Rob and I had designated Utah as our primary attraction for the way back to Seattle so after the F1 race, we hit the road headed northwest. Zigzagging our way across Texas, we reached Roswell, NM our first night back on the road. A bit of research led us to Bottomless Lakes State Park, which turned out to have a surprising number of folks camped there on a Monday night. We were able to find a nice campsite for the night and in the morning, we explored the “bottomless” lakes, a series of limestone sinkhole lakes of various sizes. There was a small visitor center with a neat display about the salt and alkaline content of the water staffed by the most unenthusiastic rangers ever. This might have been a longer stop in the summer when you can swim in the biggest of the lakes, but at this time of year, an hour was plenty.
After finishing at the state park, we drove into Roswell, NM to get gas and check out the Roswell Museum and Art Center, a free museum that was highly rated on TripAdvisor. We were pleasantly surprised to find a nice collection of modern and southwestern art as well as an exhibit replicating Goddard’s rocket lab. I really liked the special exhibitions of guitar-like sculptures and textile wall hangings.
After wandering around the center, we gassed up and headed to Albuquerque. Since New Mexican food is pretty different from Tex Mex, Rob and I decided that the main attraction for today would be lunch. With a bit of help from yelp, we found Perea’s New Mexican Restaurant. We both ordered combo plates with a chile relleno with green sauce and a red sauce covered tamale for me and a red sauce covered burrito for Rob. Both plates came with a sopa, an amazing savory puff of dough. I wanted more! That and the chile relleno were the clear winners. If we’re back in the area, I would definitely come by again and maybe try the huevos rancheros that they’re famous for.
Since we still hadn’t figured out exactly where in Utah we wanted to head first, we pulled up the best breweries in NM list on beer advocate and headed to the best one in town, La Cumbre, where Rob and I ordered a massive sampler tray of all the their beers on tap. The bartender checked our IDs and asked if there was a WA convention going on. Turns out the couple next to us at the bar was also from the Seattle Metro area. They were vacationing in Santa Fe and stopped in to catch a beer before their flight. After talking with them for a bit, we got some productive trip planning done – we booked one-way plane tickets to South Korea with miles and figured out a route to Utah that would take us by Mesa Verde National Park.
After a few hours of driving and a quick stop a Ska Brewing (thanks to Allison and Stephen for the rec), we reached our destination. A boondocking site outside Mesa Verde National Park down some dirt roads from the main highway. Luckily, the directions were really great because finding these places in the dark is often quite a challenge.
We awoke in the morning to the frigid temperature of 25 deg F. Brrr. Our site didn’t have any great spots to cook breakfast, so we headed into Mesa Verde National Park to find a scenic picnic table.
Just before the park entrance, a visitor center sold us tickets to the only cliff dwelling open to touring and gave us an opportunity to use the real bathrooms. Turns out the cliff palace, the largest of the dwellings, is under renovation and the Spruce House had been declared structurally unsound the week prior. Thus, we ended up visiting the Balcony House, which requires a bit of ladder climbing and a crawl through a small tunnel. The visitor center had replicas for these for folks to see/try before committing to the tour.
Despite being small, the Balcony House was still neat as one of the better preserved dwellings. It had 2 kivas, circular sunken rooms with hearths, and housed ~20 people. Afterwards, we checked out the scenic drive and did a few short hikes to viewpoints of other structures. We were all Kiva-ed out by the afternoon. Also, we mailed our absentee ballots from the park like the good voters we are. The postwoman who took them knew exactly what they were because she has relatives in our area.
A brief stop in a nearby town for provisions and Rob and I were on the scenic road to Utah headed for Mexican Hat and Monument Valley. Despite a quick pull off at Canyon of the Ancients National Monument to check out the neat yellow Cottonwoods along the river valley the road followed, we made it to camp at Goosenecks State Park just before sunset. Utah at last!