February 20, 2011

2/16/11 – White Sands NM

We crossed the Continental Divide on I-10 in New Mexico yesterday with nary a mountain in sight.

White Sands NM is adjacent to the White Sands Missile Range—and the Army was practicing the morning we planned to visit.  The park was closed until 7:30 am, which certainly wasn’t a problem for us since George rarely gets up that early anyway.  I did read someplace that occasionally pieces of missiles fall into the dunes, but you shouldn’t touch them…
The Visitor’s Center is adobe and pretty neat.  I didn’t realize fully until I went to the restroom there how totally insulating and cooling (read “COLD!”) adobe can be.  It was in the 80s outside, and felt like 45 in the restroom.  The museum at the Visitor’s Center is being remodeled, so it was closed.  We watched the park slide show on a little TV monitor in the corner. 
The gift shop was a nice one, and we picked up a couple of sandstone coasters with Hopi fetishes on them.  George gets the bear claw one; mine is the bear.   
There was no one at the entrance station, so we had to go back to the Visitor’s Center for maps.  George started chatting with a ranger and a volunteer out in the parking lot—surprise, surprise…
White Sands is another park we visited on one of the summer trips back and forth between Las Vegas and Oklahoma with my cousin Charlotte, Aunt Dot and my brother & sister.  What I remembered were HUGE white dunes that people would climb and write out the name of the state they were from.  As we drove through the dunes, we’d try to find the names of all the states.  (Ohio would have been easier to do than Washington.)  People don’t do that anymore, and I missed it.  I don’t think the dunes seemed as high either, but it’s been a long, long time and I might be taller.
We hiked the Dune Life Nature Trail out into the dunes.  It was windy and I had to hang onto my hat.  Sometimes I had no idea what I was taking pictures of because of the glare of the sun on the white dunes.  It was fascinating to see the yucca and cottonwood trees that were covered by dunes and just kept on growing, waiting for the dunes to move on.
We had lunch at one of the picnic tables at “Heart of the Sands”, designed by the same architect who did the Visitor’s Center.  They’re built on big slabs of concrete with a sunshade that looks more modern than 1930-something, and can be moved when the dunes shift. 
The ranger had told us to try to leave before the expected 35-50 mph winds picked up mid-afternoon.  Look in the mirror and you can see the sandstorm beginning. 
Here are more pictures.

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