Letters from America – January 1986 – New Mexico, Mckittrick Canyon and the Living Desert – Part Two by Sally Cronin

This it the second part of the article that I wrote for my parents primarily but with a view to adapting to send off to a magazine at a later date. We crossed Texas and into New Mexico to hopefully experience a once in a lifetime sighting of Halley’s Comet which only appears every 76 years. Our trip offered some wonderful opportunities to explore the area and here is part one.

Unfortunately at some point over the last 32 years, the photographs that I took have gone missing,probably when we lost a great many books and other paper items when our house was wrecked by a leaking pipe when we were away in 1996. However, thanks to Pixabay.com and their free use images, I have managed to find a few to share with you.

New Mexico and some ambitions fulfilled – Part Two

McKittrick Canyon

One of the things David and Walter really wanted to do while we were in the area was to get in some Mountain Time.

Having looked at the map we decided to go south of the New Mexico border, back into Texas to Guadalupe National Park. As none of us had been in training for a long hike we settled on McKittrick Canyon, and armed with a guide book and a gallon of water we set off from the Ranger Station along a dried up stream bed. The plant life was varied and very green due to the unusual amount of water available and about every half mile or so the stream would appear from underground and form small pools shaded by evergreen trees, strangely out of place in this semi desert. Some of the pools contain trout, rare in Texas and beside one such small oasis we sat and ate our picnic lunch in the company of a small, lonely, speckled trout.

Here is a video which showcases this amazing place far better than my original photos thanks again to GoTraveler

A sandwich has never tasted so good. On our hike we stopped briefly at Pratt’s Cabin, it is now a Ranger Post with restrooms, open only in summer, but at one time Mr. Pratt had lived there in isolated splendour with only rattlers and coyotes for company. Certainly an ideal spot for getting away from the madding crowd.

Surprisingly for this time of year, the temperature for the three days we were in the area stayed in the high 70’s and low 80’s. I could feel my nose getting redder by the minute, but it was wonderful to feel the warm sun in January and was far removed from the snow and ice we had left back in England the previous winter. We turned back after 2.8 miles and retraced our steps, investigating all the things we had missed the first time. David and Walter had by this time got a little bored with the straight and narrow and so went sideways and up whenever possible.

This is not really recommended during the summer months as you are likely to meet some of the less welcome natives of the canyon, but they stayed in sight of the main path which I stuck to with the consolation that I got back to the Ranger Post five minutes before them.

My muscles ached from the unfamiliar exercise but it was wonderful to be able to study all the plants and all the geological history evident in the Canyon. This was an easy walk that anyone could do properly equipped, water being the main priority, although at this time of year there were very few people taking advantage of this beautiful place, which quite frankly suited us. Being so quiet and peaceful, it was easy to imagine an apache or two lurking behind some of the large mescal plants along the trail, and who knows maybe there was.

The Living Desert

One of the things that I really wanted to see while in New Mexico was the Living Desert. I had heard about it at school and was delighted to find that it was only a few miles the other side of Carlsbad City.

After our walk through McKittrick Canyon we drove back through White’s City and on to Carlsbad. It was not until I got out of the car that I realised just how out of condition I really was. However the next two hours were so interesting that I soon forgot my aches and pains.

At first when you enter the display all you see are some sand dunes sprinkled with cactus, most of which we had already seen on our trip. We were a little disappointed until we turned the corner and entered the aviary section.

In this area were all the animals that had been found in the desert abandoned or injured. They included bobcats, mountain lions, falcons, road runners and some gorgeous Bam Owls. Three of them sat in a row, on one leg with their eyes closed and I couldn’t help but notice their resemblance to the Andrews Sisters, with apologies, and not a comment on their singing abilities. You are able to walk through one display which has vultures flying around your head, a little disconcerting to say the least. Not wishing to be their next meal I retired gracefully and explored around the next corner. There are animal enclosures all through the Living Desert containing a variety of the area’s inhabitants, including foxes, bear, raccoon and a very unconcerned badger eating his dinner.

My favourites were the Prairie Dogs who spent their time rushing around their enclosure from hole to hole, gossiping and chattering with excitement, it reminded me a little of our apartment complex. In the paddocks were mule deer, bison and one particularly rampant elk stag. Boss of a very pretty harem. He disliked the intrusion into his courtship rituals and had been bashing his head against the brick wall, literally, forcing the rangers to fence off part of the access road overlooking the paddock.

The park was due to close so calling upon the final reserves left in my muscles I raced up to the gift shop and managed to buy two cacti to bring home to Houston to join all my other plant life.

On the way back to White’s City we stopped in Carlsbad at the Sirloin Stockade and had a great steak dinner which was excellent value, and a definite improvement on the night before. It also fuelled us up for another late night view of Halley’s Comet. A super end to another great day.

If you would like to know more about this wonderful and magical place here is a short tour thanks to TravelGuideNewMexico

The return

I felt that breakfast at the top of the canyon watching the sun come up over the desert for the last time was a fitting end to the weekend and a good start to the twelve hour journey home, and it was. What a beautiful place and one that none of us were keen to leave.

The return drive was unremarkable except for Walter sighting a coyote on the hills alongside the Orla Road. We stopped and watched this wild, free creature for a few minutes and with more than a touch of envy we carried on, taking with us some very happy memories, hopefully captured on film and the determination to see even more of this beautiful country.

I hope you have enjoyed our trip to New Mexico and will join me again next week for more letters from America.. thanks Sally.