Wednesday, June 10, 2009

White Sands National Monument & Alamogordo

That's me running down an ultra-white gypsum dune in White Sands National Monument. The dune running came about during a Roadtrip that ran through Moab, on the way to Houseboating Lake Powell, then on to Durango, Silverton, Roadtripping the Million Dollar Highway and then following the headwaters of the Rio Grande River to Taos.

After Taos the Roadtrip headed south towards the Trinity Site of the World's first atom bomb explosion, then on to Alamogordo.

Alamogordo was the pitstop for this leg of this Roadtrip around the West. Arriving in Alamogordo I wondered what the rocket looking things on a hill were. The next morning I was to find out it was the New Mexico Museum of Space History, with part of it being the International Space Hall of Fame. Ham the Astrochimp is buried here. Ham was one of America's first space travelers.

The next morning, unbeknownst to me, that very day was a special day at the Space Hall of Fame, with the inducting in of some astronauts and cosmonauts. The museum is very well done. There is a garden of rockets you can walk through. I watched an IMAX movie of a visit to the International Space Station. It made me dizzy.

After Alamogordo it was on to White Sands National Monument. White Sands Missile Range surrounds the monument. White Sands Space Harbor, it being the only place a Space Shuttle has landed other than Florida and California, is to the north.

The dunes of White Sands are made of gypsum. Gypsum is water soluble. Usually it would dissolve and wash away to the sea. But here it is trapped in a basin surrounded by the Sacramento and San Andres Mountains, with no outlet to the sea. So, the gypsum is left with no alternative but to form every shifting dunes.

From the visitor center the Dunes Drive takes you about 8 miles into the dunes. There are 4 trails where you can make a trek into the dunes. There are picnic tables amongst the dunes. The sand is so white it seems brighter than snow. And just like with snow, you see kids sliding down the slopes on sleds.

Due to the park being surrounded by a missile testing area the park and U.S. Route 70, that takes you to White Sands National Monument, are closed when tests are being done on the missile range. Tests usually last for one or two hours, a couple times a week.

If you are on U.S. Route 70 don't drive by White Sands, drive in. You'll be glad you did. After White Sands National Monument this Roadtrip continued to to the Pitstop for the next leg being Douglass, Arizona, right across from Agua Prieta in Mexico. Then on through Bisbee and Tombstone on the way to Yuma for that night's mandatory rest period, then on to 4 days at the Luxor in Las Vegas.

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