Petrified Forest National Park, The Painted Desert, and Blue Mesa

This national park is kind of odd because you don’t hear much about it like you do with parks like the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone.

However, after visiting I’m convinced that it is extremely under-rated. Everyone driving though Route 66 should stop in and check out at least a few attractions on this 28 mile detour.

The park has something for everyone – amazing canyon vistas like the Grand Canyon, original Pueblo structures if you like history, Petroglyphs and ancient ruins like Mesa Verde, dinosaur museum, fossils and archaeologists you can watch work, Route 66 nostalgia, and the main attraction: petrified wood that has turned into amazing rock.

Painted Desert

Painted Desert is very similar to the Grand Canyon. Not quite as “grand” but amazingly beautiful none the less.

We all loved it. Even Low Rider.

Newspaper Rock

This is a large collection of Petroglyphs, hand prints and symbols from ancient tribes.

While you cannot go right up to them like you can in other places, they were definitely cool.

Took this through some binoculars.

Route 66

One part of the park has an old car with the historic Route 66 in the background.

Blue Mesa

I asked 2 different employees at the park what their favorite part of the park was and they both replied “Blue Mesa.”

One was a park ranger, the other was an paleontologist who was chatting with kids and actually cleaning up dinosaur fossils.

Sorry for the sideways video. Yes I know how to use my phone but it won’t let me turn the video, and my internet is too slow right now for me to care.

He said this is also where they find most of the dinosaur fossils.

This was our favorite part of the park as well.

Notice the “logs” scattered throughout the photo. All solid petrified rock.

I’m glad we went a little further to the middle of the park where this is located.

There is a 3 mile loop where you can see the blueish grey cliffs (Blue Mesa) and a large collection of petrified wood in its natural environment.

Photos do not do it justice.

The petrified wood logs that have turned to rock are glorious.

You can even see where the bark is on many of these.

Others simply look like wood chips (I could use in my smoker for BBQ) but are actually rock now.

Needless to say, it brought back Kristi’s inner child in wanting to collect pretty rocks.

Kristi’s face as we were leaving because it is against the law take the “pretty rocks” with us. She tried to convince me that “it was worth going to jail to take just a few” but I squashed that.

Jr. Ranger Program

I said it before and am really a believer now – the Jr. Ranger Program is incredible.

One of our stops in the park, the kids were so into filling in their ranger books that they didn’t want to get out to view the panorama.

Brayden read his from front to back cover and both kids actually retained information from the books.

If you are driving through, take 2-4 hours to stop here. It is well worth the visit.

Goodbye New Mexico, Hello Arizona

Today we left for Arizona. One of the main places we are most excited to visit.

Our list includes ATVs, Petroglyph, the Grand Canyon, slide rock, the wild western town of Jerome, snow skiing, Sedona and who knows what else.

Dry Hands, Dry Lips

One thing I forgot about is how dry the air is out west.

I’m anti-lotion.

I don’t use lotions, creams, or oils.

But New Mexico has forced my hand.

They have been so dry that I don’t have a choice. The first couple of days I got what appeared to be a paper cut on my finger just from dry, flakey skin.

Brayden has been licking his lips so bad that he has a sore below his bottom lip.

Humidity has its benefits I suppose…just remind me of that in July while in Florida.

Thoughts on New Mexico

I used to think of New Mexico as a “fly over” state.

It is true that it has some rundown areas. But there is actually a lot of scenery.

In one minute you can be in White Sands, which looks like the Sahara desert.

Then 30 minutes away you have red cliffs or volcanic rock.

Then an hour away you can be in a lush mountain towns of Ruidoso or Cloudcroft.

New Mexico kind of reminds me of if Texas and Arizona were to have had a baby. But it was actually Colorado’s kid.

With that graphic description I’ll leave you with some photos of our journey out of the state.

Photo from the Drone in New Mexico facing Cloudcroft.
Red rocks with melting snow in the background.

As you head out of New Mexico and into Arizona on Route 66, there are some massive red rocks.

Are we in Arizona yet? Nope. Still NM

You drive right by Petrified Forest National Park (which is underrated and well worth the stop).

Then as you get about 50 miles from Flagstaff, you see snow capped Mount Humphrey towering over the plains you are driving through.

The highest elevation along Route 66 at around 12,000 feet

I-17 South is a terribly bumpy road (like I-95 in South Carolina or I-10 in Louisiana) but incredibly beautiful.

The landscape quickly turns from vast desert, to lush forest, then you descend down 4-6 degree roads from the mountains into the red rocks of Sedona and valleys.

In Sedona it was about 85 degrees whereas the mountains just north still had snow and skiing in April. All within about a 60- 90 minute drive.

I guess that is one reason this area is so desirable to many. Beyond the temperate climate and low humidity, you are literally a couple of hours from anything you want to do.

