Valley of Fires (March 4th)

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We awoke to a windy day, with what looked like a dust storm in the distance. We watched it cautiously as we packed up.

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Not optimal conditions, but that’s life sometimes. We aimed ourselves north on highway 54 and fought the wind which tried to blow us all over the road.

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Tumbleweeds became an unexpected road hazard, and dozens crossed the road in front of us, occasionally crunching under our tires. We’d slowed to a crawl for a construction zone when one the size and shape of a hay bale flopped and slid into our path! We were able to stop in time, and it scuttled harmlessly onto the shoulder. Needless to say we were quite startled – it was surprisingly fast!

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A bit outside of Carrizozo, the visibility had cleared, but the wind still tried to derail us as we chugged along to the Valley of Fires State Park. Storms were visible in the distance.

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“Approximately 5,000 years ago, Little Black Peak erupted and flowed 44 miles into the Tularosa Basin, filling the basin with molten rock. The resulting lava flow is four to six miles wide, 160 feet thick and covers 125 square miles. The lava flow is considered to be one of the youngest lava flows in the continental United States.”

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It was good to be off the bikes and stretch our legs for a bit. The lava flow was quite impressive!

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Although the landscape seems dead and lonely from a distance, up close we discovered that it has its own ecology. A surprising variety of life calls these harsh rocks home. Many plants seemed to grow out of the lava itself, and we saw evidence of ground squirrels.

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This gnarled old tree had a lot of character:

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We headed east into the mountains, in search of a campsite I’d read about. Off the highway and onto dirt, we accidentally went too far, our path curling up past the snow line.

The correct road was located, but it grew challenging as it shot up into the mountains, an ordeal neither of us wanted to deal with. We were losing light and the clouds were beginning to spit at us, so we decided to simply camp close to the road.

Oz did really well crossing the rocky dry washes. He got stuck in a rut once, but seemed to get the “gas it” concept pretty quickly. (It was worse than this further on, but daylight, not photos, was my priority at the time.)

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This spot actually worked out really well for us, as there was a fire ring and a large amount of dry brush piled up nearby. We fought off the cold night with a fire, a rare treat!

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I tried to cook dinner over that fire, and ended up spilling about half our spanish rice into the flames when my grate became unstable. Cooking over a fire is one of those skills I have yet to master.

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