Tag Archive for 'New Mexico'

Hiking in Gila

Yesterday I decided to get out of Juarez. I planned on going to Franklin Mountain State Park in El Paso to do a little hiking but

The opera house in Pinos Altos, which was my first "ghost town" experience!

the weather was cool, in the 80’s which practically frigid here, and my GPS said Gila Forest National Park was only 2 and a half hours away, so I kept going. 4 hours later I rolled into the park. The GPS neglected to calculate that although the speed limit for the last 35 miles is 55mph, that it is impossible to go any faster than 15 mph without flinging yourself over the edge of a cliff. So deciding that I was in favor of not dying a horrid albeit pine-scented death, I took the trek at a leisurely pace. The drive was absolutely gorgeous though! There were pine trees! There were trees! It was green! So my joy at seeing green things probably sounds a bit insane I’ve been in the middle of the desert for nearly 3 months, so seeing green trees and a light drizzling rain was an actual treat.   It was also in the 60’s up in the forest, so it was totally worth the  long drive.

On the long meandering drive up the mountain to the park, I stopped at a “Semi-Ghost Town.” I call it Semi-Ghost because there are still people living there and a lot of motels and cabin rental places, so it wasn’t really an abandoned town.  Adding a little to the authenticity was the fact that it was a Sunday afternoon so pretty much everything was closed.

After checking out the little town, I and my honda civic continued our trek up the mountain. I’m pretty pleased that my little hybrid has managed to tackle mountains, deserts, and monsoons over the last 3 months. If only it could handle the Himalaya

Misty mountains in the desert.

sized speed bumps Juarez has constructed at random intervals (aka the middle of the freeway), life would be perfect. The forest was stunningly beautiful. It was drizzling a little bit up in the mountains but rain is another thing I’ve started to miss out the in the desert. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed rain so much before, when we get 2 drops in Juarez I practically do a happy dance.

There were a couple of scenic overlooks on the road up to the cliff dwellings, so I pulled over and took a few shots. It is pretty amazing to be able to peer over a cliff and see and smell pine forests but also see the desert just beyond. There were also various cacti growing between the stands of pine trees. Having lived most of my life in Maryland, I’m not used all these cacti yet!

The real reason of course I have been dying to go to Gila is the cliff dwellings. They were definitely worth the trek. There were probably only about 10 people on the trail so it felt like I had the park to myself.

The Gila Cliff Dwellings

Apparently the people that lived in the dwellings spent 15 years building them, and then only lived there for 10 years before taking off for greener pastures, though where those greener pastures were no one is exactly sure. Because the park was pretty empty I had plenty of time to talk to the guide at the park, who apparently once wanted to join the Foreign Service as well. So despite the fact that my GPS lied to me about the total travel time, it was definitely worth the trek. I think next time though I will stay overnight, because apparently there is another ghost town out in them thar hills that I missed.

I’ve also reached another important milestone. Clearly I cross the border too much. I get stopped every time coming back into Mexico by CBP for my out of state plates. Yesterday when I crossed back in one of the guys glanced at me and said “she’s good, she’s with the consulate.” Yep, when CBP starts to know who you are, I think it is a clear sign your crossing to often. Perhaps Juarez costco and I will have to bond… I’ve stopped going to my local supermarket because I think I’ve denied visas to every cashier in the place. I do believe that costco is still safe though…

Catching up!

It’s been a busy few weeks so I’ve sort of slacked off on the blogging. I’ll try to be better in the future! So in the past few weeks I’ve survived my first 4th of July party, obtained an open water dive certification (yes, in the middle of the desert), returned to White Sands for some sledding in 105 degree weather, attended a change of command ceremony at Fort Bliss, and adjudicated a lot of visas. The verdict on the sledding is that it is terribly fun, though it is much easier on the snow and next time we need to check the weather report before we decide to spend an afternoon frolicking in the hot sun. The 4th of July party was better than I expected. The 4th is the major representational event for most embassies and consulates overseas so it’s a working holiday for us.  The result is no one in the Foreign Service really seems to look forward to the 4th.  It is a big deal and we invite a lot of important members of the local community. I don’t have much to compare it to, since I’m in the first year of my first tour but I think like most things in Juarez, our party was a little different than those at other posts. It was held earlier for starters because of the Mexican elections and it had a county fair theme so there were games and cotton candy, which sort of set the mood for what I thought was a more relaxed and enjoyable event. I had the opportunity to talk to a lot of interesting people from the Juarez community and I even managed to get through the night with my limited Spanish ability, or at least the lovely people I inflicted my Spanish on were polite enough to pretend they understood me. We also actually got to have the 4th or in this case the 5th of July off, which was an added bonus.

