Cordova PE coach takes road trip through American heartland

By JENNIFER COHRON
Posted 8/23/18

Editor's note: This is part of a series looking at the summer adventures of Walker County teachers. CORDOVA — Diana Bickelhaupt walked in the footsteps of dinosaurs, went sledding in the …

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Cordova PE coach takes road trip through American heartland

Posted

Editor's note: This is part of a series looking at the summer adventures of Walker County teachers. 

CORDOVA — Diana Bickelhaupt walked in the footsteps of dinosaurs, went sledding in the desert and cruised historic Route 66 this summer.

Bickelhaupt, a physical education teacher at Cordova Elementary School, visited four states and traveled approximately 5,000 miles with her husband and two grandchildren in June.

"There is so much out there to see. It's a great road trip through America," Bickelhaupt said of the allure of the West. 

They began the trip in Carlsbad, New Mexico, where they arrived just in time to witness the bat flight program offered at Carlsbad Caverns.

Between 200,000 and 500,000 live in the cave during the summer, according to the National Park Service's website.

The bat flight program begins at sunset, when the bats leave to find food. Bickelhaupt and her family took their seats in an outdoor auditorium and waited for the bats to emerge from the cave entrance.

The park prohibits visitors from using cell phones or other electronic devices because they temporarily blind the bats when flashes go off and holding them aloft blocks the view for other visitors.

"All of a sudden, it's like a tornado or a black shadow. There are so many swirling around and they fly away right over your head. Then another group comes. They say it takes about two hours to see every bat that comes out of there," Bickelhaupt said. 

After Carlsbad, the group moved on to White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. 

The world's largest gypsum dunefield covers 275 square miles of desert. The white sand looks and behaves just like snow, which makes sledding a popular activity for visitors.

Bickelhaupt and her family rented plastic sleds, called snow-saucers, and placed wax on them to achieve maximum speed on their trips down the dunes.

Following an overnight stay in Tombstone, Arizona, they took time to admire the nation's largest cacti in Saguaro National Park, located in Tucson, Arizona. Saguaro cacti can grow to be over 40 feet tall. 

The family also visited the nearby Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, home of the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group and the largest airplane boneyard in the world. 

Of course, the family couldn't leave Arizona without seeing the Grand Canyon. 

A highlight of the trip for Bickelhaput was seeing the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. 

According to the National Park Service's website, the cliff dwellings were occupied by the Ancestral Pueblo people. The park contains 600 cliff dwellings and over 40 miles of roads.

"When you look around the canyon, there are cliff dwellings all around, and all of these different tribes got along. The guides said that whatever resources each one didn't have, they would travel around and trade with each other," Bickelhaput said. 

In Tuba City, Arizona, Bickelhaput and her family stopped to see the Moenkopi Dinosaur Tracks. The land, which is owned by the Navajo Nation, contains hundreds of tracks that have been authenticated by paleontologists. 

More natural wonders awaited the group in New Mexico's Land of Fire and Ice. The property, which has been owned by the same family for decades, features an ice cave where the temperature never rises above 31 degrees and the Bandera Volcano, which was active 10,000 years ago.

The trip also allowed Bickelhaput to fulfill a lifelong dream with an overnight stay on Route 66.

"It was in Tucumcari, New Mexico. That's the last city on Route 66 that has the most original hotels still left. It was so cool to see all of these iconic places that people don't get to see anymore," Bickelhaput said.