New Mexico Craft Beer Post

As mentioned in Texas, when settling into a new state it is always exciting to test the local flavors of microbreweries.

After a quick Google search, I noticed that there were 3 breweries in the town we were in.

Score!

Breweries

So one of our first days in town I tried to stop by but they were closed at like 7pm or something. Bummer.

Walmart Beer

The next day we went to Walmart and I thought, maybe they have a couple of New Mexico six packs to try.

That is exactly all they had – two different New Mexico beers to try and that is all.

I was disappointed with the choices but on a positive note it did make the selection quite easy.

In true Walmart fashion, we waited for 30 minutes in the checkout line but the cashier was too young to sell us the beer.

She had to call a manager.

We waited and waited more.

Finally I said, “you know what, don’t worry about it. Keep your beer.”

Brewery attempt #2

‘Twas a beautiful Tuesday afternoon and we needed to run to town.

Let’s swing into the brewery and see what all of the 5 star reviews were about.

Sorry, we are closed Monday and Tuesday.

Brewery attempt #3

Our day before leaving we were out and about and driving through town to fill up our tank, grab groceries, prescriptions, etc.

Let’s stop into the brewery and grab some cans to bring with us.

This time they were not only open but bustling.

There was a gentleman playing guitar in the courtyard.

“What do you have for cans?” I asked.

Their reply: “We only sell growlers (64 oz) and hobos (32 oz).”

Fail. They only last a few days once poured. We will not be bringing any back to Florida for friends.

She offered me some free samples so I graciously accepted (it would have been rude not to). Then purchased a sticker and 2 hobos, and went about my way.

The moral of the story

The moral of the story is to buy your beer before you get to New Mexico.

White Sands, brown sands…

Our main goal as a parents is to help mold our kids into contributing, responsible members of society with a good value system.

One necessary part of that is teaching them to notice when they need to use the restroom on their own.

Well, there has been numerous times where one of the kids insisted that they didn’t have to use the bathroom when we stopped traveling, only to announce that they needed to 15 minutes later.

As the old saying goes: “fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

Now we have mandatory bathroom time when traveling. However, it is still up to them what they choose to do in the time – #1 or #2.

“Shitcident”

Before I go on I should explain a term Kristi and I coined when we lived in Sarasota.

The term is “Shitcident. If you haven’t figured it out, it basically means “shit incident.” Yet it is far easier to say when you are in THAT predicament.

…Go ahead and say it out loud. It rolls off the tongue.

Mind you, at that time we had a new born and another we were potty training.

There was a period when shitcidents were a semi-common occurrence, and we needed a flawless way of communicating quickly so the other could spring to action, call for backup, whatever.

Much the same reason K-9s are trained with German commands that are unmistakable, or pilots use specific language to communicate with air traffic control.

More stories on that later…

The shitcident in the park

We pulled into the park and all went to the restroom.

Waited in line to get the right equipment, tickets and maps.

Arrived to our destination in the massive park and walked a half mile in knee deep sand only to have one of the kids (who will remain nameless) say they need to go #2.

“Why didn’t you go at the main entrance?”

“I don’t know. I forgot. I gotta go now.”

“We just got here AND you just went to the bathroom.”

Being the good parents we are: “Well, we are not waking all the way back, driving back to the park entrance, then waiting in line again at the main gate and paying again to get back in because your forgot.”

Their reply in desperation: “I think there was a bathroom back there.”

“No there wasn’t. I didn’t see one. Figure it out.”

Finally, after much hemming and hawing (and crouching) that child decided to dig a hole and go behind a cactus flower and a large bolder.

Before you freak out, they cleaned up after themselves. We didn’t pollute. Plus dogs poop in the park all the time.

But it was necessary for them to learn a valuable lesson. Choose to use the restroom when you have one available.

A little embarrassment, a lot of relief.

Turns out there was a restroom next to the parking lot we were in. Kristi and I didn’t see it.

Choose to use

“Choose to use” – that is our new family slogan. If there is a restroom available, you are going to use it whether you want to or not…

Valley of Fires: Lava Rock BLM (and Emma)

One thing that has been really cool about the western side of the country is something called BLM or Bureau of Land Management.

(Cody, you’ve been telling me about this. They are pretty awesome.)

From their website: “The Bureau of Land Management’s mission is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.”

Essentially, there are a ton of open lands around the US that belong to the people. Many can be camped on, hiked, or used for mountain biking, ATVs, etc.

Many of these are interesting places that are preserved like a State Park.

This is one area our government has got it right.

Today we visited one of those called Valley of Fires (plural, there is another that is singular in a different state).

Before I go there…

Nice Neighbors

We have some really cool neighbors at this campground. They are retired but drive around the country and volunteer at different state and national parks.

