QUOTEWORTHY: “We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.” ~ Winston Churchill

Monday, April 29, we pulled out about 8:30 AM, but then came to a quick halt in front of the park gates when Mr. Wonderful (MW) found Big Jake’s tailgate had come down and damaged the front storage compartment door. Bummer! (I’ll tell you how that all turns out in a later post, but I was able to get another door ordered immediately.) Once our blood pressures leveled back out, we got on the road after making sure that the tailgate was latched correctly. (It is one of those soft close types, and I think I just didn’t click it hard enough. Be warned!) Our route was all stale road through Sugar Land, Rosenberg, and Sealy, where we stopped at Tony’s Family Restaurant for lunch. (The locals were packed in the terrific hot bar and the personable owner who visited every table.). Back on the road, we continued up to Bellville and through Burton to Giddings, where we stopped at the Bread Basket for groceries. The final leg was TX-95 north to TX-29 over to Georgetown and Cedar Breaks Park on Georgetown Lake.

I spent the largest part of Tuesday afternoon parked at the Panda Express in Georgetown writing, then ran a few errands and took Whataburger back for MW. That was pretty much it except a nice walk around the park where I found quite a few wildflowers in bloom. It stayed grey and hazy, but temps cooled down later in the evening.

Wednesday started with breakfast cooked on my new outdoor kitchen setup. Petunia had a kitchen bay with a stove that MW rigged to also hold a 22″ Blackstone. While I liked that setup, it was often too high for me to reach due to terrain. The Blackstone was nice, but I didn’t find it any better than cooking on a regular griddle and it was heavy, so I started looking at replacement ideas. I settled on a heavy duty Coleman stove with three burners and wind shields and an aluminum, non-stick griddle/grill sheet. Then I found a fold-up table that makes it all the perfect height for me to cook, can be adjusted for rough terrain, and stored in a small bag. The total weight of the entire new setup was still several pounds lighter than the Blackstone…bonus! It all worked well, and we enjoyed our terrific view while we ate. Later MW and I did a little shopping for a few things we will need for an upcoming Great Adventure (you’ll hear all about that later) and groceries.

Cedar Breaks Park was awesome! Located in the Texas Hill Country on the south side of Lake Georgetown on the San Gabriel River, it is convenient to everything in the town of Georgetown and is about 30 minutes north of Austin. While there was temporary construction going on nearby that you could hear during the day, we were impressed by how little other city sound could be heard. The park offers a large boat ramp, a fishing dock, group picnic pavilions, and access to the San Gabriel River Trail for hiking and biking. Other activities include fishing, boating, paddling, picnicking, and hunting. The campground has 59 sites with electric and water, covered picnic areas, grills, and fire pits. There are also two bathhouses that are a little old but were very clean and well-maintained. Sites are well-spaced around a large loop, with some more open along the lake, while others are backed into the cedar forest. We stayed in the latter and really loved the privacy. We would definitely stay at this one again. For this visit in May 2024, we paid $30 per night for 50-amp with water.

