With a week off for winter break at our kids school, we debated whether to hit the road again to visit more National Park sites. Ultimately, we determined we could travel safely and stretch the trip another week because of their distance learning program.
Overview of the parks visited on this trip:
- Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
- Tonto National Monument
- Gila Cliff Dewellings National Monument
- White Sands National Park
- Carlsbad Caverns National Park
- Guadalupe Mountains National Park
- Chamizal National Memorial
- Fort Bowie National Historical Site
- Chiricahua National Memorial
- Tumacacori National Historical Park
- Coronado National Memorial
- Saguaro National Park
We started out of Los Angeles to our first hotel stay in Chandler. Our first road stop was a recommendation from “roadfood.com” and was near Morongo Casino, at Hadley’s Fruit to try a “famous” date shake. It was good, though not cheap (~$6ish if I recall correctly). The shake was okay to try, but can’t say I’d have any cravings to come back. I added banana as a free addition, but that was probably a mistake as nobody liked it that much and it basically tasted like an overpriced banana vanilla shake. Hadleys had a dairy free version that was even more expensive, but everyone in the family agreed milk-less actually tasted better because of the coconut flavor.
Our next stop was Shermans Deli and Bakery in palm springs. I had the Pastrami made into a sandwich with two (2) of their famous homemade Potato Latkes in place of bread. The annoying part of the trip was that they took our order for a Lemon cake, but after we left we realized they didn’t include it in the bag.
We stayed the night at Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Phoenix Chandler/Fashion Center. It was nice and clean and they had an outdoor pool and jacuzzi that was open and nobody else was brave enough to go out in the howling wind. It was a bit cold at night, but the kids didn’t seem to mind, especially with the jacuzzi.
At night I popped out for Taco Tuesday at Espo’s Mexican Food, but I don’t think I’d recommend it. The 10 for $10 tacos was cheap and okay, but nothing spectacular. I was surprised though that they had their salsa bar wide open to the public during the pandemic. Most restaurants are not as open with their exposed food options. Hotels that had buffets typically are mostly doing bagged or wrapped food only.
We started the day with a visit to Casa Grande Ruins National Monument. This monument comprises a huge structure in the middle of a sectioned off part of the national park lands.
“An Ancestral Sonoran Desert People’s farming community and “Great House” are preserved at Casa Grande Ruins. Whether the Casa Grande was a gathering place for the Desert People or simply a waypoint marker in an extensive system of canals and trading partners is but part of the mystique of the Ruins.”
The kids had a good time piecing together information for the Jr Ranger program. One of the easier parts of the program was a scavenger hunt/bingo section.
After Casa Grande we drove to Tonto National Monument.
After leaving Tonto NM we headed towards Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. As with every night on the trip, we didn’t have advance booking at any hotel, so we just researched as we went depending on how far we traveled during the day and where we needed to be the next morning.
On the way to Gila Cliff Dwellings we stay multiple signs along the road advertising ice cream. Having done two parks in the day which included the long uphill trek to the cliff dwellings at Tonto NM, we decided the kids earned a treat. We Taylor Freeze and everyone got to chose their own flavor. I got a Dairy Queen style chocolate dipped cone to share with A Frugal Mother (though I think she would in retrospect have gotten her own if she knew how much I would end up eating).
Gila Cliff Dwellings NM (pronounced “he-ya) is one of the more out of the way National Park Sites, and there was a lot of snow a few days before, so we wanted to sleep as close to the site as we could. That meant going into the Silver City, NM which is still almost two hours from the Gila Cliff Dwellings, but the closest town with hotels. Silver City is a town in Grant County, New Mexico, and is the home of Western New Mexico University. In 2019 the population was estimated to be 9,386. Supposedly Silver City is home to many musicians and artists and has a thriving downtown arts district, however we didn’t really stay long enough to fully explore.
We stayed at Murray Hotel, an older Art Decco style hotel that could have been quite at home in a Wes Anderson film with its pastel colors and nostalgic feel. We think we may have been the only guests in the hotel that night, or at least one of the only guests, we didn’t see anyone else other than hotel staff the entire time we were there and there was no parking except for street parking in front of the hotel, where we occupied a spot right in front.
In the morning two of hotel employee’s children were in the breakfast area at a table doing their pandemic distance learning remote login.
The breakfast at Murray Hotel was standard continental breakfast fare, except they did have the only waffle maker for the entire trip. Surprisingly though they surged on their oatmeal offerings and instead of the typical cheapest oatmeal packs that you rip and combine in a separate bowl with hot water, included their own container.
Despite the hotel staff and road signage saying it would take 2 hours to get from Silver City to Gila Cliff Dwellings, Waze estimated less than an hour and a half (and was ultimately correct).
