Home Button Places Button Theme Park Button Other Stuff Button Video Button Wallpaper Button

2005 Desert Southwest Vacation - September 6 to 22, Part 1 of 3

Index

Road Trip Map
My 2005 Desert Southwest Vacation - 17 days, 5960 miles.
Days 1 to 5, Home to Tombstone, AZ.

Background / Planning

Who: Me and Jo.
Where: The Desert Southwest.
When: September 6 to 22, 2005.

March 2005.

I hadn't done a real long road trip out West since 2001, and it was time to erase the bad taste of that trip. It was also time to do something other than the I-64 to I-24 to I-75 to Central Florida trips.

I had two Road Trips I wanted to take. The first took a Northern route which went through deserts and then rain forests; and the second was a Southern route, which would take me through deserts, and then more deserts.

The first trip would primarily be to follow The Corps Of Discovery's route. I was reading Undaunted Courage by Steven Ambrose, and it was also the bicentennial of Lewis & Clark's epic journey West to the Pacific Ocean. Everything was being spiffied up and polished for the anniversary.

The second trip would be to some places I've always wanted to visit, but were just too damn far away. Tombstone, Disneyland (who was celebrating its 50th anniversary), Death Valley and Yosemite.

What to do, what to do. Lewis & Clark's bicentennial would last three years, since their mode of travel was a little slow.

On the other hand, how often would Disneyland have a 50th Anniversary? As a fan, it only seemed appropriate that a visit happen that year. Heh. I'd never been to the American Deserts of the Southwest, and they were high on my list of things to see. Another big draw was Tombstone, a place I wanted to see after reading several books on Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and the town itself. (And Tombstone was a better movie than Wyatt Earp. Nyah, nyah, nyah.) Add in the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere, and one of the most iconic spots in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and my Desert Southwest Vacation was on the agenda.

(Lewis and Clark would wait until 2006. It was actually an unplanned trip, but that's another page.)

I suppose my destination was Disneyland for this trip, since I'd spend three nights there as part of a package deal. But it could have been Yosemite as well...

The route I planned would take us through the four major Southwestern deserts, with the primary stops mentioned above. Also along the way would be Carlsbad Caverns, White Sands, Saguaro National Park, The Owens Valley, Mono Lake, Great Basin and Arches.

Since I didn't quite know what conditions were like in any of the places I was going, and knowing the scarcity of hotel rooms in tourist areas, I made hard reservations in several places from Tombstone to Moab.

By June, the entire trip had been planned. Jo made some excuse, and I would meet her in Dallas/Ft. Worth. I was ready to go.

Arkansas / Buffalo National River - September 7

I actually left on September 6, but took no pictures. I stayed in a Comfort Inn in Springfield, Missouri on the first night. Only about 520 miles, but any further would put me into the clutches of Branson, Missouri. However, having no reservations, if Branson couldn't provide a room, I didn't know how far it could be before I ran into another hotel.

I left early the next morning, and headed South on US-65 toward Harrison, Arkansas, where US-65 intersects with Arkansas Scenic Route 7. I've had Scenic 7 in my top 10 drives ever since I first drove it in 1987. It's changed a lot, but the heart of it that goes through the Ozarks is as much fun to drive as it was back then.

My initial plan was to drive down to I-30 or maybe even I-20 then to Dallas/Ft. Worth, but just before my vacation Katrina hit Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi. News of gas shortages and refugees made me reroute via I-40 to Oklahoma City, then take I-35 South into Dallas/Ft. Worth.

Well, not only didn't I take that many pictures, but I didn't take that much video. So the pictorial pretty much jumps from Arkansas to Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico.

One notable picture is the very first one. I pulled off into a slightly weed overgrown pulloff to get a bottle of water from the cooler, and there was a monument to the fact that the marble block from Arkansas in the Washington Monument was taken from that hill. I'm not sure I could find it again.

Arkansas / Buffalo National River
200509DSW_0002C07120 200509DSW_0012C07122 200509DSW_0004C07121 200509DSW_0006C07121 200509DSW_0007C07121 200509DSW_0008C07121 200509DSW_0010C07121 200509DSW_0015C07123 200509DSW_0016C07123 200509DSW_0017C07123 200509DSW_0019D07124 200509DSW_0020C07135 200509DSW_00230025D08102 200509DSW_0026D08181 200509DSW_0027C09101
Back to Top

Carlsbad Caverns National Park - September 9

Cave
Giant and Twin Domes. Carlsbad Caverns National Park.
Sometime in the morning on Day 4, we passed that imaginary line from the rolling hills of Texas into the Chihuahuan Desert, the largest desert in North America, but not the largest in the US. It covers some 200,000 square miles, and gets around 10" of rain per year.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park is at the Northern end of the Chihuahuan Desert, in the Guadalupe Mountain Range. I had my first real experience with the *desert* here, the seemingly vast empty wastelands of the West.

