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.

Smorgasbord Letters from America – July 1986 – Rafting on the Guadaloupe and between a rock and a hard place by Sally Cronin

It is now July 1986 and we manage to get a weekend away with our friends before my niece Emma arrives from England for three weeks. We head off to San Antonio and plan to raft down the Guadalupe.. and no doubt drink margaritas. This is my letter home to my parents in the UK after our trip.

July 12th 1986

Dear M & D,

We are just about recovering from our weekend away, although some injuries may take a little longer to heal! It was action paced and a lot of fun and accommodations were interesting to say the least.

The condo only had two bedrooms and a sleeper sofa between the 8 of us. Paul and Kyle shared one bed, Debby and Anna another, Walter and Alison, David and I shared the living room with two in the sofa bed and the two of us on cushions on the floor. Debbie and I were up at 7.00 cooking breakfast for everyone which got their attention as bacon aromas drifted through the condo.

We set off for the river at 8.30, laden down with coolers of beer and wine with sandwiches for lunch, plastic bags and elastic bands (reasons later) and two rubber tubes (for the coolers). We arrived at the rafting centre and rented two, one for the four boys and one for us four girls. We attached the rubber tubes to the backs of the rafts and placed the coolers of liquid refreshment inside them to keep everything cool. Once we were under way the plastic bags were filled with river water and sealed until each boat had 20 or so each, and then the war began. We all ended up in the water at one time or another but quickly dried in the sun.

We got to the rapids and rocks where we disembarked whilst the rafting company crew got us prepared for the next section.. We we poised between two rocky sections and were told to get in the boat as quickly as possible and they would push us down the small cascade to the next river section. I was last one in and had one leg in the raft and the other by side of the chute when the guy pushed the raft. But my leg was trapped between two rocks and I was jerked off my feet and back into the water. Luckily the raft was not too far down the chute and they caught it so I could get in. Unfortunately I now have a very painful and bruised shin bone. I had it looked at by a medic at the centre at the end of the ride, and luckily it was not broken but I still have to use a stick. They say should be fine in a few days!  I seem to be accident prone. I am sure that the three beers I had in the first couple of hours had nothing to do with it!

It took six hours in total to navigate the river and a bus took us back to the centre where we had left our cars. A quick change and with me hobbling, we descended on a fantastic Mexican restaurant along the river walk in San Antonio that had a large outside area. The meal was amazing, almost as good as Pappasitos… and we had a great time. It ended up with two mariachi bands having a contest at each end of the table for nearly an hour and they ended up playing “Felice Navidad” as they had run out of things to play. We all sang along and soon all the other customers joined in for several choruses.. I can only assume that passersby thought we were all nuts in the middle of summer.

When we got back we headed down to the river that ran alongside the condo, and it was shallow enough to sit in the cold water for half and hour and it did my leg a lot of good. We then all slept like logs and then headed home in the morning. We were in bed by 10pm and I still needed a siesta yesterday to catch up.

Today I have done a big shop ready for Emma’s arrival, shampooed the carpet and been for a couple of swims to try and ease my leg, which as predicted, is feeling a bit better today.

And we have made plans for our trip home in September.  David is running an exhibition in Manchester from the 10th, so I will come home to see you for the first week and then go up and join him before we go to Prescott together to see what his company has planned for him next year. It will be lovely to be back for your anniversary on the 11th having missed last year and looking forward to seeing everyone at the party.

Better get an early night before the great day tomorrow… so looking forward to seeing Emma, and the gang will all be here on Saturday for a curry lunch to meet her, and we will ring you on Sunday to tell you all about it.


Please find enclosed a photo taken by the pool a few weeks ago… we have some new members to the group…..

love from us both.. S&D.

©Sally Cronin

If you would like to read any of the other letters from the two years we lived in Texas and our travels you can find them in this folder: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/letters-from-america-1985-1987/

Thanks for dropping in and your feedback is always welcome.. Sally.




Smorgasbord – Letters from America – Houston – 1986 – Birthdays and Plans

It is now 11th of January 1986.. and David’s birthday and the day before my father’s in England.

Dearest M & D,

I cannot believe that we have been here a year as so much has happened and it has flown by. I am sorry that we missed New Year with the family, but it sounds like you had a good time.

The weather has turned very cold with sleet threatened… not something I expected as when we arrived here around the same time last year it was very balmy. And it did not get chilly until later in February so hopefully getting it over with now.

David says thank you for the card that arrived earlier in the week. We are going out to Pappasitos with the gang this evening to celebrate so possibly sore heads tomorrow. He doesn’t normally ‘do’ birthdays but the guys are not letting him get away with it!

We are having a small dinner party on Saturday for him and I may have to break into my New Year detox to have a glass or two… well perhaps three of bubbly!

Sunday, weather permitting, some of us are planning a day in Austin to stretch our legs, how early depends on when we get to bed on Saturday! It is 165 miles from this side of Houston so we want to get on the road early to get there my midday. Austin is the capital of Texas and apart from all the historical sites is on the Colorado River and there are some great trails and hikes. If the weather is as cold as it is today it may well be the movies instead!

I am glad that the cheque arrived safely to buy the champagne for your birthday Daddy, not sure that it will buy enough for the 28 you are expecting but hopefully you will keep a bottle just for yourselves. 70 is a milestone birthday and I hope you have an amazing day. I have posted a separate package of photographs from your trip to us in November which I was hoping would arrive for the day.

I spent the quieter time since Christmas putting all the photographs we have taken here in Houston and on our travels into an album, plus a separate one with over 250 postcards we have collected. I plan to write about our time here one day and it will provide a useful reference. I have put our copies from your visit into a separate album as that is very special.

You will be amused to know that your letters are shared with everyone as they are still talking about your trip. Walter, Monty and others have to be kept informed… so I think you were well and truly adopted. Sutherland Walter’s cat is back at the vet and is on anti-biotics for another kidney infection. If his stomach problems do not clear up within a week it looks like he is going to have to endure and operation. $150 already spent and with money tight I know Walter is worried about the cost. We have come to love having Sutherland over several times a week and he has made himself at home.. we will help where we can.

There will be a gap now for a week as we are heading out on our road trip with Walter to New Mexico to the Carlsbad Caverns and importantly we are hoping that the elevation above the caverns, and the lack of light pollution will allow us to see Halley’s Comet which is only visible every 76 years. It is 700 miles and we will share the driving, sleeping when we can. Really looking forward to it.

Happy birthday again Daddy.. look forward to hearing about the party.

love from us both.. S&D.

You can read the other letters from 1985 : https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/letters-from-america-1985-1987/

Thank you for dropping by and hope you have enjoyed this snapshot of our time in Texas.. thanks Sally.