But let me qualm your fears with some more specific insights and examples. You'll notice as we go along that New Mexico is really only famous for what God gave it and what the aliens brought. Since we're not visiting Area 51 or Roswell, our fun will come primarily from the natural, God-given beauty of New Mexico. That means you should be sure to pack sunscreen, good hiking shoes and clothes, and your happy camper smile. :)
1. Carlsbad Caverns
Full day trip.
3.5-4 hours driving each way at normal speeds
Rating: super freaking awesome and totally worth it
I, personally, have been to Carlsbad Caverns only twice. I loved it as much the second time as I did the first-- and neither time did I see the bat show! Bryce has seen it, and he says it's not really that great. "It just looks like a bunch of birds flying out of a cave." Indeed the real appeal of Carlsbad Caverns is in the caverns themselves.
There are 83 separate caves, including the nation's deepest (and third longest) limestone cave. I'm pretty sure it's working in a record for the biggest pile of bat poop, too. The hike down into and around the cave is pretty easy, and it's cooler than above ground in the desert sun. There are tons of cool things to see, and if you're an academic there's a lot to learn. For those of us who crave even more excitement, they offer a sweet variety of guided tours. One of my friends went on one of the lantern tours and said it was totally worth it.
So far, the only Hengens that have gone are me and Steven, but the Heiners (and I believe G&G) and I are all willing to go again!
2. White Sand Dunes
Half day trip.
45 min-1 hour driving each way
Rating: a failsafe-- fun every time!
If you're frowning because you were hoping to work on your tan, never fear! There's always the White Sand Dunes! The sun reflecting off the dunes and onto your equally pasty-white body is sure to whip you into New Mexican shape in no time!
The favorite thing to do at the sand dunes is wax up a sled and race down the dunes! Head first, feet first, alternating because you're spinning wildly out of control--- anything goes! When your burning quads need a break from a rewarding workout that makes a StepMaster look like child's play, you can hang out at the bottom of the dune we choose to camp at, where there will most definitely be cold beverages and a variety of snacks.
3. Gila Cliff Dwellings
Full day trip.
3-3.5 hours driving each way
Rating: Bryce approves
Bryce is the only one of us so far that has been to the Gila Cliff Dwelling, but he has planned on organizing a trip up there for some time. I think only the top and bottom pictures below are actually from the Gila Cliff Dwellings, but it gives you an idea of what they are.
4. City of Rocks
Half day trip, or full day trip when combined with Gila Cliff Dwellings and/or Whitewater Canyon.
1.75-2 hours driving each way
Rating: Heiner-kid approved as being a slice of Heaven in the middle of the wilderness
City of Rocks is essentially a playground of giant rocks. Over 30 million years erosion has sculpted what resembles a real city of rocks-- with buildings and avenues of sorts. There are no formal trails, and you can climb and jump and throw tiny rocks to your under-aged heart's content without fear of punishment. With a little imagination, you can find all sorts of shapes the rocks make-- jackrabbits, pelicans, monsters, flowers?, Dora?... the possibilities are only as limited as the scope of your imagination.
5. Whitewater Canyon
Half day trip, or full day trip when combined with Gila Cliff Dwellings and/or City of Rocks
2.75-3 hours driving each way
Rating: Google says some pretty good things, and I believe him
Whitewater Canyon was apparently the hiding place of Geronimo and his warriors when they fled a death warrant issued for every male Apache in New Mexico that was put out by the U.S. Army many, many moons ago. Like, the 1880's. Later miners found lodes of gold and silver high in the canyon, so with a bit of luck you could find a nugget. Or maybe just some Heiner/Coombs nuggets. ;)
6. 4th of July Electric Light Parade
...is, ironically, on July 3rd. It's free, and a live performance follows the parade. I'm not sure who's performing yet. It doesn't start until 9pm, so if you find yourself coming into town too late to make it to the sand dunes with me that night you could at least hit this up! Unless you're dying from the drive and don't want to do anything. But it seems like it might be kinda cool...
7. Hot Springs
New Mexico is apparently known for it's great hot springs... who knew? If anyone is interested I can do more research, but for now know that most the hot springs have been turned into spas. The ones that are still free and "wild" are the more remote or inconsistent ones. There are some hot springs near the Gila Cliff Dwellings, one a spa and one a "primitive campground with three mud pools ranging in temperature between 105-110 F. Clothing optional." My bad-- THIS is where the skinny dipping comes into play. Other springs require hikes and river crossings to get to. Some are moderate, and others are strenuous. Oh and this one was so hot I had to put it:
Turkey Creek Hot Springs, north of the town of Gila. Several rock pools along the edge of Turkey Creek. Tough four wheel drive road with five river crossings, then a difficult three mile hike. Water temperature adjustable according to how much cold water one allows to mix with the 160 F hot water that seeps out of rocks at the creek edge. Make sure to get very good directions from the locals. Clothing optional.
