Friday, November 15, 2019

Fall Break, Parte Cuatro

Our last adventure in New Mexico was a big one. We woke up early Monday morning, too the Low Road into Santa Fe and went to Bandelier National Monument. Up until that point, Great Sand Dunes was the most unique National Park we've ever been to. Once we walked, learned the history of the canyon, climbed, and explored Bandelier, I can easily say Bandelier takes the cake. We had a gorgeous drive in, a wonderful few hours in the Park, and then a very long drive home.

I told the minis they got the most out of the Rio Grande. We hiked along side of it, we hiked the rim of the Gorge, we dipped our toes in the Rio, and we drove along side of it. Oddly, I was expecting a bigger river. It seemed like a fast moving large stream than a river, but then again, we've spent our fair share of time looking at the Mississippi River. In comparison, the Rio Grande is a stream!

As we descended upon Bandelier, I instantly noticed all of the cavates in the cliffs. I always find it interesting to see how the landscape changes as we enter National Parks.

We had small issues entering Bandelier. We have a National Park Pass, but failed to bring it. Despite having a picture of the card (and my ID with me), they wouldn't accept it, so we had to pay to get in. However, I completely didn't mind (more mad at myself that I failed to grab the card on our way out of town) because I'll happily support the National Parks in any way possible. The fee was totally worth it. The Park Ranger felt bad for not being able to accept the digital copy of the Park Pass and instead treated my kids to badges and successfully talked them into doing the Junior Ranger booklet. This is the first time the minis bothered doing them in the Park (they usually just take them with us and complete them in the car on the way home) and had a great time doing them!

Their first assignment was to smell the trees. The minis claimed they smelled like cinnamon or sugar cookies.

This hike was interesting. It took us through the floor of the canyon, with plenty of lizards crawling around, it took us climbing into the cliffs, climbing ladders to get 140 feet in the air, it took us back down those ladders, and through a nature walk (literally what part of the trail was called) back to the visitors center. We did not see any tarantulas, which was a huge concern for the youngest mini.

To keep me from writing paragraphs of information, here's a bit about Bandelier and the Pueblo people's history in the cavates. 

Usually when we explore National Parks, we're in the company of other young families. At Bandelier I was surprised to see many middle aged to older people (some couples, but a lot of groups of friends who had retired together) climbing and walking with us. We had a great time talking to everyone and everyone was great

Yeah, we had to smell the trees too. Who can resist the smell of sugar cookies?

There were a few issues with the books. I'll start by saying that I love how they get kids to notice the things around them in nature. I also really love when my minis do the books after we've been at a National Park because otherwise they have their nose stuck in a booklet and not actively participating in our adventure. They were so intent on doing their books they tried to do them while we hiked which means they didn't have their hands free, which led to tripping and falls. And many breaks so they could work on them.

The path to the Alcove House.

More pausing for the workbooks.

Gray squirrels with pointed ears scurried along the trail as we walked.

Then we began the 140 foot climb to the Alcove House. The kids did amazing and followed our directions fantastically! For safety reasons, my friend went up the ladders first, all three kids in the middle, and myself last. This ensured there was someone to help them if needed. Also, everyone climbing was willing to give a hand when the minis needed. Surprisingly, no one had any issues climbing or moments of being scared of heights (I thought for sure the oldest mini would back out). The only moment came when it was time to climb back down and Harrison said, "I don't want to go back down the ladder," as he began his slow descent. 

One thing to note about this part of the trail (ladders and climbing and walking along the cliffs): the narrow parts do have hand rail to hold onto, but you do have to take turns on the ladders. Everyone was very respectful of the pace the minis were at, even though we held up the line a bit. Overall, not only was it a cool experience and climb, but it was also a great example of why it's important to be positive and kind to strangers. That alone is something I hope my minis won't soon forget.

We hiked waaayyyyy up there. The ladders are hidden in the cliffs.

The Alcove House was sandy and sloped, which means I was constantly yelling "don't run! Watch where you step!"


They finished their books so they were sworn in as Junior Rangers. Funny thing, this Park Ranger took her job very seriously and looked over each child's Ranger books. I could barely keep it together listening to how serious she was.

We made a stop at the sign on the way out.

After a few hours of hiking, we were all hungry. We made a point to stop at Lotaburger (a local New Mexico favorite). I can't be sure if the food was really THAT great or if it was because we were starving. Either way, we all enjoyed it!

We stuffed our faces and then settled in for the long drive home. New Mexico truly had so many different landscapes that we never got bored looking out the windows. As we got closer to Oklahoma, I remember a distinct moment of looking out the window to my left and seeing mountains and looking out the window to my right and seeing flat plains. I was bummed to get into the Oklahoma panhandle after dark because I really do love the lands of Oklahoma. Plus I really wanted to nab some red dirt from the ground! We kept the music going and the conversation lively as we made our way to Dodge City, KS for an overnight stay. The longest drive was the few hours back home the next day. It seemed to take forever! But we made it...and promptly ordered pizza for dinner because no way I was cooking!

Having fun at the New Mexico/Oklahoma state line. I sincerely can't believe that the only state sign we didn't get was going to and from New Mexico. A face palm is appropriate here.

We pulled off the side of the road in nowhere Kansas for some quick star gazing. We quickly realize we could see the stars more in the plains of Kansas than in the mountains of New Mexico.

Bandelier made me wish we had more time to explore more of New Mexico because there are so, so many historical and unique sites. I still hope to go to Gila Cliff Dwellings, White Sands, and Carls Bad in the near-ish future. Northern New Mexico was the perfect fall break getaway! I was initially worried about how the weather would be for us, but it wound up being perfect. I actually can't imagine going at any other time of year. Even though it was 15 hour drive from Des Moines, it really wasn't that bad of a drive and there are plenty of cool stops to make along the way. So far I've already talked two friends into visiting New Mexico because there really is so, so much to do (most of it being free--and who can pass up free and beautiful scenery??). Like always, just as this road trip finishes up, I'm already planning the next one. With kids who love to road trip just as much as I do, how can I pass that up?