Sunday, November 18, 2012

DAY 88- White Sands...

Everyone told me that I definitely needed to stop by and see White Sands while I was in New Mexico.  They would mention other places but always would reference back and say that I HAD to see White Sands for sure.  So I left my hotel in Deming and headed to Las Cruces with the intention of driving straight through Las Cruces to White Sands and then coming back to Las Cruces for the nights hotel stay.  Yeah, it was a bit of back tracking but there’s a bit of planning in my “madness”.  It just doesn’t always seem the most obvious (and sometimes it’s not always obvious to me either) but it seems to always work out.  So… here I am doing a bit of an out and back later in the day.

The first hour was a straight shot on I-10 heading east.  I was singing along with my iPod; as the radio was kind of in a dead zone for the most part except for a few Spanish stations.  Along this stretch, I-10 is about 15 to 20 miles north of the border to Mexico.  I’ve got my cruise control set and I imagine the people looked at me weirdly as they pass by and watch me singing along; crazy woman!

Just before Las Cruces, I take the exit for Hwy US-70 heading east.  I’m taking a chance driving to White Sands and not checking to see if they might have closed this road for a test at the White Sands Missile Range.  The National Park website for White Sands has a phone number you can call to see if the highway is going to be closed that day or not.  I was taking a risk of possibly sitting in my car on a closed section of highway for three to four hours. 
Photo- The sign letting you know you are entering White Sands Missile Range.

Luckily, the highway ended up not being closed.  I drove up and over Organ Mountain and then past the White Sands Missile Range.  It made me a little leery driving through this area.  But I continued on.  There were quite a few vehicles with government plates passing me like I was standing still and I was doing 5mph over the speed limit. 

About a mile before I got to the turn off for White Sands National Monument, the speed limit was reduced and there was a border patrol check.  I felt like I had done enough of these as of late that I should be on file, or something.  I pull up to the stop sign and the guy asked the normal are you a US Citizen.  Yes, I am; I said.  Then, he asked what the purpose of my visit was.  I told him today it was to visit White Sands National Monument.  Then, I told him that I was on a road trip and that this would be my 6th or 7th National Park that I’ve visited.  He asked by yourself?  Yes, I told him and then said Crazy, huh?  He laughed and wished me a good day.

A mile later down the road I took a left into the White Sands National Monument parking lot at the visitor’s center.  I went in and looked at some displays and watched a 17 minute movie about White Sands.  There was a 6.5 mile loop drive into White Sands.  The entrance fee per car is $3 or in my case free when you have an annual National Parks Pass.  The gal at the visitor’s desk said that I could take 3 more passengers along on my pass if I wanted to.  I told her she hadn’t seen my filled up car or she would not have even mentioned that.
Photo- The White Sands Visitor's Center.

I left the visitor’s center and headed along the road to the gate.  I showed my annual pass and the gal talked about the highlights of the 6.5 mile road with a turn around.  Two miles in there was a desert nature hike that was a 1.2 mile hike in sand but would give me an idea of what the dunes were all about.  Four miles in was a boardwalk that was an easy ¾ mile hike.  There were picnic areas about 5 miles in and the turnabout was 6 miles in.  She really suggested the nature walk if I was looking for the best of White Sands.
Photos- Some of the AMAZING scenery that I saw on the nature hike in White Sands.

I drove in the two miles and parked in the parking lot for the nature hike.  It sounded like the best bet and I was really looking forward to really getting a feel for White Sands.  When I drove in, I could only see the edges of the dunes.  I walked the dirt path over to the base of the dunes and up I went; and Wow!  Man camera was getting a workout as well as I was from walking around in the sand.  I could feel my shoes gaining sand weight as I walked along.  Every so many feet there was a new sign post that had a factoid about the animals and life in the dunes.  I was rather surprised that there was so much life within a sand dune.  It appeared that most of the life occurred at night and that most of the wild life had adapted to their environment in some way like; the lizards were white, and the fox which was the largest predator in the dunes was small and big eared compared to other foxes out in the wilderness.  It was amazing and very educational hike.
Photo- I couldn't resist not putting my mark here!  It might last a day or two at most.

Next, I got in the car and drove to the boardwalk.  I got out of the car and started to walk along but the boardwalk was basically the same signs as the hike I had just done and it wasn’t nearly as pretty as the area I had walked.  I turned around about halfway out.  I got back in the car and drove along the road further into the dune.  It was amazing with the dune all around except for the paved road.  There were areas where sand was venturing onto the road.  I wondered about what kind of maintenance they had to do on the road to keep it clear.  Did they use a street sweeper to keep it clear? 
Photo- The paved road through White Sands.

About another ½ mile down the road, the speed limit dropped down to 25 mph and there was a sign stating that it was the end of the pavement.  Now I was driving on the dune and it was very surreal in that the whole landscape looked white like snow but it was actually sand.  Cars and buses were driving along the area and if it hadn’t been for their presence I would’ve felt like I was in another world altogether. 

About 5 miles along there was a sign for a picnic area and there were restrooms there too.  I swung in their out of curiosity. The picnic table areas were very unique and looked other worldly too.  I drove around that area for a bit and then worked my way back over and around the loop at the end of the drive.  There were large cleared turnout areas here and there for people to get out and climb up a dune, or take pictures, or to sled the dunes.  Yes, I said sled. 
Photo- The boy showing me how it is to sled on a dune.

I drove up to a mother and her son who were sledding one of the dune areas.  I asked how the sledding was.  The mother encouraged her son to show me how the sledding was and mentioned to me that it was quite a bit slower than snow.  The boy climbed back up the hillside of the dune and at the top jumped into his sled.  He really had to push to get any kind of start with the sled and then had to push here and there as he went down the hill too.  But it did look fun.  The mother said that the sleds were on sale at the gift shop at the visitor’s center if I wanted to give it a try.  I thanked her and her son for showing me; wished them a good day and back in the car I went. 
Photo- It's sand but it looks like snow!

I drove slowly here and there along the road back to the visitor’s center.  I stopped to take more pictures as I went along.  Back at the visitor’s center I went into the gift shop and purchased a couple of postcards and a bumper sticker.  I decided not to purchase the $17 sled; just to give sledding a chance on a sand dune.  What would I do with a sled afterwards?  It wouldn’t fit in my car.  I decided I would head back to Las Cruces and my hotel for the night.  But I will say this it was a wonderfully amazing experience being at White Sands and I would highly recommend people visit this wonderful area.

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