Marfa TX to White Sands & Las Cruces NM – Jan 18-25

19 Feb

After a surprisingly excellent lunch at the roach-coach looking “Food Shark” in Marfa, we took off for Fort Davis TX and the McDonald Observatory (not associated with the golden arches organization).

It’s been very cold.  Another Arctic cold front.  One night, while we were camping in the VW, the temperature dropped to 13 degrees.  Not a problem, inside the VW the temperature held to a chilly 24 degrees.  I think my nose froze, but I couldn’t tell because my fingers were numb.  All in all, it was fun.  The only real problem was our water tank/water pump froze – no running water in the morning.

We found an outstanding state campground a few miles outside of Fort Davis.  Good hiking, good food at the lodge, very few people around.  One evening we sat on the deck and watched the full moon rise from a valley between two mountains.

The McDonald Observatory is located high up in the Davis Mountains.  It’s the darkest environment of any observatory in the US.  We went there twice, once at night to observe the night sky, and once during the day to tour the facilities.  At night, we were part of a small group that sat outdoors.  An astronomer, armed with a laser flashlight, pointed out stars, constellations and planets.  Then we viewed the night sky through four 22-inch telescopes that were aimed at an Orion nebula, Jupiter, two star clusters, and our moon.  During the day we went into two observatories for a tour of their 107-inch and 362-inch telescopes.  The 362-inch telescope is a new design using an array of hex-shaped mirrors that are individually aimed at a focal point.  The telescope is entirely open, no tube, no eyepiece.  Fascinating.

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Off to the Guadalupe Mountains, a beautiful, remote national park in western Texas/southern New Mexico.  We took a couple of hikes.  One was along the Devil’s Hall Trail, up a dry wash, past changes in vegetation from cactus to a high altitude forest of madrone, pine and maple trees.  We stopped for lunch at the end of a steep, narrow canyon.

Then on to El Paso TX, only the second hotel room in 16 nights.  We were ready for the brief break.  Lots of stuff to take care of – pay bills, haircut, emails, etc.  El Paso didn’t call to either of us, although the long border with Mexico which runs along the Rio Grande is intriguing.  There was a constant stream of auto and pedestrian traffic across the bridge between El Paso and Juarez.

Finally, after some six glorious weeks in Texas, we crossed the border into New Mexico.  Yeah!  We camped near Alamogordo NM before spending the next day in White Sands NM.  I love White Sands.  We were there in 2006, late on an overcast day.  Today we were there in full sun – very different.  Again, very few people around.  We took what we thought was a short hike on the dunes.  And we prepared for a short hike – little water, no food, inappropriate shoes and clothing.  To our surprise, the short hike ended up being a 5 mile loop across the sand dunes to the flats of an alkalai desert.  Although we were in full sun, the temperature was mild.  During the hike  Joanna was, shall I say, not happy with me for leading us on this ordeal.

We then drove to Las Cruces NM for the night, and our second encounter with AAA road service on this trip.  This time, at 9pm, the VW refused to start.  After an hour wait in the cold New Mexico night, the AAA guy showed up, got the VW started so we could get to our campsite, and told us we probably needed a new alternator, or a new battery, or new terminals, or all of the above.  Aggravation?  Yes.  Next morning, another hour wait for another AAA guy to get the VW started again.  This time, problem solved.  Bad alternator?  No, Bad battery?  No. just a bad AAA guy.  The problem: corroded battery terminals.  The morning AAA guy cleaned the terminals, and we’re on our way.  No more aggravation.

So, with a slightly late start, we’re on our way to the Gila National Forest NM.