Thursday we hit the road about 8:30 AM, still heading west. Our route took us on TX-29 through Burnet and Llano, then northwest on TX-71 and north on US-87 to Brady. There we stopped in at a little hole in the wall called Mr. China for lunch. The food was good, but the atmosphere not so much. I’d rather have it that way than the reverse, though. Next, after walking around at the Dollar General for a few minutes, we continued on US-87 west over to Eden, then turned north on US-83 up to Ballinger where we checked in at the Ballinger City Park. I wasn’t really too thrilled with the parallel-parking style setup, but the park was nice. It had been mostly cloudy most of the day, and by mid-afternoon, it was above 90 degrees out. You know I wasn’t liking that. After we got everything set up, MW ran the search for over-the-air TV stations, and about the same time, my phone buzzed with a weather alert. Severe thunderstorms were headed our way, and it didn’t look good…high winds and possible large hail and tornados. We watched the radar, and it appeared that we would just be missed. Then it all shifted slightly and was coming right over us, and soon. The park had no bathhouse or other solid structure, and we didn’t feel like a portajohn was where we wanted to be in the event we were sucked up into a tornado…eeeeeewwwwwww! So we decided to pray and ride it out. I headed outside to watch the sky. I LOVE storms…hurricanes, thunderstorms, heavy rain, thunder, lightning…all of it. Just after I headed out, I looked towards the front of Priscilla and hollered for MW to get out there and BRING MY CAMERA!! I was pretty sure I was looking at the beginnings of a tornado. When he came out, he wasn’t certain, until it quickly doubled in length. Wow!! It never made it all the way to the ground and disappeared up into the clouds a couple of minutes later, but I checked off something on my bucket list!! (When I told my niece that seeing a tornado in person was on my bucket list, she said “The fact that it was even on it to begin with…I have questions?” LOL) Just a couple of minutes later the hail started, marble-sized at first, then quickly moved up to golf-ball sized. The wind was horrendous, buffeting Priscilla broadside. I stayed out under the nose of the fifth wheel until the hail pelting my calves began to really hurt. Inside, it sounded like gunshots with the driver’s side wall taking some really hard hits. That isn’t where the large windows are, so that was a blessing. We just knew the side, roof, and solar panels, not to mention Big Jake, were going to be destroyed, though. It all passed in about 15 minutes or so, and I went out to assess the damage. Nothing!! Plus, we didn’t know it at the time, but mixed in with the golf-ball sized hail were some about as big as a BASEBALL! None of that apparently hit us, though, so another blessing. So now you know something about me that worries my Mom…in severe weather, I will grab my camera and run towards it. It’s her fault, though. When I was a baby, she used to take me out on the porch to watch storms.

Friday l went to Ballinger Coin Laundry to get the clothes done. I’m usually pretty understanding about these small-town places, but this one was truly ridiculous. Out of 23 washers, all but a handful had “Out of Order” signs. The soap dispenser and bathroom were also out of order, and the change machine had been removed completely. Most important, there was no one working there and no number posted to call in case of an issue. Not cool! I picked the four washers that appeared most likely to succeed, but then two of those did not spin requiring me to move those loads to the two that did work, pay again, and start over. I was not happy. The only good thing was that I was mostly alone and got a little writing done. After finishing up, I headed over to Beefmaster Steakhouse and parked myself in the corner to have a bite and get a little more done. The waitress there told me there were about 5 or 6 tornados all around Ballinger the day before, but none touched down or did any damage. Back at Priscilla later, we planned to stay in for the evening but another tornado watch popped up and the skies turned black. This time we headed up to the Shoppin’ Basket to grab some groceries and spend a little time in a sticks and bricks building. The weather radar still looked bad after that, so we dropped off the cold stuff at Priscilla and went to Alejandra’s for supper. That building has been there since the late 1800s, so we thought it was probably safe. Plus, the food was excellent! Oh and in case you didn’t get it with the volatile weather, it was still HOT!!

Saturday the weather was a bit cooler, and although some storms did pass through, they were much less volatile. Late in the morning we headed south out of Ballinger to check out The Cross and the Our Lady of Guadalupe grotto. Built in 1993, the giant, white, metal cross towers above the mesquite and, thanks to flood lights, can be seen for miles day or night. It was donated by Jim & Doris Studer who owned Buddy’s Plant Plus, a company that makes water-soluble fertilizer for Miracle-Gro and other brands. They relocated the business to Ballinger from Florida in 1988 for the dryer climate, and it is still there and run by their son, Ed, today. Per Jim, “My wife said we needed to put something up there, a thank-you to the good Lord for all he’s done for us.” That’s a pretty darned big thank you note!! At 99′ tall (because the FAA said it had to be less than 100′) with a 70′ wide cross member and a pavilion at the base, it was quite the undertaking from an engineering perspective, but only took about a day and a half to assemble. I think I’d want the building of something that cost me $70,000, the equivalent of over $144,000 in today’s dollars, to take a little more time! A few years later, Studer was approached by the Guadalupe Society of St. Mary’s Catholic Church about creating a grotto, a perfect accompaniment. The gates to the area were left open 24 hours a day, and that sometimes meant that Mr. Studer was out cleaning up the mess of vandals. Although it might be different now, he never considered locking the gates, because more than once he met someone there at night who was passing through and just needed to pray at the cross. What a nice man!