Carlsbad Caverns is another of those "Wow" places that start with an elevator ride. Down. 754 feet down. 250 million years ago, this area used to be a reef at the bottom of a vast inland sea. After the uplift of the earth, this reef was exposed. Rain water acidified with carbon dioxide slowly eroded the limestone, creating the caverns.

Yes, you can walk down if you'd like, and maybe one day I'll do that. But as it was the first time there, I thought I'd spend most of my time in the cave. I'd probably never walk up though. :-)

It is another world in the cave. It's hard to describe, perhaps it the complete lack of sound, except for the other tourists, of course. There's no wind or breeze, it's completely still. Everything is artificially lit, it feels more like Disney World at night. It's more humid than the desert outside. And other than the guardrails, there are no straight lines.

It takes a while for your eyes to adjust to the darkness, but once they do, they show you what Mother Nature can do with acid rain when she doesn't have to battle with wind, water or frost erosion...

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Part 1
200509DSW_0031C09123 200509DSW_0032C09123 200509DSW_00330037C09124 200509DSW_0038C09125 200509DSW_0039C09131 200509DSW_0044C09132 200509DSW_0048C09132 200509DSW_0051C09133 200509DSW_0053C09133 200509DSW_0056C09133 200509DSW_0060C09133 200509DSW_0062C09134 200509DSW_0065C09134 200509DSW_0067C09134 200509DSW_0070C09134 200509DSW_0071C09134 200509DSW_0075C09135 200509DSW_0078C09140 200509DSW_0079C09140 200509DSW_0083C09140 200509DSW_0085C09140 200509DSW_0090C09140 200509DSW_0091C09140 200509DSW_0092C09140 200509DSW_0094C09141 200509DSW_0099C09141 200509DSW_0105C09141 200509DSW_0107C09141 200509DSW_0115C09142 200509DSW_0120C09143 200509DSW_0122C09143 200509DSW_0124C09143 200509DSW_0127C09143 200509DSW_0130C09143 200509DSW_0133C09143 200509DSW_0135C09143 200509DSW_0137C09144 200509DSW_0138C09144 200509DSW_0144C09144 200509DSW_0146C09144 200509DSW_0147C09144 200509DSW_0150C09144 200509DSW_0154C09145 200509DSW_0155C09145 200509DSW_0156C09145 200509DSW_0157C09145 200509DSW_0162C09145 200509DSW_0163C09145 200509DSW_0166C09145 200509DSW_0171C09145 200509DSW_0174C09150
Back to Top

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, part 2

The cave just happens to be in the desert. Above, you can do the 9.5 mile Walnut Creek Desert Drive, my first introduction to the Southwestern Deserts. It's arid, and only the most hardy vegetation survives, but this area has been inhabited for over 10,000 years. Americans have homesteaded here since 1890. The park used to be a goat farm.

Another interesting visitor attraction here is the Bat Flight. Every night at sunset, almost a half-million Mexican Free-tailed bats depart the cave to feed near the Black and Pecos rivers that flow several hours to the East. It was this mass exodus of the bats every night that alerted the early settlers to the cave.

The night was spent at a Comfort Inn in Carlsbad.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Part 2
200509DSW_0193C09164 200509DSW_01750180C09163 200509DSW_0181C09163 200509DSW_0182C09163 200509DSW_0191C09163 200509DSW_0194C09164 200509DSW_0195C09181 200509DSW_0197D09181 200509DSW_0199D09181 200509DSW_0200D09181 200509DSW_0201C09181 200509DSW_0202C09181 200509DSW_0203C09182 200509DSW_0204C09182 200509DSW_0207C09194 200509DSW_0209C09195
Back to Top

White Sands National Monument - September 10

From Carlsbad, we took US-285 to US-82 toward Alamogordo, then to US-70 to White Sands National Monument.

As I came up over the Sacramento Mountains, and looked down into the Tularosa Basin, I saw something I'd see over and over this trip. A basin. A basin is is a valley not carved out by glaciers or water, but by a geologic event. It's essentially a valley where there is no water outlet.

The forces that created the valley were essentially the same that formed Carlsbad Caverns. Then, a giant dome formed during the Colorado uplift, then subsequently collapsed about 10 million years ago, forming the Tularosa Basin.

The White Sands Missile Range is here. From around World War II, the military would fire off captured missiles from someplace in Utah, and they would land in this area. They still do that sort of testing, and the White Sands National Monument (which is right in the center of the range) can be closed for up to two hours at a time.

