Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument

Welcome back, the next stop we made on our Spring Break National Park trip was Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument.  There are four different sites to visit at this monument: Abo, Quarai, Gran Quivira and the Headquarters/Visitor Center located in Mountanair, New Mexico.  We had time to visit 3 of the 4.  Looks like we will need to come back to get the 4th someday.





We started at the Abo Ruins since we were coming in from the west.  There was not a park ranger there and contact station wasn’t open.  With no one around for miles we took extra time here to enjoy it. This place was gorgeous.



“Abo was a thriving community when the Spaniards visited the Salinas Valley in 1581. Franciscans began converting Abo residents in 1622, and by the late 1620’s the first church was finished.  A second church was built with a sophisticated buttressing technique  unusual in 1600s New Mexico. But the good times did not last.  Battered by the disasters that struck the other Salinas pueblos, the people of Abo left sometime between 1672 and 1678 to take refuge in towns along the Rio Grande.”






Next stop was in Mountanair at the Visitor Center, where we picked up our Junior Ranger books.  We watched a the short film, and did a few of the Junior Ranger tasks to earn our Headquarters and Abo badge and ribbons.





We headed out to the Quarai site. This site had a very informative and helpful ranger at the Contact station.  There is a small museum and beautiful walk around the site.





At Quarai there are springs of clear cool water fed by melting snow from the mountains.  The Tiwa Indians were dry land farmers, planting corn, beans, squash and cotton. They mined salt from salt lakes which they used to preserve meat: to eat and trade.  This village was built around 1300 AD and about 600 people lived here.  They manufactured pottery and traded with nearby pueblos.  However, like all of the Salinas pueblos, drought and famine left them to abandon their homes in the late 1670’s never to return.


We finished up our Junior Ranger but didn’t get our ribbon for this place because they were out. I will need to have it mailed if I ever get around to that.  The kids thought this set up was pretty cool.


We ate a picnic lunch here and headed North to Albuquerque.  The Salinas Pueblo Missions were fantastic.  I highly recommend them if you are traveling through the area.  Great history and low crowds, it doesn’t get better than that.


Another National Monument checked off of our list √

White Sands National Monument


Boy are you in for a treat at this place! The boys both agree that this was the highlight of the trip. I wasn’t expecting this much fun after trying to sand sled at Great Sand Dunes National Park. The difference was astounding.

We pulled into the parking lot around 10 a.m. and it was already packed. We headed into the visitor center and decided to take our time getting out and into the park. We grabbed the Junior Ranger books, walked through the museum, we watched the short film and then did some shopping. We bought the sleds at the shop and headed out to try this sand sledding thing again. The girl who sold us our sled said the best sledding is between miles 5 and 8. Sleds cost $20 and they give you $5 or $10 back (I can’t remember) we found some people at the visitor center looking for sleds and sold them ours for $15 when we were done with them. Lol!!

We headed out to Dunes Drive. This is an 8 mile drive from the visitor center through the heart of the dunes, it’s gorgeous. You don’t really appreciate them until you get out and walk them and see how far they actually go. The 16 mile round trip drive would take you around 45 minutes, but do yourself a favor and stop, this experience was amazing.


Look at how beautiful this sand is up against the San Andres Mountains!! We had a gorgeous day out to enjoy, the blue skies added to the beauty of this place.

The sand here at White Sands is very smooth making this sand sledding experience worthwhile. The sand is actually gypsum that has been dissolved from the mountains by rainfall and snow melting. It then settles in the lake that is present here. When all the water evaporates the dissolved gypsum recrystallize and form selenite. Selenite is very brittle and the wind breaks it up into very fine sand, perfect for sledding on.

We went sand sledding for hours, the kids built ramps to jump over and met so many fun people while we were there. A younger couple was teaching the boys to sand board on their sleds.


The kids helped another family to build ramps for the little kids to sled over.


Even Mom and Dad got in on the fun!


We had a picnic lunch at our sledding site, finished up our Junior Ranger books, got in a few more passes down the slopes and headed back to the Visitor Center for our badges!


What an amazing day! I would put this place as a must do if you are venturing through New Mexico. A day we won’t soon forget.

Have you been here? Did you love it as much as we did??

Chamizal National Memorial


After putting in a couple of days near Carlsbad we got in the car and headed to El Paso Texas. We actually had a front hub assembly go out around mile 10 of this trip so we were busy making plans to get that fixed once we got into town.  We headed to get the car fixed and the lovely car dealership gave us a rental so we could get to our destination.


Chamizal National Memorial.  We knew nothing about this place and found it quit interesting.  Its name was derived from the chamizo, a four wing saltbush that grows along the river.  The people and neighborhood that lived on the disputed land were called the Chamizal.  This National Memorial is here to commemorate the diplomatic settlement of a long-standing border dispute between the United States and Mexico.  Here you can learn the history of Chamizal, its people, and how John F. Kennedy and Adolfo Lopez Mateos began the diplomatic negotiations that brought about the lengthy resolution.


