Thursday, December 23, 2010

Carlsbad Cavern and Chaco Canyon

Notable events and destinations in order:

- I didn't stop in California or Arizona except for gas. If I have an excuse one day I'll stop and look at the Cochise monument.

- El Paso: this was my second time there and I remain underwhelmed. For a city its size I would expect more going on. Maybe they saw a Californian coming and hid all the cool stuff. In 2006 I went over to Juarez and didn't get killed and actually had fun listening to an Iron Maiden cover band but I wouldn't go over there now, even during the day.

- Hueco Ranch: There was what looked like a small village of tank-style houses at El Hueco Ranch Road east of El Paso. Looking it up online, it looks like there are cool petroglyphs around there, but honestly after about 1 day in the Southwest you get petroglyphed out. Hey Pennsylvania readers, don't judge now - you have some right there in the lower Susquehanna that nobody ever goes to see.

- Carlsbad Caverns: it's big. As in, miles' worth of cave hiking (actual hiking). You should go. Pictures don't do it justice and mine sucked but look at some anyway. The NPS missed an opportunity to make a funny in their website. Their URL formula:, where aa and bb are the first two letters of each of the first two words in the park name (hence, Lassen Volcanic is Therefore, Carlsbad Caverns should be but some prude changed it just to cave. Boo hiss!

[Added later: it turns out that this part of New Mexico, i.e. the southeast, is in the Southern accent dialect zone of North American English. If you're a linguistics nerd roadtrips on the East Coast are more interesting because you're guaranteed to get into a different dialect zone on one tank of gas. Took me a day and a half from San Diego. Don't believe me that some New Mexicans sound Southern? Check out the cops in this video, one of whom could be Kerry King's twin brother.]

- Guadalupe Mountains NP underwhelmed me. Glad it's preserved; nothing unique about it though, especially to someone who considers abundant chlorophyll a must for a good hike or run (hence my bitching about SoCal, although after the last year it seems to be turning into NorCal's climate. NICE.) Guadalupe contains the tallest peak in Texas. As is usual, the highest point of every Frontier Strip state is near the western border.

- Avoid Roswell. If you think it's a conspiracy, why do even the lampposts have alien eyes painted on them? And how does the CIA let the credit union have a UFO right in their logo? (More mocking of conspiracy theories here.) Do yourself a favor and skip this town unless you're stopping for steak and green chilies.

- Albuquerque: hadn't been here for years, since a friend who went to grad school there left (Icehouse, anyone? I had an experience there which proves it for the dive it is which if anyone with experience in Alb. wants I will gladly post publicly.) What I did do was eat at Frontier. Mm-mm! Nothing like eating burritos with green chilies and reading J.G. Ballard (TGP, it's the full short-story collection.) I decided not to go to any wineries.

- Bernalillo: right outside Alb. is where Coronado camped on his way to find the cities of gold, and where the Tiwa got sick of him and tricked him into leaving. The Rio Grande is right next to it, which as the pun holds, is in fact not so Grande, especially way up in the middle of NM.

- Chaco Canyon: been wanting to see it for years, finally got to, pics here; I'm fascinated with the masonry. The rain made it real fun to get to because the approach is on unpaved roads for 20-odd miles in all directions, and that Colorado Plateau clay just turns to crap when it's wet. I guessed at why they keep the roads unpaved and as expected, a ranger explained that this is partly intentional; it keeps the yahoos out, and they don't have to limit viewing to guided-tour-only as in Mesa Verde.

From Chaco Canyon

Chaco surprises, at least for me: the trade links from their later period. Later construction on Chetro Ketl showed Meso-America style colonnades in one case, unheard of on the Colorado Plateau. There were macaw skeletons found in Pueblo del Arroyo, which can only have been obtained via trade links with central Mexico or beyond. Oddest for me was the absence of ball courts, which you can find not too far away, throughout southern Arizona and at least as far north as Wupatki above Flagstaff (official site here.)

- Zuni Pueblo: easily the most unique rez "capital" I've been to. Lots of dense, turn-of-the-century to 1920s type stone construction rather than the prefab homes you get used to on other Southwest reservations. It almost reminded me of small towns in Pennsylvania. My interest in Zuni is linguistic (the language is an isolate relative to other Native American languages, like Basque in Europe) and their blood type is odd too - largely B, which has spawned all kinds of weird theories, for example that they're Japanese pilgrims who got blown off course. From there I decided to go back up to I-40 because it was dark anyway and the Very Large Array will just have to wait for another time.

- Avoid Flagstaff in inclement winter weather. Last night was literally the worst blizzard driving of my life, and it snuck up on me, transitioning from rain to snow in literally one mile. Fortunately I-17 gives back altitude fast as you head south and soon it was just rain again, although oddly there was lightning off and on all the way down to Phoenix.

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