I’m reflecting on the amazing road trip we took in 2013 as we prepare for a new adventure into the Southwest at the end of May. While both itineraries embody the desert landscapes to which we are spiritually drawn (our 2013 circuit took us from Marfa, Texas to northern New Mexico), the prospect of discovering fresh complexions of a familiar desert motif is exciting, as is the opportunity for sidebar adventures that produce new flavors to share in a roadside diner and friends to make, if only in passing.
Our aim this time will be White Sands National Monument, which contains the world’s largest gypsum dune field. We’re no strangers to big: that same year (2013) we explored the Eureka Dunes in Death Valley – huge, majestic billows of windswept alluvial sand that tower over the desert floor, situated on a dry lake bed under the aptly named Last Chance Mountains. Apparently we didn’t heed the obvious signs, taking our chances and pushing the vehicle into uncharted terrain… and right into a sinkhole of sand. Can anybody say: “Donner, party of two”?
As it was, that night stranded under North America’s tallest dunes was one of our most memorable. Having bounced a cell phone signal off the cloud cover to reach Scotty’s Castle some 50 miles away, we settled in for the night, assured that help would be arriving by morning. Besides the spectacular sunset, we enjoyed romantic music (the Eureka Dunes’ famous “singing sand”) as we cuddled next to a flickering campfire and meditated on the size of the Milky Way. You can only experience this kind of thing off the beaten path, although I wouldn’t suggest getting stuck in the sand to reach your version of heaven.
White Sands is known not only for its spectacular dunes, but for the monument’s proximity to the Trinity proving grounds. This is where the first atomic bomb was detonated in 1945; and while you might be forgiven for presuming all of that gypsum is a product of our entry into the Nuclear Age, it belies the spectacular beauty of the Tularosa Basin and the potential for having landscape art posing in front of the lens – and (of course) for creating some interesting concept work with the dunes as our studio backdrop.
If we’ve learned one thing about exploring the Southwest, it’s that absence creates more: the desert terrain has a tendency to distill beauty from viewpoints that would be otherwise overlooked, bringing perspective – and yes, life – into greater relief. We look forward to exploring the new topography and will report back soon… but hopefully, not from a car halfway buried in sand.
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