Wednesday, October 31, 2007

White Sands

After a restful night at Valley of Fire, where we were the only tent in an almost full campground of RVs, we took luxurious, untimed showers, but then a crisis hit! Brian opened up his bag of clean underwear and socks and found … only socks. With nothing else to do, we packed up and continued on toward White Sands National Monument. After stopping at the first possible opportunity at the Alamogordo Kmart to procure underwear, we arrived at White Sands around noon.

White Sands National Monument is located adjacent to an enormous swath of New Mexico that is reserved for a missile testing range. The area, which is as big as Rhode Island and Delaware combined, includes the Trinity site, where the first atomic bomb was testing in July of 1945. The monument closes periodically during missile tests so that visitors aren’t in danger if a test goes awry. The dunes at White Sands are gypsum, the mineral that is used to make plaster of Paris, which makes them white. They were smaller than the dunes we’d seen previously at Great Sand Dunes National Park but stunningly beautiful.

At the visitor center, we talked to a ranger and decided to go backcountry camping for the night. There is only one backcountry camping area, with sites that are a half mile to a little over a mile from the parking area. Hiking over the dunes is more work than hiking on a normal trail, but .7 mile to our campsite would make for a short trip. We filled up on water at the visitor center since there is no water available in the park, and headed into the park on the scenic drive. As it was still early in the day, we stopped and cooked a leisurely lunch at the picnic area and watched families with kids sledding down the dunes.

We packed up our backpacks, which were incredibly heavy due to the gallon of water we were each carrying, plus a bottle of wine, tripod, and even the latest Harry Potter book. Good thing it was a short hike! Following the posts in the sand, we made it to our site and set up camp in a bowl of the dunes.

The rest of the day was spent relaxing, reading, and taking photos.

We set up at the top of a dune to make our dinner and sip wine, while we enjoyed sunset. Sunset over the dunes was beautiful, as was the rising almost-full moon.

With the large moon, the moonlight reflecting on the dunes seemed to make everything glow.

Sunrise also afforded a great time to take more photos.

After sunrise, we packed up and headed out so we’d have time to make it to Carlsbad Caverns for the afternoon tour.

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