Cloudcroft – Rain, Trestles & Wildflowers

“Hmm… 60-100% chance of rain in Cloudcroft this weekend.”

We’d been planning a getaway in the mountains around Cloudcroft, New Mexico that would be easy on my knee and our Berner Daisy. When the rain percentage started looking that high, I was a little hesitant. If Weather Underground’s Storm app shows even a 20% chance of rain anywhere in New Mexico, it’s going to rain there.

Cool Pines RV Park, Sacramento Mountains, New Mexico

Cool Pines RV Park, Sacramento Mountains east of Cloudcroft, New Mexico

We finally decided we should just go for it. Storms and clearing weather mean intense cloudscapes, extreme conditions, and soft light, for shots no one else gets. We really needed the break from Albuquerque’s heat too – the forecast high was just 68 degrees every day we were in Cloudcroft, at least 25 degrees cooler than ABQ.

Waiting for lunch at Penny's Diner, Belen, New Mexico

Waiting for lunch at Penny’s Diner, Belen

Dine In First
We hit the road around 10 am, but our usual first stop as we head south is Penny’s Diner, just off I-25 in Belen. It’s a 1950s-style diner with really good (and HUGE) burgers, club sandwiches and fries.

Suitably fortified, we drove just past Socorro and made the big left on US 380 towards Carrizozo. Nature was doing major cloudscapes to go with the landscapes, so there were constant “oh wow” scenes as we headed east towards the Tularosa Basin and the Sacramento Mountains.

But first, there was this patch of ropy lava we had to drive through.



Valley of Fires Recreation Area, New Mexico

Valley of Fires
We weren’t there to see it, but it happened pretty recently. About 5,000 years ago, a small vent let loose with at least two volcanic flows down the Tularosa Basin’s east side. The lava covered a 44-mile-long stretch to a depth of 160 feet, the height of a 16 story building. Today in Valley of Fires Recreation Area, you see jumbled plates of black ropy pahoehoe with some jagged aa basalt jutting up at odd angles.

White-tailed deer, Sacramento Mountains, NM

White-tailed deer, Cool Pines RV Park, Sacramento Mountains, NM

Carrizozo is good for a fuel stop, but unless you need something at Walmart, you can skip Alamogordo. We headed east into the mountains to Cool Pines RV Park. We got a space near the highway, but the bonus was a large meadow next door. We weren’t the only ones who liked the spot – four white-tailed deer were chowing down on grass and forbs. At dusk, they got bolder and moved over to the buildings to graze.

It was pretty late to drive back to unknown Cloudcroft restaurants for dinner, but Cool Pines’ manager told us about the Mayhill Cafe, just 6 minutes away. We discovered their weekend entertainment, a cowboy band that played loud enough to be heard but quietly enough so we could talk in the next room. The food was good for a last-minute choice. As it turned out, restaurant reviews or direct advice are essential for dining well in Cloudcroft.

Walmart, Wildflowers and Trestles
We needed charcoal and food to barbecue for Saturday dinner, so we drove in to Alamogordo. On the road, Walmart is your friend. They have everything wherever you happen to be across the US – RV anti-freeze, sheets, pillows, groceries. We stopped at Alamogordo’s big one and got Angus ground beef and buns. Another pup feeding, and we were headed back to Cloudcroft.

Mexican Canyon Trestle, Cloudcroft, New Mexico

Mexican Canyon Trestle, Cloudcroft, New Mexico
The lumber truck at upper left does what this railroad used to

The Mexican Canyon Trestle greets you just before Cloudcroft on US 82. The Alamogordo and Sacramento Mountain Railroad built the trestle in 1899 to transport timber from mixed fir and spruce forests to Alamagordo, and later for tourist traffic to Cloudcroft. The Lodge was built in town in 1899 to give summer tourists a place to stay while they enjoyed the mountain air, as we would discover later.

The last passenger rode the train in 1938. After the final 1947 freight run, the trestle stood unmaintained and abandoned. A restoration effort got underway in 2006. Thanks to the work of many local people, including descendants of the original construction crews, and Congressman Steve Pearce, the trestle has been restored to its original condition minus the rails.

Wildflowers and cloudscape, Sacramento Mountains

Wildflowers and cloudscape, Sacramento Mountains

It was too early for dinner, but too late for a long hike. So we headed back towards Mayhill. We decided to take a left turn we’d passed a couple times, and found gorgeous cloudscapes and a display of wildflowers along State Highway 244. We discovered that visiting Silver Lake in the Mescalero Apache Reservation would cost $15, so we passed on that one.

The tower at The Lodge, Cloudcroft

The tower at The Lodge, Cloudcroft

Then it was dinnertime. I was looking for a place that served good beer to go with great food, and there were two places listed in Cloudcroft. We decided to check out Rebecca’s at The Lodge, the one that was built in 1899. The restaurant was named after the resident ghost.

NEXT WEEK – Check out a great meal in elegant surroundings, discover where not to eat in Cloudcroft, and see great places to watch the sun and stars along the Sunspot Highway.

Shot Notes
I brought a couple Canon dSLRs plus 16-35mm f/2.8L, 24-70mm f/2.8L and 400mm f/4 DO IS lenses. Since that gear is weatherproof, I expected to be using it. But I ended up shooting everything with my Fuji X-E2 mirrorless camera, Leica Tri-Elmar 16-18-21mm f/4 ASPH, 35mm f/2 Summicron-M ASPH, 50mm f/1.4 Summilux-M (non-ASPH), and manual-focus Canon FD 100-300mm f/5.6L. When it began raining, I slid the Fuji and whatever lens was on it under my coat. I’m sick of being a packhorse and I’m having trouble with my right knee anyway, so I carry the lighter Fuji and Leica gear as much as possible.

More Information
1. Penny’s Diner Belen, accessed from https://www.facebook.com/Pennys-Diner-Belen-1702521136658138/
2. Valley of Fires, accessed from http://tinyurl.com/ydc99hu5
3. Alamogordo and Sacramento Mountain Railway, accessed from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alamogordo_and_Sacramento_Mountain_Railway
4. Historic Railroad Trestle Work Continues, accessed from http://tinyurl.com/yczsbp3u
5. Duncans Acquire Historic Cloudcroft, New Mexico Lodge, accessed from http://bigbendnow.com/2015/03/duncans-acquire-historic-cloudcroft-new-mexico-lodge/
6. Silver Lake, accessed from http://mescaleroapachetribe.com/772/silver-lake/

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