New Mexico is where the landscape changes. The plain planes become intermittently divided by plateaus and scrub oak.
For several years now I have wanted to stop at Bandera Volcano and Ice Caves, but have neglected to do so, usually in too much of a hurry to get to or from Illinois. This time, with no one to inconvenience, the opportunity was mine. And so I got off of the I-40 at Grants and headed down the 53 to see the sights.
At first, I was traveling through over-grazed, desolate ranch land where even the weeds weren't sociable, growing yards apart in the dusty earth. A few scrawny, under-nourished cows, burros, and horses dotted the sparsely populated Land of Impoverishment. But after a short drive I suddenly ran into ponderosa pine forests. Well, that was a surprise. Immediately I felt at home among my tall arborous friends.Visitors to the Volcano and Ice Caves visit the general store to pay a small admittance fee. I decided that I could spare 1/2 an hour here, but didn't want to stay too long. I was getting anxious to see the kids and get home and out of the driver's seat (my bumbum is still upset about the trip). And so, the first question I asked was how long it would take to hike to both locations. The answer from the young Eagle Scout behind the desk: "1 hour, if you are fast."
If I'm fast... ha! I bet I can do it in under 45 minutes, I thought. So I bought my ticket and took my map and started hiking up the trail.
I really was cruising, or at least I thought so as I passed the groups of old women, Korean tourists, and families with small children and strollers. The trail was made of black cinders, abundant near the volcano. Therefore with air temps of 95 degrees and on a sunny day, it was quite warm and toasty on my black, crunchy path. But before too long, I was staring at the inside of a spent volcano.
I really think you can get a better idea of what it was like from this google satellite image than from my photo.
After a nice hot, shadeless hike to the top, I quickly trudged back down and headed for the ice caves. I was glad that I was going into a cold environment after the volcanic-hot hike.
This picture doesn't do justice to the steepness of these old stairs that led down into the frozen cave. After just two or three stairs I could already feel the cold air rising from the ice 40 feet below, cooling and soothing my stiff and tired legs. But these stairs were wicked. There were 3 flights, and I had to take a break between each flight because my knees were hurting so much. The green is the ice. Now, the ice cave isn't spectacular to look at. It IS however, still amazing. I couldn't believe how it stayed frozen in such hot weather. I was told that temperatures never rise above 30 degrees in the cave. Early settlers to this area used to store grocery items inside to preserve their harvest.
The ceiling of the cave.
I stayed down there on the little platform built to overlook the frozen cave for about 10 minutes just chilling out. Eventually I remembered I was in a hurry. I turned to go back up the stairs.
Again, pictures just don't make these stairs look menacing enough. They didn't hurt my knees going up, however. :)
Time to get going again. I hiked back to Vanbi, ignoring the numerous photo opportunities, and headed back on my way. How long did it take me? 58 minutes. Not too bad, considering all of the stops I made and the time I sat in the cave. Near El Morro National Monument, but I didn't stop to see it. There were people hiking all over that big rock, too small in this little picture to make out.
I passed hundreds of these forgotten fixer-uppers.
Can you see the hole in the rock?
Pretty much every home in Zuni had these mud ovens outside along with an enormous pile of firewood. Some had two or three ovens. This home had 5. I just thought it was interesting. Time to hit the road. I am almost to...
Home. Well, nearly. Only a few hundred miles to go.
And I hadn't seen the last of the long, boring, straight roads.
Pretty soon I was in Show Low and heading homeward on the 60. It was nice to see those homey ponderosas again. Wherever I travel and roam, I am more at home a thousand miles from my house in the pine tree covered mountains than I am here in Gilbert among the palms and saguaros.
The beautiful Salt River Canyon.
I stopped in Globe to grab some Taco Bell after calling home to discover the family had already eaten dinner. All I had eaten all day since breakfast were the two bananas and the apple from the day before. I couldn't eat the Taco Bell, however. My tummy was upset (indicative of my future, but I didn't know it then...).
"Billy Joe, can you go put the cattle out to graze?"
"Sure, Pa. Where?"
"How bout the side of that there mine, Billy Joe?"
"Yes, Pa." Ah, at long last, I made it home about 7:15 Saturday night. This is a pic of my tripometer. I logged all of those miles in three days, stopped at many a scenic outlook, hiked a volcano, played dominoes with cars, made friends with a Heron, unsuccessfully spied on rich horse farmers, and travelled through 9 states. Grab me some ruby slippers, 'cuz there's no place like home. There's no place like home.