The White Sands National Monument holds most of the largest gypsum dune field in the world. (Transformers 1 & 2 were filmed in the dune field, but not in the National Monument.) Now when they call this place White Sands, they're not kidding. Gypsum would normally be water soluble and flow out of the valley, but since there is no exit for water to go from the basin, the gypsum concentrates here. With the intense New Mexico sun, it makes for a blinding, snow white sand, and in the middle of the dune field, it seems to stretch as far as you can see. Once out of the car, I found myself squinting even with my sunglasses on. It could also give you sunburns where you normally wouldn't think you'd get a sunburn. But I digress.

We walked the Interdune Boardwalk Trail, a handicapped accessible trail. In a greenie friendly way, they made the boardwalk from recycled plastic bottles and aluminum. Well, in the dry, windy climate, the plastic generates static electricity. I swear my foot was four inches above one of the aluminum strips, and you could hear the 'snap' of the spark jump from the boardwalk through my shoe. You could feel the hair on your arm start to stand up as you approached a metal beam. Stupidity in the name of recycling. But I digress. Again.

We stopped by the aircraft/missile exhibit at Holloman Air Force Base, but due to a misunderstanding (like signs saying anyone taking pictures would be arrested by the feds), we didn't take any pics. It turns out, it was the only place on base where Joe Citizen could use a camera, and they had some pretty cool stuff there. Oh well...

White Sands National Monument, NM
200509DSW_0210I10114 200509DSW_0211I10114 200509DSW_0212I10120 200509DSW_0213I10120 200509DSW_0214I10120 200509DSW_02150219I10120 200509DSW_02200224I10120 200509DSW_0226D10121 200509DSW_0228C10122 200509DSW_0231C10122 200509DSW_0232C10122 200509DSW_0233C10123 200509DSW_0234C10123 200509DSW_0235C10123 200509DSW_02370246C10123 200509DSW_0247C10125 200509DSW_0248C10125 200509DSW_0249D10125
Back to Top

Tombstone, Arizona - September 10 & 11

Tombstone is about 25 miles north of the Mexican border, and was established after silver was found in the area. It was a mining boomtown that was made legendary by three brothers named Earp and dentist from Georgia named Holiday.

I've read several books on Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, and of course the most famous gunfight in American History. It's sometimes difficult to separate the Legend from the Facts. But in a way, that's okay. Like the retelling of stories throughout history, the Legend becomes the Fact, or in most cases, Folklore. (A reporter once asked Kit Carson if a particular story was true, and Carson replied, "It may be true, but I ain't got any recollection of it.")

Like much of the old west, fires took its toll on Tombstone. Many of the original buildings are gone, but there's been some effort to keep the legend alive. The Birdcage Theater is actually supposed to be original. It's now a "museum", but I thought it was very, very cool to walk through buildings that actually existed from that infamous time.

Tombstone, AZ, Part 1
200509DSW_0250I10163 200509DSW_0251I10163 200509DSW_0252I10163 200509DSW_0253I10163 200509DSW_02540257I10202 200509DSW_02580259I10203 200509DSW_02600264C10203 200509DSW_0265C11103 200509DSW_0266C11103 200509DSW_0267C11110 200509DSW_0268C11110 200509DSW_02690276C11110 200509DSW_0277C11111 200509DSW_0278C11111 200509DSW_0279C11111 200509DSW_0280C11111 200509DSW_0281C11111 200509DSW_0282C11111 200509DSW_0283C11111 200509DSW_0284C11111 200509DSW_0285C11111 200509DSW_0286C11111 200509DSW_0287C11111 200509DSW_0288C11111 200509DSW_0289C11111 200509DSW_0290C11111 200509DSW_0293C11111 200509DSW_0294C11111 200509DSW_0295C11111
Back to Top

Tombstone, Arizona, Part 2

The courthouse is original and restored, and has some interesting documents from those interesting times.

And yes, at the end town is Boot Hill. Yep, *the* Boot Hill. It's on the other side of town in the movie...

And yes, I know it's a giant tourist trap. So what's your point?

Tombstone, AZ, Part 2
200509DSW_0297C11125 200509DSW_0298C11125 200509DSW_0300C11130 200509DSW_0301C11130 200509DSW_0302C11130 200509DSW_0304C11131 200509DSW_0305C11131 200509DSW_0308C11133 200509DSW_0309C11133 200509DSW_0311C11134 200509DSW_0316C11134 200509DSW_0318C11134
Back to Top

End 2001 West Vacation - Part 1 of 3.

Jump to: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

Revisions:
  • 09/04/2013 - Updated to v3.11
  • 08/31/2014 - Update to v3.2