Spring Break 2016 was definitely an adventure and took us across both Texas and New Mexico. It was a full week, so let’s jump right into what we did:
Our first stop was near the New Mexico border at Monahans Sandhills State Park in Texas. As you can imagine, it is a large area covered by sandhills (smaller versions of sand dunes). It was a particularly windy day, which made putting up a tent an exercise in problem solving, teamwork and perseverance. While we were at Monahans Sandhills we decided to try sand surfing; which is sliding down the hills/dunes on circular, plastic discs. Turns out that the fun of sliding down the hills was almost overlooked by the difficulty of having to climb back to the top of the hill for a second run. Little did we know, that would be the start of our “Spring Break Workout Plan”, which would become a running joke for the duration of the trip. The next morning we loaded up and headed to Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico.
On the park website it mentioned that the elevator was broken so we would have to walk in and out of the cave’s natural entrance (about a mile). Being a part of an organization that goes trekking on multi-mile hikes regularly, I figured we could handle it. (Insert “Spring Break Workout Plan” part two here). The cavern map made it look like the walk in and out was a bunch of switchbacks (zig-zag path) that went down at a decent decline but, as it turns out, it was a pretty steep climb down. Luckily, the kids were too distracted with the vastness of the cave system to be concerned with the thought of the hike out. Our Carlsbad Caverns visit consisted of the 1.2 mile hike into the caverns and then a 1.5 mile hike along the self-guided tour of the caving system. It included the Big Room, the largest single cavern in North America, the size of four-football fields. It was impressive to say the least. A few of our mentors started to give some of the megastructures (stalagmites and stalactites) names of Greek Mythology “characters” which, when they first told me, I actually thought that was what the people who initially explored the caverns had called them, because our mentors had established a logical story as to why the structures had acquired their names. I had to give them props on their creativity. After a few hours of cave exploration we started the intense hike back up the steep switchbacks we had so easily walked down. Though tough at times, we made it out and hit the road again towards our home base, Hyde Memorial State Park.
It was a 5 hour drive from Carlsbad to Hyde Memorial so we stopped in Roswell, New Mexico to stretch our legs and take pictures with some “other worldly being.” It was like a game of “Where’s Waldo” as we were driving through town only, instead of searching for a guy in stripes, we were on the prowl for some good photo opportunities with the green aliens that were sprinkled all around town. We hit up the visitors center too, which had the lovely slogan “Visitors Welcome” that we got a kick out of. Many selfies were taken that day. We pressed on just a few more hours to the place we would call home for the next few days.
That night, we arrived after the sun and temperature had both dropped, so we quickly bundled up and hit the hay. Since the night before was rushed, in the morning, we decided to set up camp while we had the light of day on our side. It was a little tricky keeping the mentors on task though considering that most of our campsite was covered in snow and many of them had never seen snow before.
Once we set up camp and ate breakfast we hit the road again to go to Bandelier National Monument, where ancestral pueblo people lived in cave dwellings hundreds of years ago. As I hoped, the mentors loved it. The weather was amazing and they were very interested in the history and ways of life of the pueblo people. Some even chose to go up a 140 foot vertical climb to a large dwelling known as “Alcove House.” The climb was a combination of wooden ladders and carved stone steps with arm rails all along the sides for added safety. The scenery from the dwellings allowed us to see the whole area, ruins included, and it made it easy to see how things would have looked when the village was in its prime. We were also able to see a host of petroglyphs (images carved into the stone) and pictographs (images painted on the stone) along the dwellings. The day was pretty easy as far as the “Spring Break Workout Plan” was concerned, which was a good thing because it was their rest day before our next adventure.
On Thursday, we headed to Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, to check out some impressive natural structures. The draw for Tent Rocks is that, millions of years ago, there was a series of volcanic eruptions that left multiple layers of ash and rock covering the area for miles. Over time and thanks to erosion, the rocks have worn away and left huge “tent like” structures, giving the monument its name. We chose to take the “Slot Canyon Trail” in order to really see the rocks and the layers, to better understand how they were formed. Along the trail we came across some interesting structures like a tree that’s bark smelled like vanilla, another tree whose root system was about 8 feet above ground because the material it started growing on no longer existed, and we had to slide and squeeze into different slots to get to the scenic overlook we were aiming for. At a certain point there was another vertical climb to get to the very top of the mountain and overlook all of Tents Rocks and that’s when we got back to our “Spring Break Workout Plan.” It was a bit challenging and the elevation wasn’t doing anyone any favors, but the view was worth it.
When we got back to Hyde Memorial, we took the mentors to the top of the mountain so we could find a good spot to try snow sledding and have a few snowball fights (they were pretty excited). Much like a sailor needs sea legs, our mentors needed snow legs. They just tromped right towards the snow and instantly fell through into knee deep and waist deep snow. Watching them try to help each other out while falling in themselves was pretty entertaining. Snowball fights quickly ensued and then it was sledding time. It was a hoot for the kids to “try and fail” (at sledding) just as much as it was to watch them do a successful sled down. There were no injuries and, though they got a bit wet, they had smiles on the whole time and kept saying how fun it was and they were bummed we had to stop (but the sun was going down and we needed as much warmth as we could get while it was up). It was our last night at Hyde Memorial so we still had a lot of packing up to do since we had an early morning on Friday.
The original plan was to get up at 5am on Friday but the mentors decided that 4 am was a better option, so that’s what we did. Needless to say, the van ride home was definitely a quite one and filled with lots of sleeping (and homework as well). Overall, it was a busy, fun filled and successful Spring Break trip. All of our mentors said they’d love to go back to New Mexico and do different activities as well as go more in depth into some of the activities we had already done. So I guess we’ll have to see what next Spring Break has in store for all of us.