Carbondale,IL to

Deming, NM



Trip: Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Festival
Week #1: Carbondale, Illinois - Deming, New Mexico

At the risk of beginning an essay with a cliché, it's been quite a week. We've had two long driving days (nine hours, which is highly unusual for us), but we've had no real road trouble. Well, there was the puncture in one of the starboard tires on the 5th wheel, but it was so easy to get it: 1) patched (in Murfreesboro, AR), and then 2) replaced (just outside of Austin, TX) that the inconvenience was barely enough to mention.

The best part about the trip so far is that we can take our time getting to Albuquerque. We don't have to be there for 11 days. So, after dropping the car off at Camp Russell in Kingsland, we headed for Crater of Diamonds State Park in western Arkansas. The park contains the only diamond bearing site in the world that is open to the public. For $6.50 you can dig all day and keep anything you find. Lady Luck did not smile upon us, but while we dug, the bell rang two separate times (indicating that 2 diamonds had been found.) Over the years, many noteworthy finds have been uncovered. Probably the most noteworthy was found in 1998. It was the Strawn-Wagner Diamond, a cut white diamond weighing 3.03 carats (606 mg), later cut to 1.09 carats (218 mg), graded by the American Gem Society as a "D" Flawless 0/0/0 perfect diamond (the highest grade a diamond can receive.) It sits on display at the visitors' center, and it IS incredibly beautiful.

From there we drove to Texas to visit DJ and Ariel in Austin. They have recently become engaged! They took us to a place called Flip Happy Crepes (, featured on the Food Network in the last month or so. It's more of an "eating establishment" than a restaurant because the owners operate out of an Airstream parked on a large, shady corner. Tables-for-two are scattered here and there, and doubling them up is common. The crepes are wrapped in foil, and eating them like burritos is just as acceptable as using utensils. We ordered both savory crepes AND dessert crepes. What an experience! By the end, we were stuffed, but the food was so good we kept picking, picking, picking at the last of the desserts.

Ariel and DJ

It was a good thing that the next stop was Umlauf Sculpture Garden, a place they were considering as a site for their wedding, because we needed to walk off lunch! To say that we were favorably impressed is an understatement. If the Garden of Eden exists on earth, my vote is that it's here.

When we left Austin on Friday, we thought we'd travel just a couple of hours west to Fredericksburg, but as it turned out, this was Octoberfest weekend, and not a site was available. So we just drove, and drove, making it as far as Van Horn, Texas, a distance of 450+ miles. That translates into a 9-hour drive for us. Seems long, but when we traveled from Corpus Christi, TX to Washington, DC by boat, a 100 mile day took just as long, actually longer! It's all relative, I guess.

We were making better time than we thought we would, so we decided to spend a couple of nights in Deming, New Mexico. Interstate 10 enters New Mexico in the southwest corner. This is our third visit to New Mexico, and every time we return we like it more and more. There is so much to see and do in this particular area, but we won't have time on this particular trip to do it all. We decided on one definite: to go to the Gila (hE la) Cliff Dwellings. Dave and I agree that, of all the things we've ever done or seen, this ranks close to being The Best. Archeological evidence suggests that many different groups of people have inhabited this area over thousands of years. But there was a certain group of people, the Mogollon, who, for a short period of time (1270-1300) built "rooms" inside the caves. That's what makes it so unusual.

From the RV park, it was 90 miles one way to the cliff dwellings. The final 40 miles took two hours to drive. The black-topped road twisted and curved, sometime making hairpin turns. Only twice did I notice guard rails. There was a sign warning against pulling trailers more than 20 feet long. The scenery was spectacular as we wove our way up and down, up and down. And yes, it took every minute of two hours. It was as though we were on a pilgrimage.

A stop at the visitors' center is always rewarding (from the aspect of learning something new), and all the more important here because of how long to get here. The cliff dwellings were a short drive away.

The ranger stationed at the trailhead told us that we couldn't take Victor with us, but that kennels were available. A couple of basset hounds were already there, so we put Victor in the kennel next to them. The one-mile loop trail to and through the cliff dwellings climbs 180 feet above the canyon floor, and an adequate number of benches are provided.

Sometimes it's rocky and steep, and one can't help but go back in time 700 years, and put themselves in the shoes of the Mogollon people. All along the way, an incredible diversity of plant life unfolds. Cottonwoods and willows, lush, moisture-loving mosses, grapevines, and wildflowers, pines and Douglas firs. Collectively, these would have greatly assisted the Mogollon people in their search for day-to-day needs, such as food, tools, medicine, fuel, and more. The wild grapes, berries, and nuts attracted deer and rabbits; a ready-made Circle of Life.

The caves themselves reveal a window into prehistoric life. Artifacts suggest that the Mongollon people were hunters and farmers. A communal kitchen is what one envisions in the first cave, complete with foundations of three small storage rooms, a hearth, and two circular depressions in the floor, big enough to support large, round-bottomed pots.

Gila River caves

Another cave reveals what might have been an amphitheatre because of is natural acoustics. Cave erosion resulted in a large open area in the back and several smaller alcoves in front. The acoustics are incredible, and the beats of dancing feet or the stories of chanting voices would have been amplified accordingly. Indeed, we experienced the acoustics for ourselves when we realized we were clearly hearing what the ranger was telling some tourists. Artifacts found here suggest that this part of the cave was used for ceremonial activities.

There are a total of 40 rooms identified in the Gila Cliff Dwellings. Speculating on each room's purpose is fun. Was it used for storage, for sleeping, for working, for meetings? Remarkable craftsmanship and working with nature were fundamental to the Mogollon, which made the whole experience of touring the dwelling that much more astounding. There is a reason that New Mexico is called the Land of Enchantment.

On our way back to the RV park, we turned off at the sign for City of Rocks State Park. In the midst of the Chihuahuan Desert, rocks as high as 50 feet tower skyward. Its quite a site to drive up to. The rock formations throughout the park create individual, neatly maintained picnic areas, complete with concrete table and fire pit/bar-b-q. Camping is allowed within the rock formations.

This blog would be remiss if no mention was made of the RV park we stayed at while in Deming: the Hidden Ranch. The name was appropriate since it was 10 miles from the main road, mostly gravel. The elevation at this point is more than 7,000 feet. All throughout the day, dessert critters-quail, jack rabbits, and roadrunners-went about their business. At night it was dead quiet and a million brilliant stars blanketed the sky.

This is our third trip to New Mexico, and the first time to Deming. We like New Mexico, so we know we'll be back. Next time, though, much more time in Deming will be built in. There is a lot more here than we ever expected.

Miles driven this week: 1,619
Trip so far: 1,619