Summer 2017 Vacation – July 30 – Day 11

Welp, today is the day we start back home. There are no short cuts from here where we are over 2,500 miles from our destination.

We head north towards Santa Fe and Taos where we have lunch in what we both remembered was a “sleepy little desert town”. Not anymore! There are cars all up and down the highway, people everywhere. There is nothing sleepy about Taos anymore.

Gloria had picked out a place for us to eat but it was so crowded that we decided not eat there and instead go to a hamburger joint up the road a block. It is named The Burger Stand At Taos Ale House. Everything in the restaurant is some level of “hot”. The food is good and the pickles are home made and very tasty (and also hot).

We head out of town on route 64 through the Santa Fe National Forrest then through Eagles Nest. I really liked Eagles Nest and want to go back there. It’s a mix of plains and mountain. Unlike the desert it’s green, grassy, etc., with a great big mountain lake nearby.

Soon we are out of the mountains altogether and into the grassy plains of Texas and Oklahoma on our way to Kansas. Route 412 literally touches the corner of Texas and Oklahoma in the Rita Blanca National Grasslands. I just really like the open plains that are here. It could be because I lived in Oklahoma so long, not sure. The pace just slows down.

At some point after entering Oklahoma we pulled over for some photos. There was no one for miles that we could see which made making these shots pretty easy.

Victory posture on an Oklahoma highway.
Wall cloud
Where does it end?

After the sun went down there was a very, very strange visual phenomenon that took me some time to figure out. We’d be driving through the dark, moonless landscape and there were all these red lights as far as you could see. It looked like lights on top of the sprinkler systems they use there. If they all blinked independently it wouldn’t have been that weird. But they all blinked in unison! As far as you could see there were red lights blinking all at the same pace; on and off at the exact same time.

We kept trying to figure it out when we came up to one of them and realized it was the huge wind mills for generating power. They were everywhere! It was just such a weird visual looking out from the ground up at all these lights! Mystery solved.

We didn’t know where in Kansas we would stop. Our first destinations came up too quick so we decided to press on to Wichita.

In Wichita we end all of the back roads and embrace the Interstate system for the rest of the trip home. I have a problem to solve and would like to get there as quickly as possible. We still don’t know how long it is going to take as we are still well over 1200 miles (18 hours) from home.

Patience, Grasshopper. Wax on, wax off …

Summer 2017 Vacation – July 29 – Day 10

Today we visited a place that I’ve wanted to see for a while. Since we started planning this trip to Ruidoso there was a place on the map just southwest of there indicating a national “monument”. White Sands National Monument is the place I wanted to see.

I didn’t know this but there is a difference between a national monument and a national park.

National monuments, are areas preserved by the National Government because they contain objects of historic, prehistoric, or scientific interest. Generally established by presidential proclamation under authority of Congress, occasionally these areas also are established by direct action of Congress.

National parks, on the other hand, are areas set apart by Congress for the use of the people of the United States generally, because of some outstanding scenic feature or natural phenomena. The principal qualities considered in studying areas for park purposes are their inspirational, educational, and recreational values.

I wish I would have asked if I can fly my drone there but didn’t. The rules for drones are in monuments are the same as parks. It’s still odd to me that they will allow someone to ride a dune buggy in the sand but I can’t fly a drone there. It’s likely I could have applied for a permit but I didn’t think to do that in time but something to think about in the future. Anyway…

Getting there you get a sense that something is different about the place. We came from Ruidoso to White Sands National Monument via SR 70 which, at some point, gives you a bit of a view of the desert then it disappears again as you get closer.

You drive through some pretty countryside but sort of “uninteresting” topology because it looks like everything else you are coming through. There are probably some very nice places there.

We entered the facility from SR 70 into a parking lot where the temperature there was over 100º. You know it’s hot but the heat isn’t as bad as if it were here in Virginia with 90% humidity. It’s drier out there.

We do the obligatory stroll through the very small museum-ish kind of place and then the gift shop were we bought a few small things. Then back in to the car and on into the park we go.

There is a two lane route that takes you into the interior of the park. Initially it just looks like any other desert with yucca plants and such in brown sand. But then it changes to a very high contrast white sand landscape.