As such, they had the low down on some really cool places in the area and around the country.

Coincidentally, they had the same brand camper as us, a Florida license plate and Crystal River/Homosassa was one of the places they had applied to volunteer. Small world.

Valley of Fires was one of their recommendations.

Valley of Fires

5,000 years ago lava emerged and filled up this valley with liquid hot magma.

The photos don’t do it justice as to just how vast it was but here they are anyway.

If you look at the details in the background, you might be able to see the scale.

Notice the pavilions in the top right. They house 8 picnic tables.
Again, notice the pavilion to understand the scale.
Where is Harper and Brayden? Can you find them in the photo?
Juniper tree
This was the size of the lava rock boulders all around us.

Introducing Emma

I should also mention that those nice neighbors also have an incredibly playful and lovable puppy named Emma.

Harper and Emma squeal for each other every time their eyes meet.

“Show me your identification!”

They also have a tortoise named Zippy. He only comes out on hot days.

Low Rider wanted to charge at him but Zippy ain’t scared. That turtle charged back and stuck its head through the cage.

America the Beautiful Pass

On the way back we decided to go back to White Sands National Park for a picnic dinner and some redneck sledding.

When we came over the weekend, they had run out of America the Beautiful National Park Passes and we needed to purchase ours before our next stop.

Apparently they all accept them but all parks don’t always sell them.

Plus the kids really liked playing in the cold, corse sand.

Think miles of play sand without the cat pee. (cats love to pee in sand boxes. That’s a fact. Google it.)

Low Rider even got to come and rescue our toes from the sand by digging them free.

The hunt for kitty

One of our last couple nights in Texas, our neighbors and new friends were all exchanging places to go and others to avoid.

After all, each of us were from different parts of the country and traveling different directions.

We’ve discovered some of the best hidden places you might find only by someone’s recommendation.

Meow

During this time, we all kept hearing a meow that sounded like a cat in despair.

Like maybe the cat was trapped in a burning camper?

Or maybe the cat was stuck in a tree?

Either way, the noise was just loud enough that once you notice it, you cannot ignore it – like a smoke detector battery dying.

The witch hunt

Everyone was getting so distracted with this we went on a hunt to find this desperate cat and set it free.

We’d think we found the noise and shine our high powered flashlights in the trees, and then the cat would seemingly jump to another nearby tree.

It was pretty impressive.

We never found that poor cat.

The text

A few days after we left, we got a text from one of new friends that were part of that discussion and hunt. It read:

“Found out the critter making the noise was a ring tailed cat. We saw one the other night climb a tree. The. Started making that noise. It’s mating season. So he was probably above our heads.”

My reply:

“That’s hilarious. Kristi did think it was a cat! I guess she was sorta right. Didn’t think it was a raccoon creature. Thanks for solving the mystery.”

So it just ended up being some horny ring tailed cats lurking in the trees…

Jingle Bells: Sledding White Sands New Mexico

Not only is the campground we are staying at in an awesome location overlooking the mountains.

They also have the sleds here to loan out. So today we decided to visit our first National Park – White Sands New Mexico.

“I don’t care if the sun is in your eyes, you will open your eyes and SMILE!”

Missile Testing Facility

On the way in we passed the missile testing facility.

Must be cool to know some days you can’t get home due to a missile.

Boyz II Men and MTV

One popular group when Kristi and I were growing up was Boyz II Men.

For some reason, I recalled from useless trivia I learned from MTV that the video for “Water Runs Dry” was shot in White Sands.

Since then, I’ve always wanted to go there. Kristi was equally excited.

So in the car we jammed to Boyz II Men the entire way – just to get the mood right.

See kids, this is what real soulful music is. (Old man voice)

I digress…

White Sands

The park was definitely worth a visit. The temp was only 70 with a light breeze.

I’m glad it wasn’t hotter.

It felt like Clearwater Beach in early November. Hot sun but a nice breeze. Which is actually my preferred to to beach it in Florida.

That said, I don’t think I’ll visit in July.

Here are some of the pictures from the park:

Sledding the dunes

Sledding 50-75 foot dunes was awesome.

Climbing back up was a bit trickier.

The kids would exhaust themselves trying to climb back up the steepest part of the dune.

When climbing up or down you can literally sink in to your knees.

It is quite the workout. Unfortunately I couldn’t find “Sand Dune running” in the fitness app on my Apple Watch.

If you drop a child or small dog, you could literally lose them in the sand.

Notice how Harper’s arm has disappeared…

We forgot to buy wax for our sleds, but a boy who was leaving gave us his left overs.

Then it really got fun.

It was like adding a big block transmission to those little plastic sleds.

Even big guys like this guy could slide fast now!

Tip: if you have a snow sled or long sled, bring it.

