It took us three days but we made it across Texas! Today we were headed up into New Mexico, starting with a little town called Carlsbad. Temperatures were super high and so we planned a stop at a swimming hole (a hole that you swim in – in case that needs clarification) at lunchtime. Sadly, when we got there the swimming hole was closed due to a “structural failure” so we detoured to the nearby town of Balmorhea for lunch (I enjoyed this name too much: a combination of Balamory and Diarrhea). The word “town” is one I use loosely here….it honestly was like a ghost town. There was no sign of any people anywhere, most of the buildings were boarded up and everything looked very worn. It wasn’t exactly the most welcoming environment for us to eat, but we made the best of it and got our lunch kit out from the trailer and began making our sandwiches.
We didn’t hang around long in Balmorhea, there really wasn’t much to see (other than some interesting and slightly scary signposts!) so we headed on up to Carlsbad. We would be camping here tonight and then heading over to Carlsbad Caverns the next day, so a chilled out evening was in order.
I took advantage of the free evening, having arranged to meet up with a good friend of mine. Nick, who actually lives in Texas (and was even visiting his parents in San Antonio at the time!!) but was busy gigging on the day we were passing through – drove the 3 hours up to New Mexico to meet me for dinner. What a trooper! We often joke that we’re terrible friends because we only seem to see each other once a year; each time in different countries – so it was really great to get a chance to catch up. He even took me out and treated me to dinner. Strangely we couldn’t find a Mexican restaurant (despite being in New Mexico!) so we settled for a BBQ restaurant called Danny’s Place. It was really homey and the food was great! I couldn’t finish my plate of BBQ food as there was so much but would totally recommend the pulled pork. On the way back to camp we detoured to Walmart to pick up some beers for the rest of the crew and Nick met my new friends. We all hung out, chatted and played pool in the games room at the campsite for a good few hours, but eventually Nick had to head off home so we said our goodbyes – hopefully not for another full year!
The next day after packing up camp Ben drove us up to Carlsbad Caverns: a set of limestone caves formed 66 million years ago when the area was still underwater; sulfuric acid dissolved the limestone and created expansive caverns. The caves are full of stalagmites and stalagtites (mites go up and tites come down – in case you were wondering!) in all sorts of different formations, creating many distorted but beautiful shapes. As we descended into the darkness of the caverns, the only noise to be heard was each others’ footsteps and the songs from the colony of cave swallows that flitted around the entrance.
The caves were stark but stunning – I loved walking around and trying to see shapes in the rock formations; pipe organs, totem poles, waterfalls and so many more. We walked through the endless caverns for over an hour – most of our group ended their tour in the “Big Room”, but I’ll confess I actually got lost and didn’t realise that there was an extra cave for us to see so I came back up to the surface in the elevator. I was a bit gutted when I found out I’d missed it as apparently the “Big Room” was the “big draw” of the caverns but I was also pretty relieved to get back up to ground level and get some breakfast at the café (I’d slept in and missed camp breakfast!).
Eventually the rest of the group made it out of the caverns, and Ben picked us all up to continue our journey through New Mexico.
I’d be willing to bet that there isn’t a person alive who hasn’t at least heard of Roswell, New Mexico. It is a city that is most famous for the famed “UFO incident” back in 1947, where a military weather balloon crashed into a ranch just outside of the city and was mistaken for an alien spacecraft. Strangely, the entire city seems to have taken this claim to fame and run with it. Big style. We stopped here for a pit stop on the way to Santa Fe, and almost every shop that we saw had some sort of alien theme to it: cafés serving up “alien food”, costume shops with alien outfits and gift stores stocking all sorts of sci-fi paraphernalia. The jewel in the crown of all the alien novelties is the International UFO Museum and Research Centre, which has been set up to support the prevaling myth that the Roswell UFO Incident was in fact, a real alien encounter that was covered up by the goverment. It cost $5 to get in and was a total waste of money, but probably the best waste of money ever if you want a quick laugh.