We noticed people buying toboggans to “sled” on the dunes which I though was sort of odd. With nothing to erase the sand from you skin and clothes (water) it seems it would be uncomfortable to get that all over your body. Everybody has different entertainment needs. Sand stuck in my nether-regions is not one of mine.

As we get in to the park we notice that people are treating it as a camp site, a place to get some sun (as in a beach with no water), horse trail, dune buggy playground, hiking trail, etc.

I mainly wanted to see the park and I was likely to take a picture or two. I wasn’t prepared for the contrast of bright white sand and blue, blue skies.

Gloria and Olivia in the white sand desert

Frankly, it’s a bit overwhelming.

Gloria and Olivia at White Sands National Monument

It was fun to spend the day with Olivia and Gloria. Our time together seemed to go by too fast. It’s seriously hard to believe but tomorrow we will both be apart again.

I don’t like that.

After our visit to White Sands we headed back to Alto, cleaned up and headed over to the Flying J Ranch for dinner and entertainment. While we were there we took some family pictures.

Westerman Family

It’s a motley crew.

The Flying J is good fun. There were some bad guys that came into town that had to be dealt with. Then there was dinner served “chow line” style followed by some music. They served many hundreds of people in 20 minutes. They are very organized there.

We headed on back to the house a little early to pack for the trip home in the morning. Hard to believe the trip is about over.

Summer 2017 Vacation – July 28 – Day 9

As I tried to work on my blog today I noticed I could not get into the systems that support me. Without going into a diatribe of details, suffice it to say I will learn soon that the entire system that supports all the IT in my office is down due to a hard drive failure on one of the hosts supporting virtual machines. I will also soon learn it will be down for many days to come. It’s not going to be an easy problem to resolve.

Normally there is an easy fix. Not this time. Had you wondered why I’m doing these in arrears? That is the major reason why.

The day will start off slow. Gloria is out on a hike with others while Olivia goes for a run. I am working with Helen to see if we can put paddles on the heart of these machines to get things to work again. No luck. It’s dead. I have backups and the like so it shouldn’t be too hard to recover if it weren’t for the fact that I’m 5 days away from getting there if I can’t get a technical type to help me.

We head over to my aunt and uncle’s home who live in Alto near Riudoso. They have this huge spread of food and drink for everyone to enjoy. They have seriously gone above and beyond to make sure everyone has enough food.

The view from the deck is very nice!

Looking out from the deck into the mountains

There was plenty of room for everyone to sit, or not as the case may be with the children I didn’t see any of the little ones sit while I was there.

Children playing (large and small ones)

We may have lost a few of them over the mountain ledge. We didn’t have name tags or take roll call so I have no idea how many there were to start with. I think the parents know how many there are and were keeping track of their whereabouts. But I’m not certain of that either.

Deck party at the reunion

The format was super nice. Everyone got to ease into their respective days. Whether they wanted to eat breakfast, get some exercise or whatever we didn’t rush that.

We met in the afternoons for dinner followed by cards and games at various homes where the children could run completely out of juice while some of the parents had some; along with laughter, stories and the like.

Life has us all spread apart. It’s too bad we can’t get together more often.

It was fun. I’m glad we made the journey west.

Summer 2017 Vacation – July 27 – Day 8

Gloria has to work some so we pack up the car and head on out after a quick trip to McDonalds for some tea. I can neither confirm nor deny I might have procured some “hot cakes” as well.

We’re headed to the International UFO Museum And Research Center. Not just the national, but the International research center. Big things must happen there.

We arrived and paid our obligatory $5 to get into the “research center” to see what it is all about. There was some interesting stuff inside but it was also pretty hokey. If we had a piece of an spacecraft, an eyeball in a petri dish or something it might be more believable. There sure are a lot of people who think something happen near Roswell though.

We didn’t spend much time there. When we were done we went back the way we came into town to eat at a local Thai restaurant there named the “Lemon Grass”. I have to say it was pretty good! Like a ton of asian restaurants the inside is nothing to write about but the food and service was excellent.

Out of Roswell we took one last “long way” around Capitan Mountain to see what is back there. It turns out that it’s mostly nothing. I managed to get the drone out and make a short flight video there.

