In the time since we have called New Mexico home, our family has explored much of the unique sites this area has to offer. For Spring Break, we took my visiting parents to the southern mountain town of Ruidoso for a couple nights.
Road trips with my dad are awesome because he is a great storyteller. He wanted to share with my boys his personal history from birth to when he was their age. His stories as a refugee child during the Korean War and its immediate aftermath made time pass quickly. His memory is so sharp that we could imagine ourselves in every scene: hearing distant bombs explode followed by nearby machine gun staccato when North Koreans invaded his hometown and told a frightened crowd that had gathered in the local school that their “brethren had come to liberate them” from the South, hiding with his family behind shipments of ginseng in the back of a cargo train to escape the occupied town into safer Seoul, and weeping when his 10-year-old crushed spirit found the popsicles he wanted to sell for needed money for his struggling family had all melted in the summer heat leaving nothing but naked sticks in his simple box.
After realizing my mom had been quiet during these recollections, I curiously asked what she remembered of the war. In sharp contrast to the detailed descriptions of my dad, she simply said, “All I remember is at one point we had to beg house to house for things like soy sauce and rice. I thought it was really fun! People thought I was so cute.” And that was it. Meanwhile my dad was giving us specific dates, what people said, the gravity of how he felt, background information, and in fact, figuring out through what little she said that my mom would have been 6 or 7 for her single vague memory. We laughed at the difference between them.
After lunch in Socorro, we ventured out to the Very Large Array (VLA). The VLA is a set of 27 92-feet high and 82-feet wide satellites arranged in Y formation that together perform as one humongous radio telescope. They are able to take pictures of galaxies millions of light years away. Their images are used by astronomers around the world, and their location in the middle of New Mexico is ideal for the type of conditions needed to maximize this amazing technology. It was an educational trip for my little scientists who liked the black hole images the best.
The powerful winds prevented us from fully taking advantage of the walking tour. We pretty much took a few steps and sought the refuge of the car once the winds threatened to blow us over. Ethan wanted to show how it was hard to stand in the 40mph gusts.
Even if you never get to see these remarkable antenna in person, the informative film is available online here.
The next morning we headed out to White Sands National Monument. We had been there before a couple years ago but wanted my parents to be able to see the miles of white gypsum sand. Again the winds were pretty strong. After a few minutes outside, the grains covered us like a second skin. Of course, the boys did not care and welcomed the sand in their pants as they buried each other and rolled around. Even now, after a couple car washes, there are probably still sand grains in the back seat. But nature provided the best playground for the boys who had so much fun in such a beautiful setting.
Thanks to Yelp which has revolutionized our vacation dining, we found JAM-ing Hot Dogs & More for lunch in Alamogordo. After hearing the options, Connor knew immediately that he wanted a hot dog for lunch. Ethan said to the uncertain others, “Well, at least it has 5 stars!” Besides friendly local owners, they also had Chicago-style dogs. Yes, please! It was good enough for Ethan to write his own 5-star Yelp review.
Did you know that the world’s largest pistachio is in New Mexico? Ethan did. It was mentioned in Dan Gutman’s Genius Files book series that he read, so it was particularly cool for him to see in person. McGinn’s Country Store sells a large variety of flavored pistachios which are grown right next to it on their Pistacioland Tree Ranch. The boys thought we should buy their daddy the bacon ranch kind, and I could not resist the spicy green chile ones. Am I New Mexican or what? My mom also got some of their delicious pecan and pistachio brittle.
Back in Ruidoso, it struck me how the scene around our cabin might not be what one would think is typical of New Mexico. But it is another aspect of the outdoor beauty of this state. There was a wildfire that jeopardized our check in and caused schools and roads to close. Luckily the fire was contained, and we were able to enjoy this view in safety.
On our drive back to Albuquerque, we stopped by the Valley of Fires Recreation Area. 127 square miles of rock formed when lava flowed from vents (not a volcanic eruption). It is one of the youngest lava flows in the country having formed about 1,500-5,000 years ago. There was a nicely paved nature trail with markers corresponding to a brochure our tour guide Ethan read to us.
This short but sweet trip epitomizes much of New Mexico to me: a wide variety of unique landscapes, friendly small towns with locally owned eats and flavors, and hidden treasures that provide an educational and fun experience unlike anywhere else. It is memories like these that will stay with us and always make New Mexico dear to our hearts.