Sunday we headed out for services at 7th Street Baptist Church in Ballinger. Pastor Jordan Burrell gave a good sermon on how we can enjoy God and balance emotions and intellect in our spiritual life. The congregation was very welcoming, and I particularly enjoyed a couple of kids sitting in front of me. They and their parents are living in an RV while their house is being built, and unlike us, they had serious hail damage on Thursday. In fact, Mom said she thought it was totaled, and it was only a few months old! Thank God they were all okay, though. We spoke to Pastor Burrell on the way out and learned that they are taking a trip to Tennessee during summer vacation. They’ll be around Pigeon Forge and Cumberland Gap, so I told him that, if they found themselves in Sneedville to visit Sneedville First Baptist. Wouldn’t that be cool?! For lunch we headed back over to Beefmaster Steakhouse to give MW a shot at that hot bar. Although he missed out on the crawfish and chicken livers they had on Thursday (nope…I had a burger), he was happy to find liver with onions and roast beef. I went for a shrimp plate, which was darned good for landlocked Texas. Back at Priscilla I listened to the second installment of the sermon series from Clear Creek that I talked about in the last post. One of the things I particularly liked…”We don’t follow a donkey or an elephant. We’re following a KING!” The rest of the afternoon included a nap, a call to my baby sister, Kate, for her Cinco de Mayo birthday, and a walk around the park.

Ballinger City Park was pretty darned good and very well-used for a community spot. The playgrounds, volleyball court, and basketball court were used every day we were there, and quite a few folks came out to walk the big loop road, too. (There is also a large pool complex, but as of right now, it is closed until at least 2025.) As a campground, though, it was not up to snuff. I previously noted that the sites were basically parallel parked around a long, oval-shaped island by the creek. Each had electricity, water, a covered picnic table, and a grill, although if it were full and everyone was outside, you’d basically all be sitting with your neighbor. On the creek side, the roadway was wider, but there were giant puddles that could cause splashing up on your RV or stuff if someone drove by. On the other side, the road was pretty narrow. There were signs to keep completely off of the grass, so by the time we parked and let out the slides, half of the roadway was taken. I’m not sure how that would work for tents, either. Right across from us was a large tree that made it even more narrow for taller rigs coming through. The area was separated from the rest of the park, but did have limited parking for fishermen. While not bad for an overnight stop, we were worn out by the number of cars circling through the camping loop all day long. Since they had to pass within about 3′ of our big windows, it felt like they were just driving right through. Another negative was the lack of bathroom/bathhouse facilities. There were several portable potties, but in an area of the country that often sees severe thunderstorms and tornadoes, a block building would be a welcome addition. All that said, the price is right! For this stay in May 2024, we paid a little over $15 per night.

Monday we headed west on TX-158 at about 8:30 AM. The weather was still pretty grey in the morning, but cleared up as the day went on. Our route took us through Bronte and Sterling City, then just west of there, we caught US-87 up to Big Spring, Texas. There I found MW’s favorite place, Whataburger, for lunch. That’s a rare treat for him on a towing day, because we usually can’t find parking. Next we took TX-176 to Andrews and stopped in at the Lowe’s supermarket before continuing that direction straight into New Mexico to Eunice and checked in at Desert Oasis RV Park. It had been a pretty long day, plus it was HOT and very windy for setup.

During today’s drive, we crossed into the top of the Permian Basin, an area covering more than 250 miles by 300 miles in western Texas and the very southeast corner of New Mexico. You know you’ve entered the basin when oil wells, drilling rigs, storage tanks, refineries, and an occasional, overwhelming oil smell pop up. You can sometimes see hundreds of wells stretching out to the horizon. There will be fields of hay and cattle grazing mixed in with oil pumps. You might remember that President George H. W. Bush’s initial success in the oil and gas industry was here with Zapata, headquartered in Midland. Many men have made their fortunes on the natural resources in the area since 1921. The numbers are crazy…more than 33 BILLION barrels of oil, 118 TRILLION cubic feet of natural gas! There are also large deposits of Potash, or potassium salts, being mined in the region, mostly on the New Mexico side of the basin. Thanks to new technologies, production has increased, and there appears to be a lot more there.

