Once again, it’s time to hit the road. As this is our first visit to New Mexico, we decided to extend our travel days a little bit and enjoy a small road trip. The journey from our house sit in New Mexico to the next one in Texas led us South along New Mexico Highway 285, which runs along the east side of the state from Santa Fe down to Mexico, passing through Roswell and Carlsbad along the way.
Roswell, New Mexico
192 miles from Santa Fe is Roswell, a small-ish city of less 50,000 residents made famous by the Roswell UFO Incident of 1947. On June 4, 1947 the US Army Air Force launched a top secret, high-altitude balloon. Ten day later, one of these crashed balloons was found by a local man in Roswell, New Mexico. To make a very long and interesting story short: people yelled “Aliens!”. The event has become the stuff of legend, launching a conspiracy theory that has many still believing that the crash was not a balloon but an alien space craft.
Now, Roswell is home to a lot of alien-themed tourism and, interestingly enough, the world’s largest mozzarella cheese factory. The shops in town are sprinkled with alien statues or silly alien themed puns. Even our campsite on the edge of town had a little green man guarding the door. Sadly, we got in too late to visit any of the museums, but they looked very interesting and worth a visit.
Carlsbad Cavern, New Mexico
America’s longest government shutdown was finally over, which meant we could actually visit a national park again! This was just in time for a good one too: Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Once an inland sea (over 200 million years ago), Carlsbad Caverns is now a series of nearly 120 limestone caves. The park is open year round (minus holidays) and costs $15 per person. If you have the America the Beautiful Pass, which I strongly recommend, the card holder plus three adults can enter free!
We scheduled an entire day for the park, so we took the long way into the caves, hiking a little over a mile through the winding walkways of the cavern’s Natural Entrance Trail. The entrance itself was stunning, but once inside we were in awe. It just kept on going, deeper and deeper underground, finally reaching the main attraction 1,000 feet (304 km) below the surface.
Once we finally reached the “bottom” we met up with the elevator access area in The Big Room. At 4,000 feet (1,220 m) long, 625 feet (191 m) wide, and 255 feet (78 m) high, The Big Room is the fifth largest chamber in North America and the twenty-eighth largest in the world. (Wikipedia). Understandably, it took us another hour to hike around the whole thing. Comedian Will Rogers called the Carlsbad Caverns, “The Grand Canyon with a roof over it.” He was spot on. The place is massive!
A few hours and a few miles later, our feet hurt and we were getting hungry, so we took the elevator back up to the top. From April through October, Carlsbad Cavern is home to hundreds of thousands of bats. Each evening during the season, visitors can watch the bats enter and exit the caves en masse. We were pretty disappointed to miss the right season, but we did take a moment to stare longingly at the watching area. It looks like it would be an epic show.
New Mexico Road Trip to Texas
We really enjoyed our time in New Mexico. The landscape ended up being far more diverse than we had imagined and stunningly beautiful. I’m really glad we got the opportunity to see as much as we did. But so continues the life of a full-time traveler: we must move on. We drove across western Texas to land the following day for our next house sit in Austin, Texas.