The word “museum” was a bit of a stretch – essentially it was one large room with boards containing old newspaper cuttings, theories from locals and “witnesses” to the original incident and photographs of the weather balloon/alien object. The people that worked at the centre took it really seriously though – we were warned not to be seen laughing or joking at the expense of the people that believe this stuff. It was difficult not to laugh though….since once you get past the newspaper section you enter a room that is full of models of grey aliens and spaceships, with a built in cinema screening movies about alien invasions and abductions.
There was even a giant horse in the middle of the room with alien invasion news clippings covering it. The whole farcical thing was topped off when the model alien spaceship in the main room lit up and started beeping and expelling smoke every so often, while atmospheric “space” music played. It. was. ridiculous. But we dutifully kept our mouths shut and our serious faces on as we explored the museum. Once we were done, we had a quick lunch break and then got back on the road to Santa Fe.
We arrived at a roadside attraction just outside of Santa Fe and were presented with a choice; we could either go into town and experience the city of Santa Fe (and risk half the group being turned away from the bars due to being under age) or we could explore the attraction we’d stopped at, called Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return. We opted to stay where we were and so headed into the building, self-described as an “explorable, immersive art installation filled with technology, and fantastic environments to inspire visitors of all ages”. None of us had any idea what to expect, and armed with no information from Ben other than “ask for the glasses!”, we were both excited and mildly apprehensive. Was it going to be an utter waste of money? Or the best experience of the trip? We were about to find out. Sadly there were no more sets of 3D glasses available at the entrance so we had to stick with our regular eyes. We were told that we should explore at our own place and in any order, but that there was a story/puzzle that runs through the installation that we could choose to try and solve if we wished. With that, after a quick toilet stop (that drive from Roswell was looong!) we headed into the “exhibit” and were immediately greeted by…
…a house. A life size, average American looking house, complete with front porch, garden and wooden fence surrounding it. There was a mail box next to the fences where I found a letter, detailing some strange happenings with the family that lived in the house and possible connections to a different reality. It also said we would find more clues in the newspaper in the kitchen, so we headed into the house. There were lots of other people already in there looking around, but I made a beeline for the kitchen and picked up the newspaper to try to find clues. I was keen to try and solve the mystery, but Lauren (who was looking around with me) preferred to just explore every nook and cranny to see what was in there. She opened the door to the fridge and gasped. I forgot about the newspaper and asked her what she’d found – it was a passageway! We both climbed into the fridge (very surreal words to type) and found ourselves in an alien spaceship. A hologram of an alien lady popped up on the console in front of us and told us to choose a destination for our vacation – it seemed this was some sort of alien travel agency! We chose to head to an alien beach planet – put our hands on an access panel and the door opened, just like in a sci-fi movie! We were transported to the beach planet, where there was so much to explore. We found a tunnel in the rocks to crawl through, and somehow miraculously we ended up coming out in the tunnel under the stairs back in the house! My mind was being seriously blown.
I don’t want to spoil the whole experience for anyone who goes to visit, but I would totally recommend it. It was one of my favourite attractions on the whole US trip – literally every time we opened a door or cupboard we were transported to some weird parallel dimension. Like the fireplace – you could crawl through it and it brought you out in a frozen wasteland with a giant dinosaur skeleton featured pride of place in the centre, which you could play like a marimba with little mallets! Or the washing machine, which you could open up, climb into and slide down into a perspex room surrounded by clothes so it felt like you’d literally fallen into a wash mid-cycle. Even the garden was a magical world, with luminous trees and flying fish, and even a deep sea diver giving the impression that you were suddenly at the bottom of the ocean. It was an experience like nothing else, and since I’ve returned from the US it’s been one of the things I can’t stop talking about. Seriously – if you’re ever near Santa Fe you owe it to yourself to check it out. I couldn’t recommend it any more highly. They also have a great café that makes a wicked selection of hot chocolates (including purple!)
Sadly we didn’t have time to see any of the rest of the city of Santa Fe – that will have to wait for another time. It was almost dark by this point so setting up our camp was fun! Ben went out to get us some real New Mexican burritos (I had pork but it wasn’t so great) and we turned in for the night, ready for our journey to Colorado in the morning.