Monday, July 14, 2008

White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

The area around Las Cruces boasts a number of natural attractions. On Monday night, we decided to drive out to see White Sands National Monument.

On our way to White Sands we entered White Sands Missile Range. This missile testing site surrounds the White Sands dunes and also contains the Trinity Site, where the first atomic bomb was exploded. Most of the small missiles (SAMs, weather test missiles, tank-destroyers, etc.) now in use were tested on this Missile Range. The Missile Range has its own museum, which we may get to sometime. They also run the twice-yearly "open house" tours to Trinity Site, but we probably won't be here for the next of these. Numerous signs warn that both highway 70 and the dunes can be closed for a missile test on any given day.

A bit of orientation: Las Cruces is not shown on this map, but it lies an hour's drive southwest of White Sands National Monument, along the Rio Grande and less than an hours drive north of El Paso, where the Rio Grande turns westward, forming the Texas-Mexico border.Heading into the missile range, desert scrub extends for as far as the eye can see.
Then, one begins to see surreal glimpses of white in the distance, which, as we get closer, transition to rolling white dunes with occasional light scrub. Here, we follow a trail across the dune scape.
Eventually most everything turned to sand (gypsum powder, to be correct) -- even the road.
Even on this Monday evening, we saw several families out sledding down sand dunes as though they were wintertime snow banks.
The gypsum sand was somewhat packed, making for easy walking across the surface. White Sands is the largest gypsum sand desert in the world, covering 275 square miles.
Despite the immensity and apparent sterility of these sprawling dunes, we did have to watch where we stepped -- an intrepid desert beetle attempted to crawl on Jolene's foot as she stood admiring the landscape & sky. Apparently, she scared him as much as he surprised her. He assumed "the position", preparing (as we learned from an educational signboard) to ward her off with a jet of his kerosene scented spray!
One of us...
two of us!
The New Mexico "skyscape" has proved to be an unexpected source of beauty and interest. (California doesn't have this many and varied clouds. Nor this clear & clean air.)
Case has taken an aviators interest in certain cloud forms, and pointed out the characteristic anvil at the top of this thunderhead.
In comparison to the broad expanse of the desert the clouds felt close enough we might be able to reach up and touch them. And the silence... As they say, "You could hear it!".
The light begins to fade,

in the vast open landscape,
and we head "home" to Las Cruces.

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