I love wandering around grocery stores in other places. Sometimes the things you find are baffling, like the abundance of SPAM in a huge variety of flavors…teriyaki, garlic, maple, jalapeño…in Hawaii. In other places it is the cultural difference in cooking that drive the staples. Below are a few examples from our Lowe’s visit.

Tuesday we woke up to about 53 degrees and took advantage of the cool air by taking a walk. By the time we got back and cleaned up, the temps were well on their way to the 90 degree forecast, and I was HOT. Truth be told, I had been HOT for days and had reached my limit. Since the weather wasn’t going to change for several weeks, especially headed into the desert, it was time to take measures into my own hands. We headed up to Hobbs, New Mexico, stopping in at Walgreens, then Studio 26 where I had my hair whacked off. Admittedly, it was not a terrific haircut, but the goal was accomplished…it is no longer laying on my neck!! While I was there, MW ran to the store and fueled up, then we both went over to the Cotton Patch Cafe for lunch. We took a different route back to Eunice with a little less oil stuff visible.

In the early morning hours Wednesday, I awoke to something walking just under my window. Couldn’t see anything, and it moseyed away a few minutes later, but it took me forever to get back to sleep. We didn’t have anything on the “go see” list for the day, so I dove into writing. Despite having FIVE BARS at Priscilla, nothing would load! Ugh!! MW suggested I drive a couple miles down the road to the Love’s truck stop and use their wifi. The wifi didn’t work, but my phone connection was much better there, so I did manage to get a lot more done than I would at the RV park. MW enjoyed a relaxing afternoon reading and puzzling, because Lord knows, it was too darned hot to be outside!!! (Big Jake said 95 on my way back.) I know, I know…it’s a dry heat! So is your oven. Have you seen what that thing does to a turkey???!!! Later we headed to the Outlaw Grill on Main Street in Eunice for supper. It had been recommended by several people, and they weren’t wrong. My Shrimp Florentine was awesome (shrimp, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, pine nuts, spinach, garlic sauce, angel hair pasta…yum!!). MW said they were just a bit too heavy handed with the salt on his Chicken Marsala, though. When we were seated, we noticed a well-used backpack on the floor by the adjacent table. A few minutes later the owner, a guy who looked pretty rough, came in. I got the impression he was a cross-country hiker. As he was perusing the menu, he began commenting loudly. Then, he brought out his phone, called someone on speaker, and had a loud conversation with LOTS of expletives. When that was finally over, he watched a video/show of some kind with the volume way up while he ate, loudly talking to himself the entire time. MW and I were trying to decide if he was just very rude or had some type of mental issue. The restaurant staff seemed to be afraid of him, and I really couldn’t blame them. He did have a bit of threatening manner. Needless to say, we did not linger and savor that particular meal.

Thursday we didn’t have a particularly long day and hit the road about 9 AM. The terrain was still flat as a pancake, for the most part, and there was still plenty of oil stuff. We headed west on NM-176 to US-62 west. At NM-360 we turned north up to US-82, which took us into Artesia, New Mexico. Now that is a nice little town. There is a nice downtown district and lots of statues. Lunch was our first priority, so we found Alma’s, which I thought was American diner-ish. Turned out it was Mexican with a little American sprinkled in, and was very good. Before easing on down the road, we backtracked to check out a cool statue downtown. Recently renamed Oil Patch Plaza, the park houses three statues, a play area, a picnic area, and during the summer months, a farmers’ and makers’ market on Tuesday evenings. The statues were dedicated in 2004 and celebrate Illinois State #3, the first commercial oil well in southeastern New Mexico. The largest is “Derrick Floor”, a full-size drilling rig platform with a 4-man crew. It takes a while to walk around the entire thing and see all of the detail. Artist Vic Payne dedicated the piece to “the men and women who take the risks and do the work to find, produce, and refine New Mexico oil and gas.”

