breakfast burrito (with green chiles) was a must Very good!
Leaving the ranch, our plan for the day was to make our way to the Blue Swallow Motel via the 3 Salinas Missions. All 3 ruins were very cool. Stopped at the little Ancient Cities Café in Mountainair for a bite between ruins. Our best breakfast burrito of the trip! Server was very nice and locals eating there friendly as well. The last ruins we went to, the Gran Quivera had the nicest ranger we met. Sought us out while taking photos and had loads of history to tell. Enjoyed visiting that ruins best because of him.
The Blue Swallow Motel—WHAT a fun little place! A taste of traveling in the 50’s Rooms are smallish, but extended in an L where a chair and shelving gave us plenty of room for the luggage. Small bathroom, but black and white little tiles-- Old rotary phones that really worked-- Neon signs—metal lawn chairs outside the rooms complete with huge old glass ash trays! Lol what a hoot! Motel rooms have attached garages as well (with murals) but not suited for larger vehicles. Host was just awesome as well. Loved this little place. tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g47242-d632224-… While in Tucumcari, make sure to wander the town and see all the murals. Ate at Del’s for dinner. Very good food. tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g47242-d51… Kix on 66 for breakfast and our last breakfast burrito of the trip. Also good, but couldn’t beat the one in Mountainair. tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g47242-d17… Both restaurants had great servers.
Our last stop on the trip was Palo Duro Canyon state park about 30 miles south of Amarillo, Texas. Rented a little stone cabin on the rim built by the CCC. There are 3 of them and sit next to each other and next to the visitor’s center but all are private with great views of the canyon below. We stayed in the Lighthouse cabin. Chose this one because although they are 2 room cabins (plus full bath) the 2nd room is also a bedroom. The Lighthouse had a large bedroom with queen bed and the front room had a small trundle bed which served us as a couch. Folding table and chairs for eating and a small fridge and microwave in the room. I planned ahead and had cooked and frozen 2 meals to heat up in the microwave for dinners. There’s a trading post in the park with a small diner, but hours are only from 10:30 am to 4:00 pm. We did have lunch there our 2nd day after hiking. Monster cheeseburger and greasy fries just like the old diners. Loved it, but not exactly the healthiest? The nearest place for dinner would be Amarillo and we didn’t want to bother to leave the park. Both rooms in the cabin also had fireplaces, but the burn ban in effect did not allow us to use them.
There are several hikes in the park- all but one are at the bottom of the canyon (as is the scenic drive) The only hike from top to bottom is the CCC trail and I was not interested in hiking 1.75 miles down just to have to come back up, so we only did a part of that one. Another 2 mile hike along the river and past an old cowboy camp. The highlight was a 6 mile hike to lighthouse rock. Hike is not difficult—the last 1/3 mile is scrambling up a rocky wash—otherwise, it’s an easy hike. Very much worth the hike to get there and we scrambled up the ledge where the lighthouse stands as well. Beautiful place!
We said our goodbyes to hiking, green chiles and friendly people and headed on our 20 hour trip home. All in all, we could not have asked for a better trip. Great weather (albeit a little chilly in the mornings) wonderful people along the way, great food and some really nice photos from Mr Wing’s camera (as usual)
Link to some of my photos. Mr WIngs has had not opportunity to even look at his :) http://www.flickr.com/photos/77483949@N08/Edited: 20 November 2012, 13:00