Thursday, September 8, 2011

Day 44: White Sands, Not White Plains

September 8, 2011 - Bruce and I left the campground at Carlsbad, New Mexico today and headed out towards our final destination; Tucson. The day started off as hot, and only got hotter as we traveled the desert. However, it was a beautiful drive even if a little bit disconcerting in the beginning.

The Desert is Empty

It literally is. We ended up taking a little used road to get to our next destination, good old Highway 82. The first part of this road is in the middle of nowhere.No cell phone towers, no people, no cows; just plenty of fence and cacti…everywhere. If we broke down here, we could expect to stay for quite a while.  Luckily, we did just fine.

Yep, empty.

We ended up pulling off to the side for a bathroom break, and I took the opportunity to take some pictures of an armadillo. Sadly, the armadillo wasn't real, but a stuffed animal that I picked up from the campground we had just left. However, since this was the only armadillo that I expected to see I wasn’t going to let the opportunity pass me by. So I took pictures of the armadillo on the road, the armadillo on the side of the road, and the armadillo in the middle of the road.

The only armadillo in my entire trip.

He's a brave armadillo, luckily there was no traffic.

Bruce then wanted to take pictures of Batman, the gnome, and the armadillo, and guess what…we took pictures of that too. Seriously, there was nothing else to take pictures of.

Humberto wanted in the photographs too and I couldn't find a reason to say no.

Batman showing off as usual.

Group photo.

Somehow, the armadillo got stuck on the other side of the fence, so Batman and Humberto went to rescue him.

Batman forgot his grappling bat-erang, so he had to climb the fence.

Batman saves the day!

Lincoln National Forest and Cloudcroft 

After driving for a while through the desert we noticed that the scenery was subtly changing. Eventually the scrub turned into a few more trees and eventually turned into the Lincoln National Forest. What a sight! It felt like we were back in Alaska again, well, at least in the Southeast. The tree's were impressive in their height and a definite reprieve from cactus and mesquite trees.

Notice the subtle change in scenery?

A forest in the desert?  Inconceivable!

The terrain steadily changed from flat to mountainous as we continued driving through the forest. Eventually we passed through the town of Cloudcroft; a small town situated at the extremely high elevation of 8,600 feet! Because of its high elevation, Cloudcroft enjoys a mild summer in "The Land of Enchantment" and Bruce and I enjoyed watching the temperature steadily go down from around 100 degrees to about 68 degrees. We actually felt a little chilled.

Are those real trees?  Do my eyes deceive me?

The Lincoln Forest is beautiful.

After driving through the town, we started our downward descent out of the Lincoln National Forest. While driving up to the top was leisurely and had a moderate grade, the trip down the mountain was harrowing. At least twice We had to pull over and allow the brakes to cool off; remember, we are carrying a camper and towing a trailer (Bruce and I joke around that we are a small semi). Eventually we passed out of the forest and made our way to the city of Alamogordo.

We didn’t stay in Alamogordo for very long simply because we were just passing through. Our main destination was ahead, but we had one place that we really wanted to see; luckily it was on the side of the highway; The White Sands.

White Sands

What a sight. This National Monument looks like mounds of snow. The "sand" is in fact gypsum that is carried down from the surrounding mountains which are rich in deposits. The gypsum-laden water flows towards two ephemeral lakes. When the water evaporates from these lakes, the minerals are left behind which are then blown by the wind to form the dunes and, eventually, the White Sands National Monument. At 275 square miles, there is a lot of gypsum, making it the largest gypsum dune field in the world.

After browsing through the gift shop and museum, Bruce and I decided to drive out to the National Monument. We drove out on a road that took us to breathtaking vistas. The dunes can move about 30 feet per year, and snowplows are used to keep the roads accessible (Bruce and I got a chuckle out of that one too).

It looks like snow.

The gypsum dunes roll over anything in their slow advance.

Nope, not snow.

More dunes.

We were able to drive pretty far in. Along the way there are different areas where you can walk deeper into the dunes to view the flora and fauna that live there. There are some interesting characteristics of some species, mostly animals that have adapted to the terrain. For example, desert mice will often develop a lighter coloration in order to blend in with their surroundings.

All the way in now; the "center" of the dune fields.

Along the way, we could see that people had written messages on the sides of the dunes by creating letters and images by shuffling their feet. Bruce thought this would be a great idea and made a personalized message on one of the dunes. After taking pictures, I decided that I would like to walk on the dunes myself. There is something fun about walking on the dunes with your bare feet, and it was definitely an experience that I will remember.

We left the White Sands National Monument as the sun was starting to sink into the horizon.  On the way out, I took more pictures of this amazing natural wonder.

I looked and looked but I couldn't find an ocean.

The closer out of the dunes you go, the more local flora is visible.

Almost There…

We ended up staying at the Wal-Mart in Deming, New Mexico for the night. Our next stretch of the trip would take us into Arizona and Bruce's final destination. The trip is starting to wind down, and I feel a little sad and excited at the same time. What adventures would we face in Arizona?


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