Stop into the Visitor Center and grab a Self-Guided Trail Tour that will take you around the grounds and explain several stops.  The visitor center was closed for renovations when we were there but they had some displays in a hallway off to the side. We were able to watch the short film and complete our Junior Rangers while we were there.


This is a short but informative stop if you are in the area. Great paintings, murals and you can see the border of Mexico!


Junior Ranger Badges earned, Passport Cancellations done, magnet purchased and we are off to White Sands National Monument, but first we need our vehicle back 🙂


Check back for more National Park stops.  Have you been to Chamizal?



The first time we stopped for the state line sign in this state, it was on a trip to my brother’s for Thanksgiving.  The State line sign was pretty impossible to get so we happen to locate this rest stop with this cool Texas cut out.  This one is located on I-35 South coming from Oklahoma, just north of Gainsville.


On our Spring Break National Park Trip, we again got some more Texas State line photos.  These were on Hwy 285 South heading from New Mexico into Texas.  These turned out great.


National Park Season 3 (Spring Break Edition) stops in Texas were as follows:

(Please click on link to get to posts)

Guadalupe National Park

Chazimal National Memorial

Alibates Flint Quarries/Lake Meredith National Recreation Area


While passing through Texas on this trip we decided to stay a night right outside of Wichita Falls.  Coyote Ranch and Resort was our pick because we have a 10 year old that loves Yogi bear.  I was parent of the year when we rolled up here.

We rented a cabin but weren’t in it much.  There was loads of stuff to do here. Check it out.


If you are in the area or just passing through I highly recommend staying here, you won’t be bored.  They have something for everyone, even campsites if you are in an RV or have a camper.

Have you been here?  What were your thoughts?

New Mexico (revisited)

You really just can’t beat New Mexico!  It is a gorgeous state.  We chose to do Spring Break here because we LOVE to visit National Parks every summer but I just don’t want to do it in 100 degree weather.  We headed down in March hoping for some warm but not sweltering temps.


Our state line sign stop was on Hwy 285 coming back from Guadaloupe Mountains National Park, heading north. We had already gotten a New Mexico state line stop from National Park Trip Season 1 but we didn’t have one with dad in it. So we stopped. So glad we did. I love it!

Our National Park Itinerary in New Mexico includes the following stops

(please hover over each for a link to that particular blog post)

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

White Sands National Monument

Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument

Petroglyph National Monument

Pecos National Historic Park

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

Fort Union National Monument

Capulin Volcano National Monument

Traveling through New Mexico should always include a visit to Roswell, New Mexico!

Who doesn’t love being creeped out by the thought of alien encounters?


We stopped in Roswell to stretch our legs and see if we would have any encounters?  We stopped at the Space Alien Museum and walked around. We watched a short film on interviews from people that witnessed the Roswell encounter.  We then headed out into the town to see what else we could find.

This town is great! Everything is alien themed, right down to the light posts.  1/2 block east of the museum is a little gift shop with a black light tour that the kids thought was pretty groovy, it was cheap enough and they enjoyed it so I would say do it.  We got some souvenirs and headed down the road.

A good place to get out and spend 1-2 hours if you are on your way to Carlsbad and need to take a short break.

Until the next encounter.

Guadaloupe Mountains National Park


Just a few miles south of Carlsbad Caverns is another great National Park, Guadaloupe Mountains.  We planned for a whole day here but the weather was windy and cold, so we got it done in an afternoon.


We started at the Visitor Center, very small and packed when we got there. We grabbed our Junior Ranger packet and headed into the museum area.  We watched the film and then wandered the visitor center.  This Junior Ranger was pretty challenging, lucky for us a couple of college girls finished theirs up and gave my kids a pamphlet from the McKittrick Canyon Geology Center, luckily this answered the questions we couldn’t find anywhere. Thanks girls!!!!

We learned a ton here. This National Park celebrates the Guadalupe people, the desert environment, its beautiful canyons and the highlands. We took a short stroll around the Pine Springs Visitor Center, it was very windy and cold so we wrapped it up quickly and headed out.


We stopped off at the Frijole Ranch to do some hiking.  We parked in the lot and headed out. Dad stayed in the car to study so it was just the kids and I.  It started to warm up a little and once we got moving we were able to shed our coats.  Trails are a little rocky and uneven.  The park map states this trail, the Smith Spring trail is a moderate (I agree) 2.3 mile roundtrip trail. It was a great easy trail to get out and get our blood pumping.  Kids and I enjoyed this hike, must needed fresh air break!  I wish we could have done some more hiking here. We might need to revisit in a warmer month.


