The trip is from Natchez Trace, Tennessee, to Dodge City, Kansas, by way of Tucson, Arizona.
White Sands National Monument, New Mexico
Early the next morning our 2-vehicle caravan drove north from Carlsbad on Hwy 285. This was arid desert until we reached Brantley Lake State Park, where the Pecos River is dammed. Besides the disorienting sight of people boating and water skiing in the middle of the desert, farmland supported by this water flourished. We saw a lot of pecan groves. This greenbelt extended north all the way to Artesia. Here is a statue on a street corner in Artesia. You see these all over the southwest. They are very proud of their heritage.
My wife and I debated going a little farther north on Hwy 285 to Roswell, but didn’t. It might have been fun to see the aliens, but you can only choose to do so much with your time. So we turned west at Artesia on Hwy 82. The first half of this drive was flat arid grazing land. But in the distance we could see mountains looming. Soon the drive became funner. As I’ve stated before, I love a good drive. And going up from the flat desert floor into the mountains is a treat. We were winding back and forth while steadily gaining elevation as the mountains grew higher and higher. This picture, which you can tell was taken through the front windshield (by my wife, I had both hands firmly on the wheel), shows we were starting to see snow.
We even passed a ski resort, Cloudcroft. But the best part of the drive had been saved for last. What goes up must come down, and boy did we, quickly. As the highway descends back down to the desert floor it does so very rapidly. We came down fast, whipping through kickback after kickback, with an extremely distracting view before us for miles and miles to the horizon. It was an exhilarating drive. Once we reached the desert floor we were in Alamogordo. We turned south on Hwy 52, then southwest on Hwy 74, which took us past Holloman Air Force Base to White Sands National Monument. Our first stop was the visitor center parking lot to eat lunch in the motor home.
After lunch we explored the visitor center the fun began. Dunes Drive takes you quite a ways into the dune field. Here is a Wikipedia entry for anyone whose only knowledge of White Sands is that it shares the same name as the nearby site of the first atomic bomb tests:
White Sands National Monument is a U.S. National Monument located in the state of New Mexico on the north side of Route 70 about 16 miles (26 km) southwest of Alamogordo in western Otero County and northeastern Doña Ana County. The monument is situated at an elevation of 4,235 feet (1,291 m) in the mountain-ringed Tularosa Basin and comprises the southern part of a 275 sq mi (710 km2) field of white sand dunes composed of gypsum crystals. The gypsum dune field is the largest of its kind on Earth. Unlike dunes made of quartz-based sand crystals, the gypsum does not readily convert the sun’s energy into heat and thus can be walked upon safely with bare feet, even in the hottest summer months.
There are numerous places to pull over, with boardwalks that take you out into the dunes. I’ll start with one of my wife and her sister.
The road is paved, but covered with sand. As you can tell with this picture, the park regularly plows the sand just like northerners plow snow off their streets. So it is passable for any vehicle.
There are several parking lots where you can get out of your vehicle and roam through the dunes.
See the children with snow sleds? They are sledding down the sand.
I like this picnic table. The park has made an effort to keep blowing sand out of your food.
It was even better getting away from the parking lot and roaming through the dunes. The walking was difficult but fun.
There were marked trails to follow if you want. I imagine it would be easy to get lost in the dunes if you got out of sight of the road or parking lots.
You are allowed to hike into the park and camp in the dunes, as long as you register. That would be fun. I’m sure White Sands is a different world at night. It is quite a sight to see.
We stayed until the park closed and they made us leave. Then my wife’s sister and her husband headed back to Denver, while my wife and I continued on our trip.
The next location is Oliver Lee Memorial State Park, New Mexico