There is also a statue depicting a woman sitting on a cable spool pointing and two men looking on. The story goes that, after two unsuccessful attempts, geologist V. H. McNutt would only pick a general area and not a specific spot to try for the last attempt. He passed the decision off to Martin Yates, who owned the state land leases and had convinced Illinois Producers to give it a go. Martin, deciding that a woman’s intuition might be helpful, turned to his wife, Mary. Apparently, her insight was strong, because Illinois State #3 came in at 1,947 feet right where she said it would. That well was the very beginning of New Mexico’s oil and gas industry, which has produced billions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of gas. Artist Robert Summers appropriately named this work “Woman’s Intuition”.

The last one was my favorite. It shows two round-bellied old men leaning on the hood of a truck talking. “The Partnership”, also by Vic Payne, depicts Mack Chase and Johnny Gray who formed Marbob Energy Corporation in 1972. The two were partners for 20 years and achieved 2,700 barrels of oil per day. Later they dissolved the partnership to pursue individual business interests. Gray kept the Marbob name and Chase started Mack Energy Corporation. Both companies were among the top 10 oil producers in New Mexico. I just love the way the artist connected the men by using the floating front of the truck.

It was finally time to get back on the road so we continued west on US-82. One thing you notice leaving Artesia is the lack of oil stuff. You’ve crossed out of the Permian Basin and entered dry, flat, grasslands. Before long you enter Lincoln National Forest and the climb begins up into the Sacramento Mountains. It took MW quite a while to plot out this route. Samantha (I’m using her whole name because she made me mad), our Garmin RV 780 GPS, just flat refused to take us there. We knew there was a tunnel, and there were signs warning about steep grades, lengths over 65′, and weights over 11 tons without retarder brakes, but nothing about height. We decided to risk it, knowing that if we had to backtrack, it would be a REALLY long day. I’m SO glad we did, as this is a gorgeous drive! Alamogordo’s altitude is 4,335, and you climb up to High Rolls at 6,750, then Cloudcroft at 8,650. There were long, steep grades, but not as bad as many we have driven before, and we were never in any type of tight situation. The tunnel turned out to be short, plenty wide, and 17′ tall. Since Sam knows our measurements, she is in the doghouse. LESSON: Our GPS sometimes keeps you off of roads just because no one has let the mapping company know they are fine, or someone afraid of hills had reported. As with any RV trip, you should check your brakes ahead of time and make sure your brake controller is working, too. Then just enjoy the scenery. We will continue to argue with Samantha, because we have often found her to be a bit of a sissy in the driving department. After Cloudcroft, you drop down into Alamogordo pretty quickly, losing about 5,000′ in 16 miles according to the highway department. We made a quick stop at Staples to pick up a package that was waiting there, then turned south on US-54 for a few miles to get to Oliver Lee Memorial State Park. After setup we relaxed for a bit, and later took a sunset walk around the campground.

SIDE FOOLISHNESS: So last week I had to order a part from Grand Design through our dealer in Alabama. (You’ll hear all about that later.) He said it could take 10 days or so, so I picked out a UPS delivery address at Staples in Alamogordo. Grand Design actually got the part out immediately and it was delivered last Friday. Thankfully I called Staples on Monday to check and spoke to a nice lady named Casey. She said they had been wondering why a package was delivered for someone else and were just about to send it back. Apparently whatever site I saw that said they can receive packages there was incorrect! Lesson learned. It all worked out in the end, but from now on I will call to confirm BEFORE having something sent.

Friday started with a short hike up the side of the mountain behind the campground to get a view of the valley. It was a gorgeous morning, but I was keeping my eye out for rattlesnakes and cougars. (There were several warning signs!) Just kidding. It was still a little too chilly for rattlesnakes, and I really didn’t expect a giant cat to be in the campground. This state park is named for Oliver Lee (see below) and is home to the reconstructed adobe ranch house and other archaeological remains.

Later I went to the Busy Bee Laundromat in Alamogordo. Although the plaza looked a bit sketchy, the inside was fine. Well, except for the one young man who came through the door and reeked of pot. It was so strong that one woman and her daughter held their shirt collars over their noses as he passed. Don’t think he noticed, though. The chore took a little longer than usual because of operator error…I forgot to start one of the washers. (Am I heading for a sanitarium?) Afterwards I stopped in at Buffalo Wild Wings for lunch and to get some writing done. I really do get a lot more done away from the RV, but truth be told, this counts as me time for both MW and myself. After 24-7 for a week, we need a little space. Before heading back to the park, I picked up some pizza for MW. I’m cool like that.