The road to Gila Cliff Dwellings was full of curves and still had areas with snow. For one section we were stuck behind a snow plow before he pulled over and waved us past. We made sure the kids wouldn’t be reading in the car while we wound our way up the mountain for fear that they would get car sickness and have to throw up (which has happened before when coming back from camping in the Santa Cruz mountains).
The Gila Cliff Dwellings NM was a great stop, and we all preferred it more than the prior two NPS sites. What made it fun was the fresh snow that the kids could play in on the hike up to the cliff dwellings. I also enjoyed the walk through the canyon that crossed multiple small bridges and had water and plenty of trees. The hike to the dwellings was designated as a one way loop so that you are not passing hikers going down the trail during the pandemic. We almost always prefer loops to straight paths (nobody likes to double back and go through the same way they came if the alternative is a loop with new things to see the entire time).
After leaving Gila Cliff Dwellings we stopped by Doc Campbells Post to do some souvenir shopping and get ice cream. Camp Thunderbird was very clean and well spaced out shop with homemade ice cream (butterscotch, vanilla, chocolate, and lemon berry, but the lemon berry was sold out until next season so we had to make do with the other flavors).
In my research for White Sands, I came across a YouTube couple that had a good meal at Habeneros in Las Cruces (a popular launching point to the National Park). I grabbed some food here for dinner and we all found it was quite tasty. One of their specialties is the Chimichanga, however unlike what I was expecting, they don’t seem to deep fry their Chimichanga’s here, so really it was more like a smothered burrito. Still, it was good enough to satisfy and I would come back and try other things on the menu. Another item we tried was their Welcome soup, which is lentil and advertised on their signage, but again wasn’t anything too special.
Our Best Western Hotel in Las Cruces was nice enough. It was clean and Frugal Mother was happy to have gotten a good deal on the rate through shrewd negotiation. However, the downside was that it was close to a railway and the train shook the entire room. Also the air condition had what sounded like a can of pebbles stuck inside it, so when it turned on and off it sounded like firecrackers going off in the room.
White Sands National Park was a nice stop. We saw what looked to be snow in the sands, and took a vote on whether it was actually snow or just a different shade of white sand along the dunes. A Frugal Mother was the only one to guess correctly that it was actually Snow/Ice.
Our splurge of the day after leaving the park was a Boba stop at Lotus Tea. Unfortunately this was nothing to write home about, and the kids didn’t even end up getting Boba, they all wanted ice cream here instead.
That night would be our first stay at a Hampton Inn, and we were hooked. The rooms were clean and modern and the pool was great.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Guadalupe National Park
Since El Paso was a relatively large city, we knew we wanted to get something to eat while passing through. The highest and best reviewed place was L and L cafe, which seems to specialize in their green chili.
We also made a quick bathroom stop in a plaza and ended up getting two of the kids pizza at The Pizza Joint. Also, we ended up trying Boba Kicks, a place where you can buy shoes (kicks) and Boba at the same place. Well, not sure if it comes to a big surprise, but the Boba here was horrible. The Boba balls themselves were hard as erasers and the flavors were just strange.
Although we were not hopeful that there would be a ranger at Chamizal National Memorial visitor center was closed, we were still holding out hope for the kids to do a Jr Ranger program, since sometimes there are rangers around even though a park is mostly closed.
We passed Akela Flats for a second time on this trip, and this time decided to make a stop to check out what all the fuss was about. They had clean restrooms and we ended up spending quite a long time there looking at various items and ultimately buying some fireworks.
We stayed at the Hampton Inn again, this time in Lordsburg.
From the Hampton inn we went to Fort Bowie.
From Fort Bowie, the next stop was Chiricahua National Monument. We made it here later in the day unfortunately, so we really had to make good time on our hike.
We stayed at Hampton Inn again.
Coronado National Memorial was kind of a bust. We didn’t get to see the cave, and ended up doing a lot of bathroom visits.
For a nighttime treat we got the kids some snow cones at Julie and Sammy’s 33 flavors.
Back to another Hampton Inn.
Sonoran hot dogs at el-güero-canelo.
Tumacacori NHP. This was a great visit because of the extremely enthusiastic and knowledgable Ranger Rick.
We also got to see the start of the De Anza trail to San Francisco.
Went to see Saguaro National Park, but no rangers were staffing the area.
Tried some rolled tacos at Rollies Mexican Patio.
Had some more sonoran hot dog at Aqui.
Tried a drink and sandwhich from eegees.
Back to the in-laws house in Covina.
Since the visitor center at Tumi was closed Ranger Rick recommended we get our stone souvenir from the Western National Park Association store. They had a large assortment of fun national park souvenirs. I also took some photos of their bookshelf to analyze when we got back home.
We made another stop to get carne asada torta and some donuts at Le Cave’s. For some reason when we called them they said they only had three types available, but upon arriving they had a larger selection.