Then there are the more civilized ones you pay for:
Grandpa and Grandma have two ATVs just aching for some extra loving! If you're thinking "yeah, but we'd have to organize a trip far away, into the wilderness, so that I could take even a five minute drive..." THINK AGAIN! New Mexico is, in essentially every way, ALL WILDERNESS! That means you can ride just about anywhere.
So don't think that ATV fun will be limited to our nature trips that approve ATV use. ATVing can be an every day activity!
There are several guns in the family, and plenty of wide-open space to practice in. If you're lucky, and probably 18 or older, Bryce might even let you shoot his bear-huntin' shotgun! If you get feeling pretty confident in your shooting skills, you might give the clay disk shooter a try. Moving targets aren't so easy! And if you're worried about running into wildlife-- that only adds to the fun! It's legal to shoot coyotes and rabbits and leave them there.
10. Water Fun
A. There are a few public pools in town, but the Las Cruces Regional Aquatic Center is indoors and I believe the only one any of us have gone to. It has a current pool, slide, warm pool, lap pool, and lots of things that squirt/shoot water at you. There are "sessions" every day during the summer that are three hours long, and that people apparently wait in line for since they only let in a certain number of people. There are slightly less busy days and times, and we can find those out.
B. The hikes at Dripping Springs and Soledad Canyon (which are both ridiculously close to the Heiner house) lead to waterfalls. More on those hikes later.
C. There is a pretty huge lake in Truth or Consequences (I know, right? Whoever came up with that name was surely executed by the locals) called Elephant Butte Lake (someone must've heard about the other guy, had a death wish and demanded he be the one to name the lake), but since we don't have boats, water skiis or anything like that I'm only going to mention the lake and that it's an hour away and has swimming, fishing, camping, hiking and bird watching among other things not involving boats.
D. I'm also only going to mention that a smaller lake, called Caballo Lake, is slightly closer and has swimming and fishing as well. The "lake and river provide anglers with the opportunity to catch a variety of fish including catfish, largemouth bass, walleye, white bass, crappie, bluegill, northern pike and sunfish."
E. Edyn has some water toys in the backyard. And we could buy a slip-n-slide or blow up pool. We could also organize a water balloon/water gun war. Better yet, we could line up the kids and just hose them down.
There are a bajillion places to hike around here. Since Bryce and Camille live right under the Organ Mountains there are hikes it takes only ten minutes to drive to. Such hikes include King's Peak, hiking The Needle, Soledad Canyon, Dripping Springs, A Mountain, and others most of us haven't tried yet. They vary in difficulty, but any hike you go on with Uncle Bryce is sure to be a blast! There are also beautiful places to hike and camp at that are further away. Bryce is the expert on those, so anyone interested in a certain type or length of hike can talk with him. I'm running out of steam with this long post, otherwise I'd start putting specs up of the different hikes I know about.
Nanny Nikki can testify that in New Mexico, trips to the park in the early, cool hours of the morning are your friend. There's no need to let the kids build up excess energy that will only find release in the form of tantrums or brutal beatings of stuffed animals. The local wood park is a favorite, but there are also many parks with basketball courts, wide open fields, various playground apparatus, and there's even a large park that has a lake. With ducks. And fish that you can fish. Woot.
13. Lazier Activities
All the other activities listed so far require a pretty fair amount of effort. There are things to do here that don't require excess effort, sacrifice of air conditioning or layers of sunscreen. For examply, you should:
Visit the Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum, which is huge and actually really cool. And conveniently located five minutes from the Heiner House.
Go to other, lesser Museums or Galleries. After the small amount of exposure I've had with New Mexican art, I'm not sure galleries are much of a destination.
Eat out at our exotic favorites like ChaChi's, Empire Buffet, Caliche's, Dion's and more.
See a movie at one of the two (count 'em... TWO!) movie theaters in town (or the not-so-only-a-dollar theater). I'm the graphic designer for the company that owns all three theaters in town, so you can see some of my work! Like the popcorn bags, and hopefully by then the cups.
Risk your life at the only bowling alley in town-- home of the bowling alley where, in 1990, two local-men-gone-psycho-killer mowed down four innocent bowlers and injured two. Afterward (after, not before, unless you want to be scared) you can watch the documentary "Bowling Alley Massacre" that was made for the 20 year anniversary of the incident.
Spend some time getting to know your future in-law, Hide. He likes cotton, science, soccer, Empire Buffet, Tiffani and other stuff. Speak with Tiffani for more details.
There will, of course, be the standard hanging out and gorging. Wii, X-box, movies, Nertz and other games will complement idle chatter, uncontrollable laughter and much bonding. Be excited. :)
Anyway. There's even more stuff to do, I'm sure, but I'm dying after this long of a post and simply must take a break. So... adios.