There are two figures linked to the park where we are staying. The first is its namesake. Oliver Milton Lee wore a lot of hats…rancher, lawman, state legislator, businessman. There is even the possibility that he wore the murderer chapeau, too. Born in Buffalo Gap, Texas, where his father died when he was 12. As a young man, he moved to the Tularosa Valley in New Mexico, bringing his family along. He and his half brother worked on ranches in the area and saved up the money to buy land in Dog Canyon in 1893. Later he organized the Sacramento Cattle Company in the southern part of the basin. Everything was going well until one of Lee’s ranch hands was shot and killed while gathering up stray cattle in Dog Canyon. Lee believed that local rancher John Good’s son, Walter, was the murderer. He and his men captured the younger Good, killed him, and left his body in the desert. That was the beginning of a range war of sorts, with a tit for tat in gunfire. Lee even shot at the Good family at their son’s funeral. Lee, along with three other men, was arrested for Walter’s murder, but released for lack of evidence. A year later, Good’s ranch was failing and Lee’s was growing. The former left the valley for good. Lee eventually married Winnie Rhodes and fathered nine children. He served as a deputy sheriff and a U. S. Deputy Marshall. Despite that, he was suspected of killing another man and his 8-year old son near White Sands. The fugitive Lee and another suspect were tracked down by a posse that included Pat Garrett, of Billy the Kid fame. There was a shootout, but eventually they surrendered. The two men stood trial in Hillsboro, New Mexico, where they were found innocent. The murders of Albert Fountain and his son Henry were never solved. Lee went home to his ranch. Later he was twice elected to the state legislature and led several business organizations. He died of a stroke in 1941.

The second was actually the first. Francois-Jean “Frenchy” Rochas was an immigrant who came from France and built a cabin in Dog Canyon in 1886. He lived alone working the land and was pretty successful during his 8 years, growing an orchard and a vineyard with the help of water from Dog Canyon and raising cattle. To contain his herd within the canyon, he hand-built long rock walls up the steep slopes, which can still be seen today. Sadly, Frenchy was found dead in his cabin with a gunshot to the chest. The crime was never solved, but he lives on here in Dog Canyon. You can see artifacts from the excavation of his cabin in the Visitor Center at the park.

Saturday was projected to be in the 90s, so we were up and out early to beat the heat and check out White Sands National Park. Wow, what an interesting place. The approach is through desert grasslands with white dunes in the distance. Only 3 miles of the normal 8-mile drive was open on our visit. It seems that the military was up to something deeper in the park, which is located entirely within White Sands Missile Range. MW speculated that they might be cleaning up from a test. Hmmmmm. We walked the Dune Life Nature Trail, a 1-mile loop up and down the dunes, then the shorter Playa Trail. We saw tracks from what looked like a fox, lots of different birds, and even large beetles, which we actually saw crawling around. While we were enjoying the trails, a group of young guys showed up and decided to go off trail. They ended up on the dunes past the Restricted Area sign. People showed up pretty quickly to herd them back to the unrestricted area. Later I got a look at the sign. Guess they were lucky!

Our next stop for the day was to look at a bunch of things that explode…rockets! After waiting for our background checks to come back, we entered the White Sands Missile Range, AKA the birthplace of America’s missile and space activity, to check out their museum. This place opened in 1994 and has some pretty awesome exhibits related to the Manhattan Project, early rocketry, various missile tests, and the White Sands contribution to the space program. There are also displays on the natural and Native American history of the area, as well as the geology. That is all inside. Outside there is a pretty extensive rocket garden and another building with a German V-2. Too cool! Aside from generally enjoying rockets and explosive history, here are a few tidbits that I learned:

