Current Location Balmorhea State Park, Texas Currently 40F Predicted High today 65F
Old Town Mesilla at the square
Yes, I did mean to say “diving” not driving, although the last couple of days we have been driving along at a nice pace. I’ll explain the diving part later. We took two days to travel about 510 miles from Tucson to Balmorhea, Texas. Nice to have the luxury of our own home with us and the time to go at a reasonable pace. When daughter Deb moved to Texas I helped her drive the rental truck and we drove from LaQuinta, CA, to Van Horn, Texas in one day, almost 900 miles! Ack!!
The I-10 route from Tucson to Las Cruces is fairly straightforward and not all that exciting. I am sure there would be great things to find in the mountains north of the highway, but we are on a mission to get to Texas and Florida, so those little side trips are not tempting us. We arrived in Las Cruces around 3 with a reserved spot at the Coachlight RV Park, advertised to be within walking distance to old Mesilla and a Passport America Park with a good rate at $18.65 for our overnight stop with hookups and sewer, good WiFi, but no cable. It wasn’t the finest of RV parks, but decent enough for an overnight. If you want something fancy and aren’t worried about the expense, try the Hacienda RV Resort, where Mo and I stayed on our first trip through when the MoHo was just a few days old and we didn’t have Passport America.
Walking distance is relative, however, with over a mile each way not something we particularly wanted to do after a day of driving to go get supper! Instead we unhooked the baby car and drove down the road to Old Mesilla to walk around the square a bit. I remembered a little place on the square that had all sorts of salsa and chili stuff, so added a bit of green chili to my goodie stash. The square was fairly quiet, with the Christmas holiday behind us and not many folks out and about on a weekday afternoon.
I won’t rewrite what has been written so well about the history of Old Mesilla, but if you are interested in reading about one of the oldest settlements in New Mexico, explore this link.
When we were here in 2007, we did eat dinner at La Posta, a very historic restaurant with very good Mexican food. This time, however, we opted for a less pretentious little restaurant recommended by several locals we spoke with, Andele’s, just on the edge of Old Mesilla. The atmosphere was generic at best, but the food was great and the salsa bar was fun too. We ate early, but by the time we left there was a good sized waiting line at the door, so the popularity of the place was evident. I had what they called traditional Mexican tacos, and the fixings arrived on a plate with some warm fresh corn tortillas to go with. With six different kinds of salsa at the salsa bar and some grilled onions, my meal was incredibly tasty, and was enough to feed us a second night with more left over for snacks.
With a location along the interstate between El Paso and Tucson, the city of Las Cruces might be easy to bypass. It is a nice medium sized city with a great University and a dry climate. I guess that is what has caused the population to increase so dramatically in the last decade or so. The shopkeepers all said it was retirees from the north and from California who were buying up the land, building new housing developments and still not adding much to the economy.
I was lucky to see Las Cruces from a completely different perspective back in 2002 when I had the opportunity to spend six weeks here for some advanced soils training. My work with soils was about the landscape, how different kinds of soils are distributed and what makes those differences. One of the major factors that affect soil development is the geomorphology, the shape and age of the landscape where the soil is located.
As head of the National Cooperative Soil Survey, NRCS is committed to keeping its scientists well trained, and the Soil Science Institute is held every few years at different locations in the country. If you are lucky, you get to go and if you are especially lucky you get to go to Institute here in Las Cruces where one of the most incredible geomorphic studies of the landscape exists. The Desert Project is a sort of bible of western geomorphology, and that man you see in the photo with the white hat and gloves is one of the authors.
I spent several weeks in the company of soil scientists from all over the country learning from the best. It was a highlight of my career and I count several friends among some of those I met at Institute. I also saw Las Cruces and the surrounding area in much more depth than would happen any other way. Las Cruces is about so much, but most of all it is about the Rio Grand River. We studied the ancestral terraces of this once mighty river, visited the farms and orchards, wandered the wild spaces of the Jornada del Muerto, where some of the best rangeland studies are conducted, and spent a day studying the geomorphology of the White Sands not far away.
Las Cruces is about the River, about cotton and peppers and some of the most extensive pecan orchards in the US. It is about hot sun and no shade, about wind and dust much of the time. It is about good restaurants and the smell of chilis roasting in September. It is about the Organ Mountains and Dripping Springs, the place to go if you need to get out of all that gravelly dusty alluvium and find some real rocks.
We saw none of this soul of Las Cruces as we passed by on I-10, but I remembered it well. I enjoyed having an excuse to go back and look at the several hundred photos I took during Institute where I celebrated a birthday in Old Mesilla and planned for my new life in Klamath Falls. When I came to Institute, I had just been promoted to project leader for the Klamath Falls soil survey, had moved there and bought a house but didn’t take possession of the house until I returned six weeks later from Institute. It was one of the biggest turning points in my entire life. Daughter Melody and her husband and kids now live in that little house that I bought before I drove down to Las Cruces.
Yesterday, Mo and I left early in the morning with another reasonable driving day to Texas. Much of the route from El Paso is quite near the Mexican border, and as we passed through the city, we could see the dilapidated houses of Juarez across the river. Once east of El Paso, however, the landscape opened up again and the distant mountain ranges of West Texas beckoned.
We were still undecided where to spend our next two nights when we stopped in Van Horn for gas. With the cold weather recently, we had decided that Fort Davis State park was too high and cold and thought that staying at Balmorhea State Park, just 4 miles south of the interstate, would be a better idea. Lower elevation, a bit warmer, and hookups.
Stopping at a rest area just a short way from Van Horn, Mo discovered to her dismay, that the electrical connection to the Tracker had come loose and the cord was dragging on the highway, destroying the connection tips. Lucky for us, we were only a few miles from town, and we backtracked to an auto parts store in Van Horn where Mo got the parts. With a bunch of fiddling, she still couldn’t get the turn signals to work, so with only 72 miles to Balmorhea, and the evening approaching, we made the decision to just drive with running lights and settle into the Balmorhea.
Once there, I walked up to the office which was closing, so we were told to just find a place and pay in the morning. I walked back to the rig, carefully avoiding the large curb, and caught my foot right on a big chunk of asphalt that was this side of the curb. Bam. Hence the diving into Texas. I dove into the ground, missing the curb I think, and didn’t break anything. My hip hurt like heck, but not enough to be broken and I am sitting and walking around so I am pretty sure I am fine. I do get tired of these dives, however. I used to leap boulders when I was doing soil survey, so being such a giant klutz is pretty embarrassing.
Settled in, Mo figured out that a fuse was blown when the “hot” terminal of the connector was dragging on the ground when it came loose. She replaced the fuses, and everything worked just fine. We ate our yummy leftovers from Andele’s. Looking at the maps, we decided that it would be very easy to just stay here one night and tomorrow drive the 34 miles south to Fort Davis and then 3 miles out of town to Davis Mountains State Park. We really don’t mind overnighter’s at all, since setting up is fairly quick and very easy. Especially since the alternative would mean staying here two nights and driving into the Davis Mountains tomorrow and then having to backtrack again. I dislike backtracking more than I dislike setting up!
Hip stuff woke me up at 3 and I couldn’t sleep, so it has been a good time to write, to read blogs, and to look at old photos of my days in Las Cruces so many years ago. Tomorrow the Davis Mountains!