I could see White Sands while approaching Alamogordo, a stretch beneath the mountains that gleamed like the ocean. When I arrived IN Alamogordo and saw the space museum, I wondered if somehow I’d missed the turnoff to the park itself. Instructions from a local assured me that I was on the right road, and once outside of town signs appeared. Soon, white hills overgrown with vegetation appeared, and behind them the entrance to the park. The park’s sheer scale makes a driving tour most practicable, though I pulled over as soon as the pavement gave way to compressed sand. I can sing many praises of my rental, that Kia Rio, but driving on sand is not among its strengths. I felt like I had fallen into the gears of a machine. A large parking area two miles into the drive provides a marginally elevated boardwalk into the middle of the dunes, with informational signs along the way expalining the science of the Sands’ formation, and the life that persisted there.
Beyond the boardwalk, the paved road disappeared,but a compressed path extended far out into the expanse. I decided to hike along the road, occasionally leaving it to wander midst the dunes themselves. Even under a partially cloudy sky, the dunes were blindingly white; I wore sunglasses and could not see otherwise.
The sight itself was not as surreal as it might have been, because my computer’s background for months has been a sunset over White Sands. But still, to see it in person! The gypsum expanse seemed endless, and if a visitor dared losing sight of the road, it was possible to be completely surrounded by a field of white.
When I returned home, I discovered many photos taken of the sky; my camera’s viewfinder was so saturated with light I had no idea what I was aiming at. I walked in for about three miles, until I realized all the cars passing me were also turning around. I assume it was a closed loop, so I turned around. The walk was shortened by two kindly Angelenos, who were on vacation and decided that I was going to die if I walked back under the noonday sun. They gave me a ride in their Jeep Wrangler, and even it responded to the sand poorly. (I felt slightly vindicated on my Rio’s behalf.) The man driving had done it before, though, and he knew to hug the edges of the road, near the gypsum banks; there, travel was smoother.
Although I had originally planned to spend a week in Las Cruces, using it as my base, as I left White Sands for it I wasn’t terribly excited. For the past two days I had enjoyed small towns and beautiful countryside; Las Cruces would be my first major city, requiring actual navigation. So far, my only major route change had involved a left turn in Roswell, departing 285 for 380/70. In Las Cruces, my road unexpectedly split, and when I found the stretch I actually wanted to be on, it changed names going through an intersection. When I arrived at my motel, it seemed to be in a distressed area of town, and finding any place to eat involved getting turned around again. (I wound up in Mesilla, which made visiting it the next morning much easier.) Tired of driving, and hungry — my breakfast was a dusting of oatmeal, and lunch a gas station burrito from Alamagordo — I pulled into a truck stop and ate at….Taco Bell. And then it rained! I retired to bed early and hoped the city would look more promising in the morning. I’m happy to report that it did.