After leaving Aguirre Springs we made our way towards White Sands National Monument.
We made sure to schedule our visit around the missile testing, since they commonly close down the area when missile testing is going on.
The White Sands National Monument is adjacent to the largest military base in the United States, this is also the same base where the very first Atomic Bomb was detonated (and me without my Geiger Counter).
As we got closer to White Sands and started to see signs for the park Maria was transformed into a little child when they first stumble upon the gifts left for them on Christmas morning. She had a huge grin on her face and when we first spotted the white sand in the distance she immediately started to hop up and down in her seat while screaming “Oh my god…this is happening…we’re almost there!!!” (I’m sure glad I was driving or we might have crashed).
We got there and went to the visitor’s center, quickly paid our entrance fee and made our way out to the trailhead. White Sands National Monument itself is not part of the range but mishaps can and do happen so we were warned that it is common to come across missile debris and unexploded ordinance and to make sure not to touch anything metallic we may find.
As we drove out we were just surrounded by white in every direction with only the distant mountains in the horizon and the beautifully blue skies adding a bit of color to the mix.
As soon as we parked, Maria flung off her shoes and ran out the door and started playing in the sand. I quickly started packing everything up to hike out to our campsite and as soon as Maria was done rolling around in the sand we made our way out to the camp.
The hike was gorgeous and funny at the same time. Hiking up the dunes we would at points have to crawl up and then climbing down the dunes we would basically surf or take big steps that just buried your feet in the sand. I was reminded of old videos of astronauts walking on the moon and that’s basically what I felt like.
When we made it to our site we quickly set up camp (our first time tenting on this trip) and then it was time to enjoy the desert. We kicked off our shoes and took turns sliding down the sand dunes.
It was always interesting trying to climb back up the dunes, I would try and race up them as fast as I could and there were points when I would be sprinting as fast as I could and would be going absolutely no where because the sand just kept collapsing beneath me and swallowing my feet.
As the sun went down and the cold rolled in we realized we needed a few more blankets for the cold and headed back to our van. This wasn’t our brightest move, the terrain is exactly the same in every direction and one can easily get lost if they don’t pay attention to the markers along the way and they can be hard to find at night. Not only that but we completely forgot to even bring water with us on the way.
We did make a wrong turn when we thought we saw the light from our flashlight bouncing off the reflective tape of a marker, but it was actually a distant light from a radio tower way in the distance. We ended up on the other side of the campgrounds and it just took us a little longer to get back to Houdini but we did make it, grabbed the extra blankets and made it back to our tent with no further detours. Dangerous, yes, but the night hiking was certainly fun (but then again isn’t anything that’s dangerous fun).
Nighttime was incredible out there. If it seemed like we were on the moon before, walking through the sands and dunes at night made me wonder when Houdini became a spaceship (I guess he got some pointers from the Independence Space Shuttle while we were in Houston?) We are used to being in big cities where there are only a few stars in the night but out here there were so many.
The moon wasn’t visible so there was only light from a very distant town to interfere with the brilliance of the stars, we could even vaguely make out the Milky Way.
We took some time to practice our night photography before calling it a night and crawling into our tent to hide from the cold.
With each of us in three sleeping bags (each of us in a 1-person sleeping bag, inside a 2-person sleeping bag, inside of another 2-person sleeping bag, and then a few blankets on top of that for Maria to keep us warm.)
During the night we did have a brief scare when we heard a little visitor outside our tent that was attempting to steal our Jetboil (campstove) which we foolishly left outside, which we scared off (we found in the morning that another creature had come and attempted to take one of Maria’s boots as well).
When morning came we broke down our camp and just hung out, taking more pictures and just enjoying the grandeur of the scenery. This was something that was pretty high on Maria’s bucket list and it was great for me to be there to help her check it off and watch the sheer joy on her face as she experienced it.
Eventually (and surprisingly) we were able to leave this place and made our way towards our next destination…alien central, Roswell, New Mexico.