As you can see, it’s pretty much out in the middle of nowhere. We spent a lot of time in “nowhere” on this trip. It was fun.

North of Capitan mountain, New Mexico
North of Capitan mountain, New Mexico

I don’t think I took any other photographs this day. At least I couldn’t find any. You wouldn’t think that finding photographs would be that big of a deal but I use 4 cameras and I never remember where I put things.

We went on to our home of the next few days in Ruidoso (actually, Alto), New Mexico and got settled in there. It is always great to see family again. The home is beautiful. The air is clear, clean and cool.

Tomorrow we share BBQ together as a family. It’s a  huge family gathering as it turns out. It’ll be nice to see each of them.

Summer 2017 Vacation – July 26 – Day 7

Gloria was up before the sun this morning to head out on her hike. As I write this I regret having not gone with her. She speaks of an easy walk through some amazing, open topology to watch the sun rise in the desert mountains. This is all she could come back with:

Big Bend – Photo Credit: Gloria Westerman

I almost sent her back to the mountain to make it right. But I let it go, we packed our stuff and we were off through the park and on to our next destination.

The drive north is pretty and quiet in mostly flat land littered with some very tall mountains. The road is noisy as hell as it’s partly made of this rocky asphalt as you can see in the photo below. I don’t know what else they make the roads out of down there but they are wicked loud. I had my noise canceling headsets in my ears a lot of this trip.

The road to nowhere

As we came up from the park we ran into the border guards checking to make sure people traveling the road are US citizens. They are on all the roads north of the border there. They asked a simple question of citizenship without checking any ID. Then we asked for restaurant recommendations anywhere near Alpine. They had a bunch of idea.

We ended up eating a very late lunch at the Reata Restaurant where the food was fine but I really don’t think the young wait staff was interested in us being there.

As we went further north it was very clear that the new oil pipeline from Canada is creating not just traffic but oil industry jobs all up and down Texas and New Mexico. Through Pecos, in particular, the traffic was very thick from then on out. This was the only time that the traffic on the back roads was so full that we could not get around it.

We took a “back road” from  NM route 285 over to the “National Parks Highway” and on into the Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

It was our intention in the park to see the bats leave their cave around 8pm but we got there so early that we decided to go through the caverns. It was about 5pm when we arrived. We were literally the last people to go into the caverns. I could see that if there were a ton of people in the cavern it would make that experience totally different. Only 2 elevators that hold maybe 10 people each. They said here could be an hour wait to go both up and down.

We rented those little teleprompter devices that you can punch in a number and get a self-guided tour of the caverns. They are absolutely enormous and it takes over an hour to go through them. I only took this one picture towards the end of the tour. It was with my iPhone which has the poorest optics of all of my cameras. But it’s what I had.

Carlsbad Caverns

The caverns are not that pretty but the hole in the ground is massive and expansive at over 30 miles long. If you have seen a stalagmite in one cave you’ve seen them in this one. But the main room is something like 14 acres so it’s quite large. We only saw a fraction of the cave system while we were there.

After the cavern we tried to see the bats but a massive thunderstorm arrived at the same time as the bats were going to leave. They didn’t want to leave in the rain any more than we wanted to stand in the same. We did not get to experience them. We’ll have to come back.

Although we have no real “plan” things have worked out well for this trip. We have had no problems getting hotel accommodations, finding places to dine, grocery stores and food to eat otherwise. It’s been an easy and relaxing time so far (ignoring the poison ivy, of course).

We left the national park and head north to Artesia where we spent the night. Like most every other night, Gloria is asleep first and I fight it to the end.

Summer 2017 Vacation – July 25 – Day 6

Today we head towards Big Bend National Park from Lubbock, Texas.

It wasn’t an early morning for me since I didn’t wake up until 10am! So scooting around getting ready now. We are going to head south towards Odessa and then off in to the sparsely populated areas near the park.

Other than the temperatures now going up above 100º there is nothing remarkable about this countryside. It just goes on for miles. Today is a very bright and sunny day on top of being quite hot.

We stop for lunch in Odessa and ate at a sushi place named Volcano. If you’ve never been to Odessa it’s not known for sushi. It’s known more for it’s  petrochemical businesses and culture. Having worked in the oil industry for some time I made several trips into Odessa but always came in by plane. This is my first drive into that city.

