After I left San Angelo, TX I continued west. This was actually my first time exploring the west besides a couple of times in California. Once you get further in West Texas the terrain definitely changes. You slowly start seeing the Chihuahuan Desert form. You drive for hours through the oil fields with thousands of oil wells pumping. Then you finally cross into New Mexico and eventually you come to one of America's great underground wonders: Carlsbad Caverns National Park.
In 1898, a teen named Jim White explored the limestone caverns and named many of the features such as the Big Room, King's Palace, and Fairyland. In 1923 it became a national monument and in 1930 it was declared a national park.
I found the online information about times to be confusing. If you are hiking down the long entrance you have to begin by 3:30 PM, if you are taking the elevators down then you have until 5:00 PM, and if want to see the bats then there is a presentation at 8 PM. The times may change so I suggest calling. Good said they were closed, but that was inaccurate and I wasted a day waiting around because I didn't call.
The largest and most beautiful portions of the cave have an easy to navigate path fit for people of almost any ability. It is wheelchair friendly and I watched a lady on crutches explore as well. If you stay until dusk you can see thousands of bats fly out for their nightly dinners. I did not catch it this time, but I'm told it is an impressive site.
Carlsbad has had a massive oil boom over the last decade and their hotels are full or overpriced so I do not recommend staying near the caverns. Instead you can continue about an hour away and end up in Roswell, NM.
Roswell may be the quirkiest cities in America. After a UFO was spotted in 1947 and legends and stories spread of little green men many made their way to Roswell to explore the town and the town embraced. Making for a economic boost alien art and souvenirs are found throughout the town. I decided to stop at the International UFO Museum and go for a tour. I expected a small, cheesy museum with no visitors, but I found a medium, cheesy museum packed with people from around the world. Along with a timeline and eyewitness reports of the 1947 crash there are props from movies, ancient alien tales, and sightings from around the world. I was also pleased to meet Thomas J Carey, co-author of Witness to Roswell and Children of Roswell.
If you make it to Roswell I recommend the Hampton Inn and Suites in town.
Hawaii, Las Vegas, New York, Austin, all of these are places that come to mind when we think of places to visit, but what about all the towns we pass by on the way to those major cities? Small town America may not have unlimited culture and cuisine from around the world, but it often has charm and history you will not find elsewhere, but you have to look for it.
I recently began another trip for site selection for Blue Ridge Tours. My mom is the co-owner and is always on the lookout for unique ideas for student trips to encourage learning and embrace America. Currently, I am working on a future tour idea I’m calling Triple S: From Sea to Shining Sea. The idea would be to take juniors and seniors in high school on a multi-week trip across the country and see what America has to offer.
That is what took me to San Angelo, TX. San Angelo is the population center of the Concho Valley. The town was founded around Fort Conchowhich was built to protect people moving out west in the 1800s. The stone fort is still there today and intact. The region is also home to a large portion of the country’s sheep. So you can see sheep painted by various artists all over town.
In 1909, the railroad depot opened and helped move those sheep, people, and other goods between Kansas and Mexico. The passenger line stopped in the 1960s and the rest ended in the mid-80s, but the depot still stands today as a museum to bygone days of railway travel. There are several toy trains and dioramas that show the history and are just fun to bring out your inner Dr. Sheldon Cooper.
Long before the city of San Angelo though there was the legend of the Lady in Blue. She was a Franciscan nun from Spain named, María Jesus de Ágreda. Legend says that in the early 1600s she was seen in this area of Texas ministering to and baptizing the Native Americans even though she never physically left Spain. Currently, the Vatican is being petitioned to name her as a saint. Today, her body is interred at her convent in Spain and according to a Spanish physician, her remains have never deteriorated.
If you make your way to San Angelo, make sure to see the large sculptures dedicated to the Lady in Blue.
If Spanish nuns aren’t for you then perhaps you’ll enjoy touring Miss Hattie’s Bordello. This upstairs museum is full of authentic items from the time as the Texas Rangers raided the establishment and all the furnishings were left in place. This interesting tour gives insight into what life was like for the women that worked there.
If you happen to be in town at the right time you may be able to catch a show at the Angelo Civic Theatre. I was grateful to receive a tour of this old movie theater turned stage ready. They perform around six shows a season along with some other benefits. Make sure to check out the amazing retro tiled bathrooms if your visit.
Just down the street is a beautiful display of water lilies from around the world. They are all part of one man’s collection that has contracted with the city and he even grew some of the special hybrid varieties himself.
There is plenty more to do and check out in San Angelo from the lobby of the Cactus Hotel to watching handmade boots through the window of M.L. Leddy’s. And of course, the Paintbrush Alley where over 50 artists came together with Art in Uncommon Places to create amazing pieces for the public to explore.
There are also plenty of wonderful hotels to choose from for your visit. I checked out the Springhill Suites which has a nice modern look and the older but still wonderful Red Lion. With of these places would make you happy and all the hotels in the area are a great bargain price.
I was told about several restaurants I should try while I was in town, but of course, even I can only eat so much. It was fun to meet Brenda Gunter, the city mayor and owner of Miss Hattie’s restaurant and I do believe I had one of my top three Mexican dinners at Franco’s. The fajita quesadilla was superb.
I would like to think the wonderful staff of Downtown San Angelo and Discover San Angelo for being great hosts. They shared so many great ideas for tours and visitors that it made my job really simple. This is a great community and worth exploring. I met several business owners and the passion for their town will surely make San Angelo, TX a place that continues to be inviting.