Summer is in full swing here in New Mexico. This is the first year I’m home with both kids during the summer and it’s….. a lot. Fun, yes. Fulfilling, mostly. But a lot. I thought I’d fill the days with productive house cleaning and fun DIY projects for the kids, but mostly there’s been a lot of video games and movies. There was one science project that involved water, clear nail polish and construction paper, but it didn’t really work out. So I think we were all grateful the other week when my husband suggested a quick afternoon at Tinkertown.
Tinkertown Museum is located in Sandia Park, about twenty minutes from Albuquerque, which means it’s 10 degrees cooler, which is very welcome in the 100 degree heat we’ve been having. It started as a traveling exhibit of wood-carved figures and dioramas, with antique toys mixed in here and there. It’s now a rambling museum of oddities.
I love bringing the kids here. It’s small enough that I don’t worry about them getting lost or separated, and there’s something new to discover every time we go. They love exploring here. Pushing buttons to bring the dioramas to life, pumping quarters into the old carnival machines, putting messages in bottles.
The outside of the museum is as fun as the inside. With hummingbirds diving at all the feeders, and a mini western town to wander through. In the gift shop there’s stick candy and fancy soaps. My daughter gets a grab bag for a couple dollars and my son gets a glider in the shape of a butterfly.
It’s always good to get out of the house, go somewhere. Somewhere a little cooler preferably. And off the beaten path. It was a relaxing afternoon.
Fun story, when I was pregnant the first time I was nauseous for roughly the first five and a half months. It wasn’t fun. One day I woke up with an intense craving for sopapillas, so I went out for lunch with my mom and future mother in law. I asked the incredibly kind waitress for extra sopapillas and she delivered. I explained that it was the first time food tasted good in months, and she brought me more. When we paid the check, she brought me a to go box filled with even more sopapillas! I burst into tears, because I was so touched, and because pregnancy hormones are fun.
Unless you are from New Mexico, you might not know what a sopapilla is. My spell checker has apparently never heard of them either. Well guys, I’m about to blow your mind. This recipe is insanely easy to make, and sopapillas are so versatile you could eat them for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or dessert. Sopapillas are puffy fried dough. Think funnel cake but not necessarily sweet and puffier. Or a Chalupa shell but again, puffier. The word, sopapilla, roughly translates to “little pillow”, so, puffy. 😉
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3/4 cup warm water
vegetable oil for frying
Mix the dry ingredients.
Add the oil and water.
Mix with a fork or your hands until the dough is uniform. It should be wet enough to not flake apart, but dry enough to not stick to your hands.
Cover the dough and leave it to set for at least one hour. *In my experience, the longer I leave my dough alone, the better it puffs up when frying. I tend to make my dough in the morning, put it in the fridge, and fry it up for dinner.*
Heat up your oil for frying. The deeper the oil, the puffier the sopapilla, so use a deep fryer, or the deepest frying pan you have.
While the oil is heating, it’s time to roll out your sopapillas. Flour your surface, and grab a small (like 1 inch in diameter) ball of the dough. Roll it in the flour a little bit to make it easier to roll out.
Roll it out nice and thin, about 1/8 of an inch.
When your oil is ready (375°F) fry those puppies up. I find it works best to fry one at a time.
Sopapillas are best eaten immediately, not that you’re going to want to wait. And they really are super versatile! Because they are essentially little pillows of fried dough, they are great for stuffing! So stuff them with eggs, hash browns and bacon for breakfast, or beans, rice and meat for lunch or dinner. Pair them with some vanilla ice cream and cinnamon sugar and you’ve got dessert. Or just drizzle some honey on them.
Tired but excited, we got to Carlsbad Caverns early to avoid the crowds. It was quiet as we descended, the few people who were there whispered. It was as, if not more so, otherworldly as White Sands, but in a completely different way. Cave swallows flew and dove in circles as we weaved our way down. As we looked up, the light from the outside grew smaller and smaller until it disappeared entirely.
I felt good. I had my son on my back in his carrier, my husband, daughter and I all had our cameras ready. With a whopping three hours of sleep, I was ready to go. My daughter is fascinated with rocks recently, so we stopped at every formation, reading the little signs posted at each one. My son oohed and ahed in his carrier, and occasionally stopped to give me a hug. We were at the top of our game. And then we hit bottom.
We finished the descent and got to “The Big Room”, a level cavern with different formations that is about a mile long walk. We let my son out of his carrier, thinking it would be nice to let him stretch his legs. This was a mistake. After not sleeping well the night before, and it being close to his nap time, he was happy to be out of the carrier, but not happy to go where we wanted to go, at the pace we wanted to go, or to stay on the path. My daughter also had hit a wall. Never the less, we didn’t hike all the way down not to look around once we got there. Besides, after we took a look in the Big Room, we could sit and eat the snacks we had packed and take a rest before trekking back out.
