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Day Fourteen: White Sands to Carlsbad Caverns

The best kinds of surprises are the ones that sneak up on you. That’s what New Mexico did for me. I didn’t expect much from it—mostly desert, maybe a few cacti. But it’s been so much more. First there was the stunning beauty around Albuquerque, followed by the artistic majesty of Santa Fe. Then we swung in from the west and got to enjoy the stunning vistas around Los Lunas.

Our hotel, a wonderful Holiday Inn Express, was located in Belen. (Pronounced B’lynn.) The people we encountered there were so friendly and almost seemed to find it fascinating that we were from Ohio. (Fascinating and Ohio aren’t words that often go together. Ohio is more like the flour and baking soda of baked goods. Can’t make a cake without them, but on their own they don’t taste so good.)

Today we saw a different side of New Mexico when we headed south to here:


White Sands National Monument is one of those places you’ve vaguely heard of before but don’t really know what it is. Well, let me tell you—it’s a whole lot of fun!




We went based on the recommendation of friends who are from the area. (Hi, Kriss and Felicia. Thanks!) I’m so glad we did. Not only is the sand like nothing you’ve ever experienced before—it’s cool to the touch and packs like snow—but it’s uncrowded and you can sled to your heart’s content. (The gift shop on site sells kids’ sleds for 14.99, along with sled wax for 1.99. You can sell them back before you leave for 5.00 for the sled and 1.00 for the wax.) Expensive, but worth it. Or bring your own sled. Either way, this is a site that is not to be missed, especially if you have kids.

Unfortunately the nature of a road trip is that we always have to get on the road. After way less time than we would have liked, we re-sold our sled and headed east, stopping first for lunch in Alamogordo.


Caliche’s is a local frozen custard chain that also makes a mean chili dog. (The chili dog began to feel especially mean when we headed east through the mountains.) But we stumbled upon a picturesque little ski town in the middle of a lush national forest. So beautiful!

After we made our way through the mountains, the land flattened out and became scrubby again and then we arrived here, our sixth and final national park of the vacation.


*A note about the weather—Be prepared for anything when you travel in the southwest. Here is my husband borrowing my mother’s sunglasses. (This will henceforth be referred to as his Elton John phase.)


It’s easy to think that, since it’s the desert, you will only need shorts and lightweight t-shirts. Those have comprised the majority of our wardrobe, but we’ve also experienced temperature variations from 107 to 59 degrees. And it has rained almost daily for the last week. An umbrella would have been a marvelous idea.

Back to the park. In all of our vacation research, we somehow missed the fact that the caves close at five. We arrived at a little after six. The bat flight program starts at a quarter ‘til eight. The gift shop closes at seven. As you can see, the math doesn’t add up. We waited for the bats a long time in the amphitheater. When they finally arrived, we had to keep an active, tired baby completely still and silent. He did better than expected, lasting a good forty-five minutes before we had to flee the arena.

Here is a glimpse of the cave. Unfortunately you have to turn off all devices in time for the bat flight, but it was fairly spectacular.



Tomorrow we return to the cave before heading into the heart of Texas. Yee-haw!


About vanessagraybartal

Author. Eater. Wife. Mother. Not necessarily in that order.

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