Sand in every possible body crevice you could want?
Yes, you can do that. As we checked into the KOA in Alamogordo the very friendly chatty lady at the counter offered free sleds to go riding the dunes at White Sands National Park. I replied saying I had had sand in every crack and crevice of my body previously and was not looking forward to that at any point of my life right now. The guy behind me nearly lost his coffee he was chortling so hard…
We have driven past this National Park on more than one occasion, just never got the chance to stop in, last time they kicked us out of the Oliver Lee Memorial State Park just South of here in the Spring of 2020 as Covid started, all their parks were closing. Not this time!
During the Permian Period, shallow seas covered the area that today forms White Sands National Park. The seas left behind gypsum (calcium sulfate), and subsequent tectonic activity lifted areas of the gypsum-rich seabed to form part of the San Andres and Sacramento Mountains. Before the Pleistocene epoch ended about 12,000 years ago, the land within the Tularosa Basin featured large lakes, streams, and grasslands.
The mineral that forms the dunes of White Sands National Park is about 98 percent pure gypsum sand. Gypsum sand is considered rare because gypsum is water soluble—it dissolves in water like sugar in iced tea. It is even rarer to find gypsum sand in the form of dunes, which are mounds of sand piled up by wind.
The park’s primary feature is the field of white sand dunes composed of gypsum crystals. The gypsum dunefield is the largest of its kind on Earth. The San Andres Mountains rise beyond the park’s western boundary to the left. The depth of gypsum sand across the entire field is about 30 feet (9.1 m) below the interdunal surface, while the tallest dunes are about 60 feet (18 m) high. By carbon dating seeds embedded in the footprints, the U.S. Geological Survey showed that humans have been living in this region for 23,000 years, whereas previous estimates of human arrival into North American were between 13,000 and 16,000 years ago.
The missile range and air force base were established after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, with continuing operations after World War II and throughout the Cold War.Errant missiles often fell within the park’s boundaries, occasionally destroying some of the visitor areas…0_0….overflights from Holloman disturbed the tranquility of the area. Flight training missions continue over the dunefield, and the park closes temporarily for several hours during missile tests in the adjacent range and cooperative use area on the west side of the park.
The Dunes Drive leads 8 miles (13 km) into the dunes from the visitor center at the park entrance. Here we are following some Canadians who are “out to pasture”…cute;)
Both the park and U.S. Route 70 between Las Cruces and Alamogordo are subject to closure for safety reasons when tests are conducted at White Sands Missile Range which completely surrounds the park. Dunes Drive may be closed for periods of up to three hours during missile tests. Park staff is usually notified two weeks in advance of scheduled tests; however, notifications from White Sands Missile Range may be received as little as 24 hours in advance of a test…
The park’s flora must be tough to live in the nutrient-poor alkaline soil of the dunefield. Drought-tolerant plants are able to survive in temperatures that range from sub-freezing to over 100 °F (38 °C), depending on the season. We saw no birds or bugs but lots of familiar and interesting plants. I can imagine most everything else comes out after dark as I saw lizard or small rodent trails around several shrubs. I read that over the centuries, a number of species of mice, lizards, moths, and other insects that inhabit the dunes have gradually changed color, becoming substantially lighter than their cousins elsewhere. Many of these white species are endemic to White Sands. It helps not to stand out!
The park is completely surrounded by the military installations of White Sands Missile Range and Holloman Air Force Base, and has always had an uneasy relationship with the military. They wanted to make it a UNESCO World Heritage sight but the military pulled their weight, they didn’t want anyone telling them what they could and couldn’t do here.
If you are passing by, this is well worth the $25 per car charge to get in. There are several trails and even a boardwalk to wander upon. There are the to be expected folks leaping up in the air selfie shots and look at me in the desert. We passed a bikini shoot, Mike thought that looked more interesting, as well as a woman in a wind blown flowing red sari being photographed. I imagine it can make a wonderful photographers backdrop.
We stayed in Alamogordo, we wouldn’t again though. The KOA was friendly, clean, typical KOA but the train whistles and sirens going off all night long were not pleasant, no gunfire though;) Ha! We put our small turkey in the oven on Friday, yes, I’d missed a few ingredients, OK, cranberries and you can’t have turkey without fresh cranberries! and just rested, OK, I vacuumed as well, our clothing was beginning to look like everything we owned was a pelt from some kind of wild cat! Rocket was most distressed to see the vacuum monster actually came with us! Mike took him for a walk while I did the dirty deed! Ha! and no, there was not a single grocery store open in Alamogordo on Thanksgiving day, none, zip, nada. Otherwise we would have cooked it then!
After three days we were ready to head West to some quiet, if we pass this way again we’ll take our chances at Oliver Lee Memorial State park just south of here, but as they only have first come, first serve campsites I figured they would be full over the Thanksgiving weekend.
Off we went towards the missile range and then South to our last stop in New Mexico, Rockhound State park. About a third of the way up the hill past the missile range the engine was chattering away like a six year old having consumed three cans of coke-a-cola and the check engine light came on, Mike groaned, I got out the Dodge Book. Bad fuel at the Circle K gas station we stopped at on the main drag was to blame, maybe that is why it was $4.19 a gallon, lowest we’d seen…sigh…Mike had the pedal to the floor the entire way up the pass, and several small ones after. But we did get up the hills…slowly!
We left behind the lawyer billboards and a few other strange ones as we headed out of Alamogordo. The lawyer, Keller, pointing, must have like himself, a lot, there were a half dozen billboards of him in various pointing positions, I guess I get his point now;) Ha! A Cowboys for Trump horse trailer was a bit perplexing, what exactly has Trump done for cowboys? I had to google it: “Cowboys for Trump” founder Couy Griffin has been booted from his position as Otero County Commissioner by a New Mexico judge over his participation in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Check out the article here, Cowboys for Trump if you really want to know more…hahahaha!
The truck made it up the hills, barely, chugging along with a lot of clackety clack at 40 mph until we reached the summit and headed down into Las Cruces it evened out a bit, just need to use up this tank of diesel and cut it with a fresh one in Deming! At Las Cruces we got on the Interstate 10 and headed West towards Deming and Rockhound State Park. We did resist the urge to go visit “The Thing” at least the billboards are interesting, the little girl with the ice cream cone looks demented!
According to Wikipedia:
The Thing (aka The Thing Museum) is an Arizona roadside attraction extensively advertised by signs along Interstate 10 between El Paso, Texas, and Tucson, Arizona. The object, supposedly a mummified mother and child, is believed to have been made by exhibit creator Homer Tate for sideshows.
The Thing was purchased by former lawyer Thomas Binkley Prince in the mid-twentieth century, who quickly based a tourist attraction around the strange object. Although Prince died in 1969, the attraction was run by his wife Janet for many years. Today, the site is under the ownership of Bowlin Travel Centers, Inc. Despite its remoteness, the attraction has been popular; it has appeared in several tourist guides, and has been the subject of several news stories and reports. The step-great-great-grandson of Homer Tate and the curator of the Arizona Historical Society-Pioneer Museum in Flagstaff has said that this was created by Homer Tate. Tate was famous for producing sideshow gaffes. Based out of Phoenix, Tate produced a variety of curiosities like faux shrunken heads. You must go see for yourself;)
We’ll leave it there for today! Stay tuned for Rockhound Park, peace, quiet, no lights, no sirens, no train horns, did I miss anything, oh, and cactus wrens, oh I do love those cactus wrens!:)