The chef was quite talented!

We still have a ways to go to get to Big Bend. I’ve been here before so I know the populous starts to disappear, the terrain become more rugged and isolated until you finally arrive.

Sure enough, as we move away from Odessa the cell phone coverage starts to become spotty until it disappears altogether. That’s when you know you are getting closer to the park.

Similar to some parks around here the speed limit is 45 once you enter into the gates. After getting off highways where the limits are 75-80 it’s a bit of a challenge to slow down. The air is still warm but as we climb to the lodge area things cool down in a strong breeze. It appears to rain up here a lot as there is moss all over the rock formations, the grass is very green and the trees and brush are thick.

The speed limit continues to fall as the road becomes more narrow and steep until we finally make it up to the lodge. For some reason I was expecting it to be busy but it wasn’t. Until we go to dinner where there was only 2 people working trying to feed 30 of us. It seemed if you wanted to drink your dinner you were good but if you wanted to eat your dinner you had to wait. Unless you brought your food there are no other options.

We did finally get seated, got some water and ordered our meal when we noticed that quite the sunset was unfolding outside. I didn’t bring my “real” camera with me so I went back to the room to grab that. And I was glad I did:

Sunset at Big Bend, Texas

It was such a pretty evening and it would soon get better when the sun went completely down and revealed the milky way galaxy.

The Milky Way as seen from Big Bend, Texas.

The picture of the sunset was shot by hand. This camera can take some pretty amazing photos. The picture of the Milky Way does the evening sky no justice at all. It is seriously breathtaking there after the sun goes down.

At first I took some photos from the parking lot but then I grabbed Gloria and we headed to a hiking path where  it was even darker. There we could easily make out several planets and all of the Milky Way without the aid of any optics. Even with the moon out and being very bright there was no problem seeing the milky way from horizon to horizon.

Gloria is going to get up early tomorrow and head out for a hike. I’ve put in an order to sleep late which she has promised she would accommodate.

I’m doing a ton of post production photography and Gloria is fast asleep. The poison ivy is not bothering her much now so she can sleep soundly.

After Gloria’s hike tomorrow morning we leave and head north towards Carlsbad Caverns to see the bats then on towards Roswell, New Mexico where we see a different kind of batty.

We definitely want to come back here to Big Bend.

Summer 2017 Vacation – July 24 – Day 5

After a torrential rain storm last night and getting in after midnight we were both a little tired this morning. We have a long, flat ride ahead of us as we travel from Denison, TX to Lubbock, TX.

In fact, I was incredibly tired after a few hours of driving and had a hard time paying attention while I drove. The road is mostly unremarkable through this part of the country and it’s easy to let the monotony take over and get very distracted. I finally had to stop at a small rest stop somewhere on route 82 outside of Lubbock just to regroup. We are only about an hour away from our destination.

Looking back at a road less traveled.

The wind is blowing very stiff across the plains as various thunderstorms roll through the area. It’s still stormy in Texas today as you can see above. I didn’t hear anyone complaining about the rain.

7th inning stretch.

We really weren’t going very far so our thought was that we would find a hotel, ask them where their favorite place to eat was and then ask the waiter if they could go one place in Lubbock where would that place be.

So we go to the Arbor Inn & Suites which would turn out to be one of our favorite places to stay this trip. I don’t normally write reviews but I did write one for them. So far, it was the most comfortable, well run, quiet places we stayed. The Internet was fast and reliable and we were able to wash our clothes for free.

We asked the people at the desk where we should eat which they recommended a TexMex place named Abuelo’s Mexican Restaurant.

The service at Abuelo’s was excellent. We wanted to sit outside and listen to a band while we eat but it turns out they don’t serve the restaurant food out there. The band was also really loud so we headed in to sit in a booth.

For some reason lately Mexican food just seem like too much, no matter how much I eat. Tonight being no exception they deliver this huge plate of food after eating too many chips. I did my best to clean my plate but only got about half of it down.

While we were there we asked our waiter where we should go before the sun went down. More specifically, if he only had 1-2 hours where would he go? He said to head out to the twin lakes of Buffalo Springs and Ransom Canyon.

