Thousands upon thousands of fans and the curious descend upon Roswell every July for the Alienfest. You will also find the International UFO Museum and various trading posts busy with tourists throughout the year. But did you know that there are two large nature spots just a few miles outside of Roswell?
I visited Bottomless Lakes for a day trip in June 2021 and Bitter Lake in August 2021. There is a large visitor’s center at Bitter Lake that is currently closed but the hiking trails and driving tour are both open. Fall and winter is the time to see all the migrating birds, including thousands of Sandhill Cranes, but I was still fortunate to be able to photograph several species, including stilts and a heron.
At Bottomless Lakes, I drove through the campground, parked at the picnic area and walked down to the largest swimming lake, chatted with the workamper couple who mans the little visitor’s center, and took the scenic drive around the park. There are numerous smaller lakes along the route and several primitive camping spots (non-reservable).
Bitter Lake Wildlife Refuge is free and is open during daylight hours. Bottomless Lakes State Park has a $5 fee for day use and a separate fee for camping. Annual passes are also available for purchase.
Most of my people interactions are very superficial. The southwest state I moved to recently is new to me. My son and his family are 3,700 miles away. I don’t have any close friends since I retired and left my home state. So when I meet people, we chat about things we might have in common — our dogs or our RV lifestyle or retirement or the weather — but then we move on and I rarely come across the same people again.
But that’s not to discount the meaningful lives of the people I meet or their importance in the grand scheme of things. Our encounters might be just in the moment but I like to think that they are going on to brighten other people’s lives day after day. With that in mind, I’d like to reflect back on some of the chats with new acquaintances I had this past week. I will not identify any of these people by name or distinguishing details to protect their privacy but I will remember kindnesses and connections in the five days I was on the road.
My dog, cat, and I set out on a short jaunt around the state in the motor home on Monday Morning, June 7. There were a few places I had been wanting to spend time visiting and taking photos, rather than just driving past, and this was the perfect opportunity. First stop was Pistachio Land, a tourist stop in Alamogordo with an extra large pistachio monument featured in the selfies of anyone who has visited. I knew right away that I wouldn’t be able to take a photo of myself and get the whole pistachio in the picture. There was a group of three ladies taking pictures right when I walked up and one of them offered to take my picture. She got it perfect the first time but took two to be sure. I thanked her and then they were gone. It sure was a good picture.
Check in at Alamagordo KOA was a pleasure and I actually went back to their little store and souvenir shop twice. Although the conversation in these circumstances is usually very casual, it’s nice to be able to have a conversation with someone if you’re like me and live alone most of the time. I do remember kindnesses for sure.
Staff, paid employees, and volunteers at National Parks meet tons of new people on a daily basis and get asked the same annoying questions day after day but the ones I interacted with in three different places this week were all nothing but polite and conversational and made me feel like I was the first one they’d ever helped or answered questions for.
First was White Sands National Park, although not new in location, newly designated as a National Park as of December 20, 2019. Pleasant interactions started with the ranger counting heads as we went into the store to the cashier who helped me with purchases to the ranger who checked my America The Beautiful Pass as I entered the car tour on Dune Drive, answering questions that I had and smiling the whole time.
Then, I ran into the same couple on two different mini-hikes. We smiled and said hello and they laughed both times because I was carrying my little dog in his carry-on sling and they thought that was pretty cute. I came across a younger couple wanting to take a photo among the dunes and as I walked by, I asked if I could take the photo for them. I used several different compositions on their phone app and I hope they found one or two they like.
I drove in to the state park I’d booked for two nights and parked the motor home by the campground host, knocked on the door and waited. The first thing the gentleman that came out asked was, “Are you Tina?” Well, yes I am. I guess I was the only guest checking in that day. He was congenial, answered my questions, and left me to go get set up. As I was driving to my spot, I passed a small camper van, a few empty spaces, two older class A motorhomes, a few more empty spaces then my spot.
I had barely gotten my electricity hooked up and the AC on when the person in the van came running over, anxious to talk to me. This person was new to living full time in state parks and had a lot of questions. Of course, I was only too eager to tell my story and answer the questions I was able to answer. As we talked we discovered that there are advantages and disadvantages to both the van life and the class C life but this camper was eager to find out if upgrading to something like mine was the way to go.
Back on the road two days later and I took the opportunity to drive through a National Wildlife Refuge that I had only driven by in the past. Driving a 24′ motor home for 12 miles through a non-paved refuge may not have been the smartest thing I’ve ever done but visiting the little gift shop at the end of the tour was certainly worthwhile. The young volunteer tried to answer my questions and got really animated when we started talking about some of the larger animals he’s spotted at the refuge, including cougars, coyotes, and elk. I bought a small birding book that I didn’t even need but I like to support these kind of nonprofits.
I was returning to a small RV Park for the night that I’d stayed at two years previously. They are well-known to birders and photographers being so close to the refuge. The elderly caretaker was chatty and full of information, and had grown up just down the road. We sat out in the evening watching the hummingbirds and I got to hear some interesting tales. One of the guests who I also met this same evening is a bird photographer (his card says he has a PhD but I didn’t ask in what) and we talked for a few minutes about cameras and birds and fun places to explore.
Finally, on our way home the next day, I stopped at Valley of Fires National Recreation Area and found a suitable place to park the motor home. At 11:00 in the morning, it was already getting quite hot but I wasn’t sure when or if I’d ever be back and was determined to take at least a few photos. And again, I met a volunteer at a park facility gift shop with another new story. This gentleman graciously answered all my questions and we talked for a few minutes as I browsed the books and merchandise. He and his wife had two homes, one in the Santa Cruz area of California and one in New Mexico. He said they’d recently sold the California home and now live full time in New Mexico and love it. I said, me too!
I probably won’t recognize any of these people if I run into them again in the future in a different setting. I didn’t get names from most of them and they didn’t get mine. But as I was driving the last 100 miles before returning home, I reflected that I’d not only met my goal of taking photos at more than five places I’d been wanting to visit but I’d been able to smile and chat with a handful of strangers along the way every single day on my trip.