Sometimes when you’re a parent you forget things. Like, you forget to pack snacks before taking a strenuous four hour hike with two small children. Luckily, hundreds of feet underground, there are restrooms, tables, a small snack shop, and even a small gift shop. We got a roast beef sandwich and a yogurt parfait to split between the four of us. And we were ready to return to the surface.
Return To The Surface
Now, there are elevators at the caverns. So, if after you’ve hiked down, you don’t want to hike back up you can take the elevator. I remember going to the caverns with my family when I was young and taking the elevators, much to my dismay. I always felt like I was missing out on the whole experience. I was young and naive. I was stupid.
The elevators were out of order when we were there. Finally, I was going to get the chance to hike out. With two small children, my son now on my husband’s back, I was ready. By now it was almost noon. Those crowds we had avoided on the way in, were now coming in in droves.
Maybe it was the lack of sleep, maybe it was the lack of food, but I seriously thought I was going to die on the hike out. Surrounded by tourists, hundreds of feet underground, I just wanted to lie down and call it quits. And we weren’t even half the way back up. Thank goodness the path has benches all the way up, and thank goodness I have very patient family members. I think I stopped to catch my breath at every single bench.
Cow Puns and Home
On the drive home there was a herd of cows. They were all standing in a line, facing the freeway.
“Those cows look like they’re up to something.” I told my husband.
“Hmm? Oh. Yeah they do.” He said, his eyes on the road.
“I think it’s a moo-tiny.” I said, and proceeded to laugh at my own joke for the next five minutes.
In forty-eight hours my family and I saw so much of what New Mexico has to offer and I thought about how much the state has given me. It has given me my family. My husband who I met in high school, our two kids. It has given me people to share my life with. And a captive audience for my cow puns.
In forty-eight hours we hiked the pure dunes of White Sands. We trekked seventy-nine stories underground at Carlsbad Caverns. We ate street tacos and saw the World’s Largest Pistachio in Alamagordo. We drove through the mountains that were once home the Smokey the Bear, saw dirt devils off in the distance and the alien crash site in Roswell. There were wild deer and antelope, cows, horses, and a camel at Tim and Pam’s Roadside Petting Zoo, and miles of perfectly straight rows of pecan trees, just beginning to bud. Some of it was downright otherworldly, at yet, we never left the state.
We wanted to do something fun for Spring Break this year, but we also wanted to do some spring cleaning and not be so exhausted after our vacation that we would need a second vacation. So we looked for something we could easily do in a day or two.
We decided to leave early in the morning on Thursday, drive down to White Sands National Monument, spend some time there, then spend the night in Artesia. On Friday, we would wake up early and drive to Carlsbad Caverns, getting there early enough to avoid the Spring Break crowds, and when we were done, we would drive home.
We got to White Sands National Monument around one in the afternoon, after grabbing lunch nearby in Alamagordo. This was not an ideal time to visit. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, which sounds really nice, but White Sands is literally just that. White sand, for several miles. The afternoon sun reflecting off the sand was BRIGHT!!! I slathered everyone in sunscreen, put on hats and sunglasses and prayed that my eighteen month old son would keep his on. He did alright.
Despite living in New Mexico since I was ten, I had never been to White Sands. It really was breathtaking. It felt like being on an alien planet. We brought our sled with us, in hopes we’d be able to sled down the dunes, but we didn’t have much luck. My daughter soon gave up and, after seeing a woman do it, decided to just roll down the dunes.
When we were leaving, she found a lizard, darting in between the small bits of vegetation. It was pure white, blending in perfectly with the sand. It was crazy to think of the different types of wildlife that have adapted to live among the dunes.
The Hotel and a Sleepless Night
Two reasons we stayed in Artesia; 1. it was in between our two destinations and would mean a shorter drive to Carlsbad and 2. it saved us a nice chunk of change not staying right next to White Sands or Carlsbad. I’m really glad we stayed there. We stayed at The Budget Inn, a few blocks from the small and charming Main Street. It wasn’t glamorous, especially on the outside, but it was clean, the beds were comfortable and it had complimentary muffins and coffee in the morning.
Sometimes, when you’re a parent, you forget things. Like, how old you are, or, where you left your oldest child. Your brain just kind of stops working. On this trip, both my husband and I forgot how terrible our children are to sleep with. While we were packing, I asked my husband if we should bring the Pack and Play for our son to sleep in. My husband said no, he was planning on one of us sharing a bed with our son, and the other one of us would share the other bed with our daughter. I nodded, yes, that would work just fine. It did not work just fine.
I woke up around two in the morning because my daughter had wacked me in the face with her arm. I woke up to find her face down, on top of the covers, her arms and legs spread out, smack dab in the middle of the small double bed we were sharing. I hear my husband whispering, “Go to sleep. It’s time to go to sleep!” I whispered back, “Are you ok?”
My husband was not ok. Our son had woken up around one in the morning, in a new place, sharing a bed with his dad, and decided that what he really wanted to do was poke his dad continuously in the face. No one got much sleep that night. Despite the comfy beds. Moral of the story; always bring the Pack and Play.