Spring Break this year means another road trip through the southwest. This time we’re headed through New Mexico and Arizona. After resting for a night in Albuquerque, we headed west on I-40. Our first stop was at the Bandera Volcano and Ice Cave, an interesting little tourist trap in western New Mexico. The Bandera Crater is one of many extinct volcanoes in the area. While far from spectacular, it is an interesting climb through a lava field studded with Pinyon Pine and Douglas Fir.
The other major site at this location is the Ice Cave. It is a portion of an old lava tube that is exposed to the open air, but the geography traps cold air in the opening, causing a natural refrigeration effect. It stays below freezing inside the cave year around, so any snowmelt or rainfall drains down into the cave and builds up a layer of ice. The ice is around 20 feet deep, and 3400 years old at the bottom. A unique sight if nothing else.
Then we continued west through the Petrified Forest national park. On the first day of our visit, we made a quick drive down the length of the park, stopping at just a few of the overlooks and walking a couple of the shorter sightseeing paths. This isn’t one of those grand national parks, but the petrified wood strewn about is interesting in it’s own way.
Monday morning we drove back into the park for a full day of exploring. We started the morning with a hike along the Long Logs and Agate House trail in the southern side of the park. This left no doubt about the park’s name. Petrified wood of all shapes and sizes was everywhere, including the Agate House, which was built from petrified logs.
Next we went to the Jasper Forest to try one of the “off the beaten path” hikes. These hikes are somewhat less well marked than the standard trails in a national park, but they are certainly no secret. They are advertised on the park’s guide, and you just need to ask for a trail guide in one of the visitor centers. The guides provide a description of the landmarks, along with pictures of what to look for along the way. After a questionable start around our first turn, we quickly got the hang of navigating by landmarks, and finished the 2.5 mile loop around the “Eagle’s Nest”, which is a colorful rock formation that used to have a tower-like rise that looked like a perfect place for an eagle.
After a picnic lunch, we drove up to the Painted Desert Inn to for another “unmarked” hike into the Painted Desert Wilderness. This hike took us through some bright red and blue/purple rock formations to a set of petroglyphs. Other than the steep climb back up to the canyon rim, this was a pretty easy hike. We capped off the visit with a short hike around the Blue Mesa. I’m sure you’ll get why it’s called this from the pictures.
Now it’s time to rest some tired feet and get ready for a drive to Tuscon in the morning.