We departed on our Desert Southwest Adventure eight minutes beyond our target time of 10 a.m., a time we set to avoid the metroplex morning traffic. Despite our efforts, the first 45 minutes of driving proved daunting, as Jon white-knuckled us beyond Weatherford. We eventually settled into our 5-hour journey to the Lubbock KOA, a half-way point en route to White Sands National Park. Arriving around 4 p.m., we set up in an uncomfortably short site that kept us nervously watching our back bumper throughout our overnight stay. Still, we enjoyed our typical Date Night delights: grilled steak and veggies, baked potato, and Ravens Wood Old Vine Zinfandel. With a relatively short (4-hour) drive on Saturday, we decided to “relax” our way into a noon departure. The transition to Mountain Time had us arriving at our next destination, the Alamogordo/White Sands KOA, at 5 p.m., giving us ample time to unwind from the unexpectedly tense and stunningly scenic drive through the Lincoln National Forest.
The forest extends into three major mountain ranges: Sacramento, Guadalupe and Capitan that cover more than 1 million acres in parts of four southeastern New Mexico counties. Elevations range from 4,000 to 11,500 feet and pass through five different climate zones, from desert to sub-alpine forest. We were amazed by the towering Douglas Firs, Ponderosa pines, aspens, oaks, and Engelmann spruces, a native species that can grow beyond 130 feet—about as high as an 11-story building. As we traversed the mountain forest between Artesia and Alamogordo, we passed through the tourist town of Cloudcroft, home to The Lodge Resort, a historic hotel that was once managed by Conrad Hilton, and played host to famous guests such as Judy Garland, Clark Gable, and Pancho Villa.
We had no idea New Mexico was so enchanting!
A few things we learned along the way are worth sharing:
- An oil field with hundreds of inactive pumpjacks is like a graveyard for the fossil fuel industry.
- West Texas is mostly semi-desert rangeland, but able to support cotton and sorghum production.
- If you need to stop for gas or food, always go for the first exit, or you may miss your chance.