July 2023 Drive to the Land of Fire and Ice

Photo of group at the Ice Cave
By Curtis Holloway

For the BMW Car Club of America New Mexico Chapter Cardinal Point Drive West this summer, the chapter headed to Grants and nearby attractions on July 15, 2023.  We met at the Maverik on the West side of Albuquerque and as we gathered around waiting for our departure time, some of us noticed a rapidly expanding stream of liquid running underneath one of our cars, heading downslope.  Ah, after a slight panic, we discovered that it was fortunately water from a hydrant nearby.  We then proceeded to head out West on I-25 for approximately 35 miles until we were able to jump onto old Route 66 at Mesita. We drove 20 miles thru Laguna, then Paraje, then San Fidel (all small towns, but still had their US post office as the main attraction) before we jumped back onto I-25 for 15 more miles right after we passed the ruins of Whiting Brothers Gas Station.  We then headed south on NM 53 for 25 miles to the Ice Cave and Bandera Volcano right on the Continental Divide in the region known as El Malpais (“the bad lands”). 

The group was in for a treat as we hiked the 1.75 mile loop through juniper, fir, and ponderosa pine trees – and a lot of lava.  Phil shared that the ponderosa tree bark smells like vanilla – who knew?  Anyway, we hiked up the trail to the Bandera Volcano cinder cone, and on the way discovered a marker where we could see 15 of the 29 volcanoes in the area.  The cinder cone or crater was 800 feet down from our lookout point at 8,000 ft of elevation.  The elevation certainly helped to keep the heat down for the day as we only had around 82 degrees compared to the triple digit heat in Albuquerque.
After viewing the cinder cone from the Bandara volcano, which is the largest in the region, we headed down the path to the lava tube cave.  Inside the cave, the natural 20-foot layers of blue-green ice emanates its cool 31-degree temperature as we approach.  The platform which is just inside the cave was large enough for our group and we enjoyed the cool air for a picture and a little break before we ascended the 80 stairs back up to the trial.
After we completed the trail, we were ready for lunch and then proceeded back to Grants to the Junkyard on 66 Brewery.  Not your typical brewery as this establishment has tailgates and hoods for tables.  Many of us were trying to figure out the origin of our table or hood – what car did it belong to? One thing that was pointed out – of all the ornamental junk we saw displayed around the room and on the walls, there was no BMW parts. But they did have Mercedes and VW. I guess BMW’s don’t belong in the junkyard and we were glad we were only visiting.  With another event at the brewery that day, lunch was delayed but the Junkyard sandwich had their home cooked pulled pork and brisket – a nice treat. It didn’t hurt to have a brew to wash it down.
After lunch we were back on the road to check out the New Mexico Mining Museum. The museum is a simulated uranium mine built by miners.  It is a tribute to the historical uranium boom that led to Grants being referred to as the “Uranium Capital of the World”.  As we made our way through town, there was a festival just to the West of the museum, so we walked 3-4 blocks through the plaza to the museum only to find a single one page note on their door declaring the museum closed for the day.

Disappointed with the news, the group decided to head back to Albuquerque but at least we made it a spirited drive.

Photos by Curtis Holloway, Jim Levandoski and Phil Undercuffler