  • The White Sands Missile Range encompasses 3,200 square miles, encompasses all of White Sands National Park, includes parts of five counties, and is the largest military installation in the United States.
  • White Sands Proving Ground (later changed to Missile Range) was established to keep the United States ahead of the game in weaponry.
  • I had no idea that Oryx lived in this country. The missile range is also a wildlife refuge, and they range there. The average adult can weigh 450 pounds and have horns up to 3′ long. There are also mountain lions and lots of diamondback rattlesnakes.
  • Geronimo raided in this area, as well as Arizona and Mexico before his final surrender at Skeleton Canyon, Arizona, in 1886. Contrary to what most folks believe, he was not a Chief, but a shaman or medicine man. Despite that, General Miles to whom he surrendered said “He is one of the brightest, most resolute, determined looking men that I ever encountered…Every movement indicated power, energy, and determination. In everything he did he had a purpose.”
  • Japan attacked the Philippines the day after blowing Pearl Harbor all to heck. Once they landed on the island, the U.S. and Filipino troops, around 80,000 men, moved to the Bataan peninsula. They fought valiantly, but thanks to all of the ships destroyed at Pearl, no reinforcements were coming. By April they could not hold on any longer and Maj. Gen. Edward King surrendered all U.S. forces. What followed has become known as the Bataan Death March. Aside from the grueling, 65-mile walk, the prisoners were subject to physical abuse and POWs who fell or sat down were shot. The atrocities committed there are too numerous to mention…hands chopped off to get a ring, people shot or run over who fell…you get the picture. Sources say that somewhere around 54,000 actually reaching the POW camp. After the war, two Japanese generals and one colonel were convicted of war crimes and executed. Why is this information at White Sands? The march was a big deal in New Mexico. Many of the soldiers were from the National Guard, specifically the 200th Coast Artillery, and less than half made it home. Since 1989 with only two exceptions, the Bataan Memorial Death March is held every year in early spring, and since 1992 it has been at White Sands Missile Range. Thousands come for the event, a walk/run marathon, where food and goods are donated for local food pantries and charities.
  • The most famous thing to happen at White Sands Missile Range is the Manhattan Project. You can take a ride out to the Schmidt-McDonald ranch house, where the “gadget” was assembled, and Trinity Site, where it was detonated. However, it isn’t as easy as just driving up. You have to get on a list for the twice-a-year visitor openings, so it takes a little planning.
  • Did you know that a rocket is a missile, but a missile is not always a rocket? In English, a missile can be anything thrown, shot, or propelled towards a target, but a rocket takes fuel, which creates thrust. You know the military doesn’t use those terms though. To them, a missile is a weapon and a rocket is not. Rockets are kind of a big deal at White Sands. Most of the engineering was moved to Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama, by 1950, but it is all still tested right here. Even the Navy has a launch site in this desert!
  • Speaking of Huntsville, MW’s father Art Jones retired from Redstone Arsenal where he was a “Dragoneer”, one of the team who developed the M-47 Dragon missile. It is a tank destroyer that is shoulder-fired with a tri-pod, and I got to see one on display. Too cool!
  • The White Sands Space Harbor was also the alternate landing site for the space shuttle program. In fact, Columbia landed there once.
  • I’ll end with my favorite story from this museum, and that is about John Porter III. In the early 1950s, a 7-year old boy was introduced to astronomy at school and immediately became enthralled. In his lab at his grandmother’s house in Denver, Colorado, he designed a rocket ship. Somehow his drawing ended up in the hands of the installation commander at White Sands, Brig. Gen. George Eddy. The general was so impressed that he invited the boy for a visit. In 1953, then 10-year old Porter and his mother arrived for the tour, and his life was changed forever. He hoped to “learn lots of things”, but left with his life path laid out. He told the general that he was going to be a rocket scientist. He did it, too! He worked for General Dynamics in one of their rocket programs until he retired. Then he mentored students at the University of Colorado until his death in 2015. Here are some of the museum pics:
  • A few more pics:

After finishing up that tour, we headed back to Alamogordo to a local joint, Rockin’ BZ Burgers, for lunch. The burgers were pretty good, although neither of us tried the first place winner. Then we headed over to PistachioLand where we picked up a few gifts and treats. Unfortunately, the line to try out their homemade ice cream was too long for me, so I didn’t get to try that. Back at Priscilla we put our feet up. It had been a very long day.