Those single seater “trash can” lids they give out didn’t cut it for me. They work for the “wee” ones though.

With a little practice the kids were finally able to master sledding.

The kids finally mastering the craft.

At first, they really looked like Floridians.

Kristi and I preferred the real sled.

The kids were a little too eggar to “push” us down the hill.

Jr. Ranger Program

The kids were surprisingly engaged with the Jr. Ranger program.

They were eager to complete their books to earn their pin.

Now introducing

For your listening enjoyment: The smooth sounds of Boyz II Men in white sands.

New Mexico: New home for the week

We finally exited the state of Texas.

I know people are marveled by Florida weather but I am equally in awe about this region of the country.

In a single days drive we went from blistering hot desert, to dust tornadoes, to wind gusts, to rain, to snow, to sunshine.

Weird.

However, we arrived at our new destination New Mexico.

Homeland Security

Once we left El Paso and headed north, we came up to a permanent structure every vehicle had to drive through with armed law enforcement around and cameras everywhere.

The cars were marked “Homeland Security.”

Kristi’s stomach sank and she asked me, “we are not heading into Mexico are we? Did you make a wrong turn?”

So I asked the guard the same: “we wanted to head to New Mexico, not Mexico. This is north right?”

Stone faced he replied: “No. You are heading into Mexico.”

I guess we aren’t the first to ask that question.

What a good sport to play along with my little game (and give Kristi a heart attack). She had slept much of this drive so she really thought I had fumbled directions.

Campground

We arrived at a small but very well maintained campground off the main road.

As I mentioned in a previous post, most were booked up in the area due to spring break. However, we really lucked out with this one.

Not only is it beautifully situated at the foothills of the mountains, but also has this red rock cliffs just behind the property off the trail.

And it was part of one of our memberships so we saved 50% most nights.

Double score.

View of Frank the Tank (name of truck, not mountains)

Then I noticed something…is that a mirage? Nope, it is totally a bike trail to a canyon!

It really dig canyons (pun not intended).

I think it is that “want what you don’t have” mentality.

Like the girl who has straight hair but wants curly hair, or blond hair but wants to be brunette.

I live it flat, wetlands so I want dry rocky lands. They speak to my soul.

I feel like we just won the lottery with our campground.

This is how I felt on the inside:

Here was the sunset that night if you don’t believe me.

the reward for a long drive.
Just to the left, you’ll notice snow capped Sierra Blanca. We arrived just before the snow melted (next day).
Canyon with Snow Cap in back.
Brayden wanted a bike shot.

Walmart diesel exhaust fluid (Super Tech)…why is it half price?

Newer diesel trucks require something called DEF or Diesel Exhaust Fluid in addition to fuel.

The name brand DEF costs about 12 bucks at Walmart and 20 bucks or more at gas stations.

There is a generic brand called Super Tech that costs about half – so $6 for the same 2.5 gallons.

I finally figured out why it cost half the price…

It’s because half of it ends up down the side of your truck or on the ground instead of in your tank.

The nozzle for this thing is awful. In no way would it seal and thus, the liquid spills everywhere.

I even tried duck tape and gorilla tape but still spilled everywhere.

Thankfully I had funnel for the toy hauler’s gas tank which did the trick but became a two person job.

So if you buy Super Tech DEF, be sure you have your own funnel.

Maybe it is half off for a reason…

Kristi wanted to pull the camper – west Texas

If you haven’t noticed, Texas is a big state.

You really notice the size when driving from Houston to El Paso.

Somewhere between “Road Runner” Texas and “tumbleweed” Texas, Kristi mentioned that she wanted to learn how to pull the camper.

Be my guest. I was pretty tired of driving at that point.

I think Kristi had a whole new respect once she felt this:

Gusty west Texas

Spring is typically a nice time of year in most places, right?

The chirping of birds.

The blooming of plants.

The moderate temperatures.

Apparently this is not true in west Texas.

Storms come in almost weekly and wind gusts from Mexico, known as the jet stream, come in blowing between 20 and 40 mph. We never knew this.

We are now “woke” as the cool kids say.

As such, you see little dust tornadoes everywhere and feel the occasional gust, especially when you are pulling a trailer.

No bueno.

It wasn’t bad weather, just had to take it easy though the second half of Texas as you couldn’t “see” the wind coming.

What’s up with that Texas? Remember that post about Texas weather?

Stay woke.

Camping West Texas

Since you probably read the blog for photos of the family and kids (and sadly not my rants – tear), here are a couple of good photos from our west Texas stop.

They were actually getting along. So I had to take a photo to prove it to mom.
“What? Ford makes tractors?” Mind blown!
Hide your gardens when Harper comes to visit. Your flowers will be plucked. At least she is picking flowers and not her nose. I’m glad that phase is over.

More soon.