Monday, October 5, 2015


September 17, 2015

I got up and made myself coffee in my little kitchen and ate the last of my bagels and cream cheese.  I spent a little bit of time dealing with personal business and then hit the road about 10:00, after another fruitless search for block ice.  From Santa Fe, I headed south on Highway 285.  New Mexico’s slogan may be, “Land of Enchantment,” but I call it the Land of Post Offices.  There is a post office trailer in every little hamlet in New Mexico.  It is very rural and they must not have home delivery.  Living in California where they are closing post offices right and left, it was strange to see so many of

My campsite at Oliver Lee State Park
                                                                      them.  There was not a whole lot to see between Santa Fe and Alamo-gordo.  The scenery changed gradually, but was all open spaces.  I was driving through Billy the Kid Country.  I stopped for lunch in Tularosa, forgetting that here, red sauce is the very spicy one.  I ordered a smothered burrito and got meat and potatoes wrapped in a tortilla and smothered with fiery red sauce and lots of cheese.  There were no vegetables in sight.
Dust Devils on the Way to White Sands

From Tularosa, it was not far to Alamogordo (which means fat cottonwood) and the Oliver Lee State Park was twelve miles past Alamogordo.  I arrived about 2:30.  The campground is set on a hill overlooking the surrounding desert.  It is primitive, but I had no trouble finding a site and couldn’t complain about the $10 fee.  I pitched my tent, blew up my air mattress, and set off to explore White Sands National Monument.  

Dunes at White Sands
Interdune Boardwalk
White Sands was about twenty miles away.  From Alamogordo, I turned west on Highway 70 and drove towards Las Cruces, passing through the missile test site.  Fortunately, there was no testing going on and I was not delayed.  I arrived at the visitor center about 4:00.  After watching a short film about the park, I drove out to the interdune boardwalk and followed it out into the sand, stopping to read all the plaques about the local plants and animals.  The sand at White Sands is made of gypsum.  The gypsum was deposited when the area was covered by a tropical sea millions of years ago.  Later, when the surrounding mountains were uplifted, the gypsum washed down into the basin which has no outlet.  The water evaporated and formed gypsum crystals, which were broken down into sand by the action of wind and winter ice.  There is still quite a bit of water in the area, which keeps the sand moist enough to prevent it blowing out of the basin.  It is very white and they plow the roads with snowplows.  The resulting berms contribute to the illusion of being in a snowy wilderness.
The Sand Looked Just Like Snow

I drove around the loop road and then took a short hike up the Alkalai Flat trail.  Walking up and down the soft dunes was very strenuous and slow, so I didn’t have time to go far.  I did take a lot of photos, which got more interesting as the sun sank lower.  At 6:00, I joined the ranger led sunset stroll.  She walked us a short distance through the dunes, showing us animal tracks and telling us about the local ecology.  Finally, we gathered on top of a dune to watch the sun set behind the mountains.  The clouds turned fantastic colors all around us.  As it got darker, we could see lightning striking under some of the thunderheads.
Ripples in the Dunes
Late Afternoon Shadows

Alkalai Flat Trail

Sunset at White Sands
Dramatic Clouds at Sunset

White Sands by Moonlight
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                It was quite dark by the time I got back to Alamogordo.  I didn’t feel like cooking in the dark, so grabbed some fast food and drove back to my campsite where I enjoyed my dinner at the picnic table with a persistent kangaroo rat for company.  At one point, he tried to run up my leg.  He really wanted a bit of my taco.  Oddly, I had a good cell signal for the first time in days, so I spent the remainder of the evening writing and texting with Scott.

September 18, 2015

Hot Air Balloon Over Alamogordo
Texas Canyon
                                                                                                                                                              I got up and out of the campground by 8:00, but wasted half an hour driving around Alamogordo looking for the McDonald’s to get my morning coffee.  The upside of the detour was that I got to see a number of hot air balloons returning from their flight.  After I got my coffee and tried, unsuccessfully, to buy block ice, I jumped on Highway 70 and headed for Las Cruces where it joined the 10 Freeway.  The road passed through some spectacular scenery with fabulous cloud formations and then climbed up through Texas Canyon before dropping down into Arizona.

Saguaro National Monument
I stopped for lunch in Deming, AZ, and then pushed on to Tucson.  I reached Tucson about 3:00, so decided I had time to visit the Saguaro National Monument.  I got off the freeway at Houghton Road and followed the park sign to the right.  Then I drove to the end of the road and never saw the park.  It turned out that the park is to the right, off Old Spanish Trail, but there is no sign when you are coming from the freeway.

I eventually found the park and, after a quick stop at the visitor center, I took the eight mile loop drive through the saguaro forest, making frequent stops to take photographs.  The park was founded in 1933 to protect the saguaro forest, but in the 1960s there were a couple of hard freezes and many of them died off.  Saguaro lovers became concerned because no new cacti were growing to take the place of the ones that had died.  A saguaro grows very slowly and takes 150 years to mature and 70 or 80 years before it starts to branch.  Finally, the park service bought out the grazing rights to the park and eliminated cattle from the property.  With no cattle to trample the seedlings, the saguaros began to make a comeback.  While there aren’t as many as there were in the 1930s, there are a lot of young ones that will eventually be impressive.

Forest of Saguaros
I left the park at what I thought was 6:00, but turned out to only be 5:00 because Arizona doesn’t observe daylight savings time, a fact which I seemed to be incapable of grasping.  I used my GPS to find the Red Roof Inn where I had a reservation and it directed me to take surface streets for about ten miles before I reached the freeway.  Along the way, I passed an immense graveyard of old military aircraft.  I couldn’t really stop to take a picture, but I snapped one out the window as I passed.
Military Airplane Graveyard