Tuesday morning (January 3rd) after spending a delightful two weeks over the holidays with extended family, I departed for points west once again. I zipped through Texas (well, it's not really possible to “zip” through unless you're traveling across the panhandle) in two full days of driving spending one night at Lake Mineral Wells State Park southwest of the Dallas metro area on U.S. 180.
It was a leisurely drive from Mineral Wells along U.S. 180 all the way to Hobbs, New Mexico where I spent the second night (January 4th) at the Harry McAdams Campground on the northwest side of Hobbs.
Thursday (January 5th) was an even more leisurely and interesting drive, going north from Hobbs to U.S. 82 through the high desert and over the Sacramento Mountains to Alamogordo. In spite of the dire warnings on numerous signs on the way to the mountains, the drive through was really quite nice. The grades weren't nearly as steep as some I've been on. It was a gradual uphill climb through a surprisingly forested area and the descent was not bad at all.
That night I stayed at Oliver Lee Memorial State Park, 15 miles south of Alamogordo, at the base of the mountains overlooking the city. The next morning (Friday, January 6th) I drove the short distance to White Sands National Monument arriving just as the visitor center opened at nine o'clock. After watching the very informative movie and viewing the exhibits, I drove on into the dune field.
The sand at White Sands is unlike any that I've ever seen before. The dunes are hard packed and easy to walk on but the texture of the loose sand in the top layer is unusual. Most sand is rather coarse but this sand was so fine and soft – it has a consistency somewhat like talcum powder, it is that fine. When you squeeze it in your hands it sticks together but then easily crumbles. Very cool stuff. And very, very White!
I walked the one-mile nature trail through the dunes and the boardwalk trail then drove on out to the end of the road. The last few miles of the road are unpaved – they bulldoze a road through the dunes with ample areas for pulling off to the side and large parking areas so you can explore the dunes on your own.
Stopping at the end of the road, I strolled through, around, and over the dunes for about 3 hours. It was amazing how easy it was to walk on the dunes. It was also very quiet, few other people were out and about. In fact, I saw no one else while on my walk until I was almost back at the van. Every so often a jet plane from the nearby Air Force Base would fly overhead. But the quietness seemed even quieter once it passed by. It was a cool 36 degrees when I entered the park but with the sunshine and no wind whatsoever it felt much warmer. Though it was short, I very much enjoyed my visit to White Sands.
Plants take root in the dunes and when the dunes move on, these structures are left behind. They are very hard-packed and feel almost as hard as stone, except when you move your hand across the face of the mound it easily crumbles into soft dust.
It's hard to show it, but the top layer of sand is extremely fine and soft textured.
There were a few remnants of the last big snow storm (those white chunks in the center).
This was the only person I saw during my three-hour walk on the dunes. The bright white area on the left side is part of what remains from the last snowfall.
The top of this dune, where I was standing was about 35 feet high.
I saw very few areas of ripples like these, which surprised me. There was virtually no wind blowing on the day of my visit so these had been there for awhile.
The Sacramento mountains off to the east. Snowfall in the area has been light thus far this year, only the highest peaks are snow covered. All photos were taken on Friday, January 6th.