We did manage to earn our Junior Rangers and not only did we get the badge we also got this sweet patch to go with it.  I LOVE when we earn patches.


Guadalupe Mountains was a beautiful park, we really enjoyed our time here.  I think you could do this park in 1/2 day to up to 2 days depending on how much hiking you are interested in.  Gorgeous area, have you been here??  What was your favorite hike?

We are heading to El Paso in the morning!  Up next Chamizal National Memorial. Check back on the blog for more.

Carlsbad Caverns


Next stop on Spring Break 2018 (National Park Trip Season 3.1) was Carlsbad Caverns.  We have visited a couple of caves on our other National Park trips but nothing of this magnitude. This place was gigantic.  The trick at this park is to get here early!!  We walked in the door to the visitor center at 9 am and there was already (what I thought at the time) was a long line of about 20 people.  We have a park pass so we chose to do the Big Room Tour.  This is a self guided tour that is an easy to moderate 1.25 mile loop.  Approximate time is 1.5 hours.

We got our tour tickets in hand,  we grabbed some Junior Ranger books and headed over to the gift shop.  Got all of our souvenirs we wanted (this was perfect because later in the day this place was so packed you couldn’t walk through it) and walked over to stand in line to take the elevator down to the cave.  Here is where the wait was, the elevator can only hold so many people and because some people had tour times for guided tours they would let people in front of all of us line standers.  Kids worked on their Junior Ranger books and we probably stood there for all of 20 minutes or so.

A quick 5 minute rules about the cave from a ranger and we were on the elevator heading down into the cave!!!!

Once down in the cave it is easy to navigate around.  Well lit trails and signs give you directions for your self guided tour.  The Big Room is 8.2 acres, the trail is relatively level with signs to stop at for different features along the way.  The Big Room has many large and famous features like Bottomless Pit, Giant Dome, Rock of Ages, and the Painted Grotto.  I think our favorites were Lions Tail, Mirror Lake and the “caveman” at Caveman Junction.

Had I thought about it before descending down 750 feet, I would have changed the settings on my camera and figured out how to take good pictures in a cave. Instead I stumbled around just switching modes until I found one that would take a picture.  I need to learn what settings to use and figure my camera out for next time. If anyone has any pointers I would love to hear them.  So heads up set your camera up before going into the dungeon.


The Big Room tour


Mirror Lake


The boys enjoying the cave


Cave monster top left


Family caving


Making our way out


The Cave Monster


Another pointer I will add is there is a stamp at the little food court in the cave, that you can put into your passport book. It says “Mailed from 750 feet below the surface”.  Pretty fun if you are into the whole passport thing (which I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t be??).


Kids and adults in this group really enjoyed our trip to this park.  We saw pretty awesome cave formations here like stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws, draperies, flowstone, columns, cave pearls, cave pools, popcorn, helictites, aragonite crystals and rimstone dams. We would have loved to spend all day here and do some more exploring.  It was so cold and windy out here the day we visited that we decided against it.  We can always come back 😉 Last stop Junior Rangers Badges.

So we give this park a thumbs up!  We loved it! Don’t worry if you are claustrophobic it is so big in the cave that I don’t think you would have any problems at all.  Get here early, get to the gift shop early and have your camera ready.  We also ate lunch here in the cafe. Good sandwiches, not much for a picnic when its 35 degrees out.  Off to Guadalupe, let’s hope the weather gets a little nicer??

Have you been to Carlsbad Caverns?  What was your favorite part?


OOOOOOklahoma where the wind comes sweepin down the plains.

….  Did I just age myself??

Well, we have checked yet another state line off of our list.  This Oklahoma sign is at the Rest Area/Visitor center on I-35 South heading into Oklahoma from Kansas.  What a great sign and a nice place to stop at.  I prefer these rest stops over a truck stop any day, unless I am looking to add to my magnet or shot glass collection. Very clean, free coffee (you’re going to need it if you are driving the whole way through this state, not much to look at) and friendly staff full of info.


We spent 1 night and a day here in Oklahoma on our National Park Trip Season 3-Spring Break.  Check out our blog post.

Chickasaw National Recreation Area

Until the next stat line sign!  What state line sign is your favorite??

We are looking at getting all 50 🙂


Chickasaw National Recreation Area

Next up on the National Park Trip Season 3.1, Chickasaw National Recreation Area.  We arrived last night and stayed at Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center. If you aren’t camping in the area this is the place I highly recommend, it is a beautiful facility with amazing views. No breakfast but we enjoyed a little diner in town called The Poor Girls Cafe. Now off to the park 🙂

Water is the attraction at this rec area.  Whatever its form is- springs, lakes, streams, or waterfalls this place has it all and it is gorgeous. We went in early spring and I can only imagine how beautiful it is in summer when all the flowers are blooming and the foliage is present.