Mother’s Day began with a visit to New Heart Cowboy Church in Alamogordo, New Mexico, where we were welcomed with open arms. Pastor Mike Cannon gave a terrific sermon out of Revelation about the church at Laodicea, the only one for which John had NOTHING good to say. It was very interesting, and you can definitely see a correlation with our world today.

Next we headed over to Y’alls Steakhouse for some delicious steaks, then on to the New Mexico Museum of Space History. You know we always love a good space museum, and this one was opened in 1976 as the International Space Hall of Fame in order to promote and honor space pioneers. Affiliated with the Smithsonian, it has expanded to include lots of other exhibits and is a pretty nice place. Inside the information begins with when humans first looked to the heavens in wonder and continues through the world’s space exploration history. The inductees are all still there, too, along with a nice exhibit on sci-fi and an outside walk with lots of cool stuff. It is definitely worth a visit. Some things I found interesting: 1) There were quotes from historic figures like Galileo and Isaac Newton about astronomy and the universe. This one…”Astronomy’s much more fun when you’re not an astronomer.” …comes from Sir Brian Harold May. If you like 70’s rock, you might recognize that name as the lead guitarist from the supergroup Queen. Why are they quoting him? Well, Dr. May has a PhD in astrophysics and has contributed to several NASA projects. Who knew??!! 2) Before Man could go to space, they had to try it with a few other living things. Russia sent a dog and a squirrel, and we sent HAM and Enos, space chimps that were trained at Holloman AFB in Alamogordo. 3) Even those with a casual interest in space exploration know the names Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. They are the heroes of every little boy and girl who dreams of slipping “the surly bonds of earth”. The one you almost never hear about, though, is Michael Collins. He was the command module pilot aboard Apollo 11 when Neil and Buzz walked on the moon. That has to be the worst short straw loss ever. In truth it was his job to fly the module, and Armstrong as the Mission Commander was always going to be the first guy out, but DANG! Michael was the third person to actually walk in space, behind cosmonaut Alexei Leonov and astronaut Ed White. That’s pretty darned cool, but he’d probably like to be recognized in the Apollo 11 photos, too. 4) They had a section talking about satellites. There are quite a few ways to classify satellites and their orbits. I was surprised by a digital representation showing all of the satellites and other identified space junk circling us. 5) Does the science influence sci-fi, or does sci-fi influence the science? A bit of both, actually. The founding father of rocketry, Hermann Oberth, was inspired by H. G. Wells and Jules Verne. Alternatively, the discovery of x-rays in 1895 by Wilhelm Rontgen was the inspiration for the ray guns of sci-fi. Of course, Star Trek had a major influence on all of our futures from flip phones to tablets to wireless earbuds. I just wish the scientists would hurry up and make a transporter and a replicator. Then I’d be set!!

Before heading back to Priscilla, we stopped in at the McGinn’s store in town to get some of that pistachio ice cream I wanted on Saturday. Then it was feet up and relaxing.

Oliver Lee Memorial State Park was amazing! Located in the Chihuahuan Desert just a few miles from Alamogordo, this park backs up to the Sacramento Mountains with gorgeous views both across the valley and into the hills above. In addition to attractions in town, White Sands National Park and the White Sands missile base, as well as Lincoln National Forest with miles of trails, are an easy drive. Facilities include the rebuilt ranch house of Oliver Milton Lee (the park’s namesake), a Visitor Center with exhibits, remains of the Frenchy’s cabin, a picnic pavilion, gardens, vault toilets, and a bathhouse. (Note that the latter is only open from 6:45 AM to 9 PM.) They host educational programs, and the Dog Canyon Trail, where you can find springs flowing year-round, gives you 5.5 miles of hard hiking and amazing views. Camping options include a group site, 24 non-electric sites with water nearby, 1 ADA sites with 50-amp and water, and 15 sites with 30-amp electric and water. The sites are well-spaced and scattered around up the hillside, lending quite a bit of privacy. We liked this place so much that we are considering coming back as camp hosts in the future. The price was amazing, too…for this visit in May 2024, we paid $17 per night for 30-amp with water.

Well that’s another 2 weeks down. Next up…Cliff Dwellers, John Wayne, And Prepping For A Booger. See you on the path!


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