It is totally out in the boonies from Lubbock which is already out in the boonies itself. Ironically we tried to stay at a place near here named the Harvey House that is situated in an old converted train station and museum just south of Lubbock. They didn’t have any rooms for the night so we couldn’t stay there.

We ended up going to Ransom Canyon and driving around the lake. It’s an ungated community with beautiful houses on or near the lake. But there wasn’t much there and it didn’t seem to be a place for the public to hang out. Which is why I wondered why the waiter would send us out here. Who knows.

Both lakes are situation in a canyon and have interesting topology in an otherwise unremarkable local.

On the way to Ransom Canyon I saw these big electric generators situated at the location of a coal fired electrical plant. In order to take photos of them I had to essentially climb a fence to get it out of the way of the camera.

Wind turbine at coal fire plant in Lubbock, TX
Wind turbine at coal fire plant in Lubbock, TX
Wind turbine at coal fire plant in Lubbock, TX

All of the wind turbines were spinning presumably making electricity. I hadn’t really mentioned wind power but it’s very noticeable how much of a commitment various states, schools and businesses are making with this technology. They have dotted the landscape as we’ve driven on all these back roads up to now.

After taking the pictures we headed back to the hotel, finished washing our clothes, watching a bit of a movie while I worked on this blog then got ready for tomorrow.

We’ve decided to go to Big Bend National Park tomorrow. It’s been a while since I’ve been there and Gloria has never been. I’ve never stayed there over night so this should be interesting. They don’t really have an “address” and I can’t remember how to get there. We’ll sort that out in the morning or on the drive.

Gloria is starting to heal. Thank goodness for the help of those doctors to get her skin feeling good again.

Day 5 is complete. I’ve just about stopped thinking about all my responsibilities.

Summer 2017 Vacation – July 23 – Day 4

Today was a long-ish day.

We got up when we wanted to this morning. I left the blinds closed so that Gloria could get some sleep thinking that her poison ivy was probably sapping her strength. When she got up I asked her how things were going and she just seemed miserable with the ivy outbreak. So today we will visit urgent care to get her some relief.

We left Mountain View (not to be confused with Mountain Home as I so often do) around 11 am. We then bee-line it to Conway where there is an urgent care place that can see her.

Urgent care isn’t so urgent. They keep certain hours and it’s a bit of a “snails pace” on the inside. But we did get in and she got a shot that seems to be helping her. And some meds too. None of it she likes to take but in this case it’s probably best. Some people really have a rough time with the plant and she is definitely one of those people. I think we waited a couple of hours but once she got in it was pretty quick. She wanted to leave before they saw her … but we didn’t budge.

Thankfully, she got the help she needed.

The goal in Little Rock for me was to stop by and see my old high school friend, James, who is selling his dad’s 1940’s Piper Cub Sport and then visit another Virginia friend of mine who is living in Little Rock some these days.

After getting done with urgent care we were running late in the day and headed out to North Little Rock to look at the Piper Cub and have a very short visit with James at the NLR airport.

1940’s Piper Cub Sport

There’s so much to like about this little bird and so much to think about in the coming weeks. I’m in quite a tough spot on this one.

After leaving NLR we had to motor on to Texas where we would spend the night in Denison, Texas. We wanted to spend the night on Lake Texoma but couldn’t work that out on the drive there. We wouldn’t get into Denison until after midnight. But it was a long but pleasant drive into the Arkansas countryside and on into Oklahoma and Texas.

Right up until we get near Texas when the skies opened up and it rained like mad. After checking the weather ahead we learned there was no tornado or thunderstorm warnings, just rain. So we pressed on. But, man, did it rain! We had to slow down to 35 mph for part of that just to keep moving. It was pitch black, of course, making it even more difficult to see. But we made it with some persistence no more worse for wear. Just a little tired.

Gloria is doing much better now. I think the medications are starting to do their thing but her skin is still very upset and probably will be for days to come.


This looks like something I could get into:

Pit stop into a McDonalds

Tucker Gott has been fun to follow the last few month. He doesn’t do anything crazy or break any laws. Lately I have seen a ton of paramotor activity around northern Virginia. Which has me wondering all kinds of thoughts about this activity!

You can check out his YouTube channel here.