We started our journey at the brand new Visitor Center on the corner of Hwy 7 and Hwy 177.  Grabbed our information booklets, junior rangers, got a passport stamp and a ton of great information and we headed to the park.


Visitor Center


The park entrance is just one block south of the visitor center and it didn’t take long before we were out of the car exploring.  It is a driving path through the park with pull offs until you get to the Nature Center (unless you are camping).  The campgrounds were closed so we didn’t get to explore.  They looked great, I would like to come back here in late summer/early fall and stay at the campground.

Little Niagara was a great stop to explore and get some hiking in.  Nice big parking lot and a must do stop if you are coming here.

We ventured over to the Travertine Nature Center, we were informed at the VC this place had more passport stamps, and they did. We got a really cool buffalo one.  It doesn’t take much to get us excited. See stamps at the end of this post (I’m going to make you wait).

From here we did some hiking to see the Springs: Antelope and Buffalo.  Both were beautiful.  The hiking trail is easy and follows the stream the whole way.  Not much wildlife out the day we were there but we did manage to see a Nine-banded armadillo, which was cool for us Iowans.


Nice picturesque stops along the way. Really great place to enjoy the outdoors.

Next stop was Pavillion Springs.  This spot is known to be the fountain of youth.  Both Hunter and I took drinks out of it, Gunnar wanted nothing to do with it because of the sulfur smell. I am hoping it works because these kids have the opposite effect on me.

We headed down to the bison viewpoint to see if we could spot any buffalo but we didn’t have any luck with that.

Vendome well was neat as well. But these cats are hungry.

We went into town because I wanted to grab a couple bottles of wine from the winery.  We got roped into a tasting while there and had so much fun here, we ended up all eating lunch at the winery.  Great little stop for sandwiches and a few moments of adult time.  Wine is great, employees fantastic and atmosphere relaxing.  Kids ate their sandwiches and worked on their Junior Rangers while we sampled the great wine. We ended up getting 12 bottles instead of 1. Oops. I highly recommend The Rusty Nail Winery, what a great stop!!



Back to the park so we can be sworn in as Junior Rangers.  Another park down. We are now heading into Texas and New Mexico. Next park will be Carlsbad Caverns but not before we have some alien encounters in Roswell, New Mexico. Check out our New Mexico blog for info on that.

Last but not least, here is our usual. Magnet, Passport Cancellations and Junior Ranger.

Until next time.  I hope you enjoyed our visit to Chickasaw National Recreation Area.  Have you been? What was your favorite part?

George Washington Carver National Monument

img_2800Spring Break 2018- National Park Trip Season 3.1 has started!! This is the first stop of many on this trip heading toward the Southwest Region of the National Park Passport Book. This stop is in the very bottom of the Midwest Region.  I knew this place was going to be interesting to us because George and I have somethings in common.  We are both Iowa State University Alumni and scientists.  He also has a quote that is by far one of my favorite quotes in the world today!

“It is not the style of clothes one wears, neither the kind of automobile one drives, not the amount of money one has in the bank, that counts. these mean nothing. It is simply service that measures success.”

We all need to be reminded of this every once in awhile. 🙂

Our trip started at the visitor center.  It was amazing to learn all of the things George Washington Carver accomplished in his lifetime.  We knew him well for his peanut work.

The Visitor Center was full of fun things to do. We grabbed our Junior Rangers and set out to watch the film.  It was a very interesting film on how George was so determined about earning an education he had to move several times (by himself as a boy) to find a school that would take him.  He later attended Simpson College (with a major in Art) and later transferred to Iowa State University to pursue a degree in Agriculture.

There is a nice display of wildlife and flowers in the area.  Several of the items that George discovered could be made from peanuts and an absolutely beautiful laboratory for budding young scientists to explore.

I couldn’t pry mine out of here.

Next we took off on the beautiful 1 mile self guided loop.  We started out the North of the visitor center and immediately found the bust of George Washington Carver.


Next was the cemetery where the owners and family of George are buried.  George never knew his father and his mother was kidnapped when George was a boy and never found.


We walked into the timber, over streams and along tall grass prairie (mastering the double piggyback ride) to the house the Carvers built in 1881. George didn’t live here but he did visit it.


We walked past Williams pond and on to Carver Spring.  Next up was the Statue of George as a boy. Sculpted in 1960 by Robert Amendola.


We walked past a sign designating the house that George was born in.

Back at the visitor center and our Junior Rangers are done.  The boys were sworn in as Junior Rangers and then the Ranger gave us some really cool stuff.  The boys got these super nerdy  and cool Ranger hats.  The whole family received backpacks with reusable water bottles. This was awesome!!


A few pics with our new super cool hats and we are off to Oklahoma for the night.  Chickasaw National Recreation Area in the morning.

Junior Ranger badges, magnet and Passport stamps √