In other representational related events news I had the opportunity to go with a group to the Change of Command ceremony at

All lined up for the review of the troops.

Fort Bliss. Not having a military background, I found it really interesting. It was also just another example of how different a

Foreign Service post this is. In most places I would guess that a significant chunk of the representational events aren’t us representing to another branch of the government. Fortunately it wasn’t a hot day, which is amazing given that it was southern Texas in the middle of July. I would have felt bad for the troops if it was 100 degrees of blazing heat as usual.

On the downside, anyone who has followed the news lately knows the violence in Juarez continues and has been getting worse. Most days it is really easy to ignore. I spend most of my time at home, in El Paso, or at the Consulate, with the occasional lunch, happy hour, or dinner outings thrown in. There was an incident at the mall across the consulate which is one of the places I do go quite a bit. It starts to become a little more real when it encroaches on my little corner of Juarez. Last week was the first time I felt unsafe, it didn’t last long but there are moments when it sneaks up on you. Despite the situation here, I can’t imagine a better group of people to be at post with and we do have a lot of fun.

Outside of work I’ve spent the last three weekends doing class room, pool, and open water sessions for an open water certification. About 8 years ago I went diving on the great barrier reef and had a blast. I meant to come back and get certified then but being a broke college student it wasn’t in the cards. I was hoping to get posted somewhere near water so I could finally

Near Balmorhea- this is the slightly greener part of the desert.

get certified… but well, here I am in Juarez with all of the sand and none of the beach. But lo and behold, there is scuba in the middle of the Chihuahua Desert! Last weekend I went up to Balmorhea State Park in Texas for the open water sessions. It’s a spring feed lake and there were some interesting puffer-like fish there, not quite as spectacular as the great barrier reef but I think I was a little spoiled by my first dive. I’m completely hooked though now and I love the irony of having obtained my cert in the desert. The idea was to get certified before my trip to Cancun in November, though in order good news it looks like I may have the opportunity to hit the water a little sooner. I found out today that I’m going to get to go to Guadalajara for a 3 week TDY in late September. Guadalajara was actually one of the higher ranked posts on my bid list, so I’m incredibly excited to go. It also has the added bonus of being a 40 minute flight from Puerto Vallarta, so hopefully there is some more diving in my near future!

White Sands

While Juarez might not be the awesomest city in the world, it is near a lot of cool stuff that I’ve been dying to see. One of those is White Sands! I had planned to go about 2 weeks ago until I saw that it was 110 degrees out… I opted to go to Mesilla that weekend instead to check out the galleries and shops. Today the high was a more reasonable 90ish. I was so excited about seeing White Sands that when I spoke with my sister today I mentioned the trip. She asked “oh, so what’s there?”

“Um…. white sand.”

Silence. Okay,  so maybe the world isn’t as enthralled by rocks and dirt as I am but I did major in Geology and I stand by my verdict. This is a seriously cool place. The trip took a little over an hour. I started off by doing a 1 mile “nature walk” through the dunes and some of the interdune area. It is amazing how quiet it is out there and how blindingly white the sand is.

There is a nice drive that takes you to the heart of the sands, where there is just basically, heaps, and heaps of white sand. That’s where everyone sleds or golfs apparently. I spotted a golf ball in one of the piles of sand. During the drive at one point I noticed some of the sand was moving, or running to be precise. I pulled off and this gentleman obligingly stood still long enough for me to get a picture! I think this might be one of those places that I have to get back to, except next time with a sled and some sunblock. I did stop and play in the sand long enough to make a sand angel, I’ll post that picture in the gallery. I’d post it here but it is a little disturbing because I didn’t want to put my head in the sand, so it is a headless angel. So it may just be “white sand” but I thought it was pretty amazing.