After we left San Angelo, it was time to go to a new state. Yay! Neither of us had ever been to New Mexico, so we were excited to see the different scenery and also to see our first National Park – Carlsbad Caverns. We extensively researched where to stay, but it turns out there is not much in eastern New Mexico besides oil fields. The same goes for west Texas. During our drive from San Angelo to Lakewood, NM, we saw nothing but oil fields and pumpjacks for HOURS. It was crazy, and the irony of driving gas-guzzling Trudy through oil fields was not lost on us.
SKP The Ranch
We ended up staying at our first Escapee park, called “The Ranch”, in Lakewood, NM. I’ve posted about this in a different context previously, in my post about advice from veteran RVers. We actually joined Escapees RV club (although we are part of the younger group, called Xscapers) on our way to The Ranch! It’s $40 per year and we are finding that it’s paying for itself, allowing us to stay in Escapee parks out West where sometimes there aren’t any other options.
The Ranch has a deal where first-time visitors can stay a week for $50 + electric (they have full hookups). This ended up being the cheapest camping we’ve had to date. After electric, it broke down to be around $12 per day for full hookups. See what I mean about Escapees paying for itself? Usually a full hookup site is at least $30 a night. You have to be a member to stay at the Escapees parks.
They are a little different from most RV parks and campgrounds in that it is a co-op. That means residents buy into it, and they own their little piece of land at The Ranch. Most of them have built casitas on the property and then they park their RV’s next to the casita. Some people have a little bit of landscaping and a patio. This provides a home base as you travel the county. You always have somewhere to come back to. And while you’re gone, you can choose to put your lot in the rental pool. So technically we were renting someone’s lot, but we didn’t have access to their casita. I believe Escapee’s co-ops are all 55+. You have to be 55+ to own, but you can stay for up to 2 weeks as younger guests. The SKP Co-Op in Benson, AZ, may be the exception to this rule, but I’m not entirely sure.
The Ranch is over an hour from Carlsbad Caverns, but there are not many options much closer. There is a run down, expensive RV park in White’s City, which is right outside the entrance to the caverns. After driving by, we were glad we didn’t stay there! There is also a state park which is about an hour from the caverns called Brantley Lake State Park. If we could do it all over again, we probably would have stayed there instead. Why, you ask? Mainly because there was nothing to do at The Ranch. The park itself was pretty small and it is literally in the middle of a cow pasture, hence the name. There is a small walking trail but that’s it. The closest store (Wal-Mart) is 40 minutes away.
At least at the state park, there would have been some hiking trails. I ended up doing some running on the streets around The Ranch and there is absolutely nothing to see except some dilapidated trailers and piles of old mattresses and couches (seriously, who does that?). One day I had a dog run after me, so I turned around and ran away from it – and I also saw this sign that said “If you can read this you’re in my crosshairs.” Not really the best environment for outdoor recreation!
Tim and I noticed that the air quality at The Ranch was very poor. The smell of the oil refinery in Artesia (which I talk about below) was very strong, at times, overpowering. It would wake me out of my sleep. It seemed far worse at night, so at least it didn’t bother us during the day except for a couple times. The people who live there told me that you get used to the smell, but it was very foreign to us – and it was stinky!
The best thing about The Ranch was the people who live there! The nicest people we’ve ever come across, and in general, RVers are a very friendly bunch! They treated us like friends, invited us into their RVs, played with Calla – it was really special to feel so welcomed by a group of people especially when we were just there for a week.
They also had a nice laundry room, which I took advantage of. Every night they had a happy hour, and Calla and I went a couple of times, where she was spoiled with lots of candy and socializing. At your first happy hour, they ask you to come to the front of the room and talk into a microphone about who you are, where you’re from, where you’re going, etc. I didn’t mind this at all but if you have a fear of public speaking you may want to avoid the happy hour! If someone is leaving, the whole group sings “Happy Trails” to the person which I thought was really cute.
Stay at The Ranch if you want peace, quiet, full hookups, and friendly people.
We took an evening and visited the town of Artesia, which is about 25 minutes north of The Ranch. We visited because I read online that it’s worth visiting, but I must say, I disagree! The downtown area was completely covered in bird poop. You couldn’t avoid it. I still shudder thinking of my shoes and our stroller rolling through tons of bird poop.
The town has a rich history in the oil industry (noticing a pattern here?) and does have some sculptures and signs that were informative. There were a few little shops but they were all closed. Some guy walked up to us and sold us a small loaf of banana bread for $5 that didn’t even taste like banana. See how exciting our visit to Artesia was?
We ended up stopping for gas and propane in Artesia on our way out of Lakewood, which is where I got this picture in front of the oil refinery – the source of the smell!
Our sole purpose for staying in the middle of nowhere, NM, was to go to Carlsbad Caverns. So we were very excited when the day arrived! It was a bit over an hour to get to the entrance to the park, but once you are there, it’s about another 20 minutes up a steep mountain to get to the actual caverns. I guess it makes sense – what lies beneath you when you are driving up is where you will be later – in the caverns!
I purchased a National Parks Passport book when we got to our first national monument in NC, shortly after we left Pittsburgh. This has been an awesome way to keep a record of our travels – every national park, national monument, national seashore, wildlife refuge, etc has a stamp. The passport costs money but the stamps are free (they are ink-based) and they have the date on them. We had stamps from NC and FL in the book already, but I was excited to put our first official National Park stamp in the passport for Calla.
Once you get to the visitor’s center, there are 2 options: you can take the elevator down, or you can take the long way down using the natural entrance to the cave. We opted to do the natural entrance, and using it really gives you a feeling of how far down, down, down you are going – way more than an elevator would. The problem with the natural entrance + a toddler is that it is pretty darn long. I believe it took us 1.5 hours of walking just to get to the main area of the caverns. From there, it takes about another 1.5 hours to see the rest. The natural entrance would also be difficult if you have limited mobility. Some of the path was wet, narrow, and very dark. I was surprised that they didn’t have more lighting, but you could feel your way along the handrail.
Before you go down, a ranger stops you and gives you some rules to follow – one of which is not to talk any louder than a whisper because the sound bounces off the caverns and carries forever. You can imagine how well we were able to obey this rule, especially with a toddler a mile deep in a cavern over nap-time. Her screams are probably still bouncing off the cave walls.
The caverns….well, you just have to see them for yourself. They are a National Park for a reason. They are very, VERY grand. At times you are in rooms as tall as skyscrapers, just full of different cave formations. Photography is permitted inside the caverns, but the lack of light makes it extremely difficult to get a good picture. It’s also kind of annoying because people stand there forever in an attempt to get a good photo, which makes it impossible for other people to get by. I wish they’d just ban photography in there. Pictures do not do it justice whatsoever! I hate to even post our photos because it looks so “blah” in photos. It’s something you have to see with your own eyes.
We rode the elevator back up out of the caverns. We originally thought we’d walk back out the natural entrance, but after 3 hours of walking, we weren’t volunteering for another 2 hours completely uphill with an unhappy toddler. There was no line for the elevator but I read that most of the time, the line for the elevator is HOURS long. We saw all of the ropes to contain the people in line. Yikes! I would not have enjoyed that experience at all, and I am very thankful we were there on a weekday during the off-season to avoid the line.
Carlsbad Caverns made our quiet (boring?) stay at The Ranch worth it – but I’m not going to be rushing back to southeast New Mexico anytime soon!
Date Visited – February 2018