If there’s an eye of a storm, on Day 2 we woke up right in the center.
Calm. Deliciously warm. Crystal-clear conditions, made more so by the scrubbing that minor Sirocco gave to the atmosphere a day earlier (the weather is actually delivered as a “windcast” around this time of year). We were in heaven, if paradise presents itself as rolling sea of crystalline waves etched against the cobalt blue of a New Mexico morning. This was why we were here.
But first things first: coffee. That secured tightly in cupholders, we pointed the car 15 miles west of Alamogordo, to once again explore the magic of White Sands National Monument.
The amazing thing about the park is its dichotomy – at once both an epic example of creativity in the form of nature’s geological art and the original womb of mankind’s most annalistic potential. It was here, on the desert floor just north of the monument, that the first atomic bomb was detonated in 1941.
While nuclear missiles hover around in one’s head, they can be just as easily forgotten. And why wouldn’t they be, surrounded as we were by a gypsum dune field that looked like it was constructed for the set of Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments.” This would be special.
It always is when Barbara and I are exploring new terrain together. If there’s the idea of fission on one hand, we somehow concoct interesting scenarios from the fusion of our personalities and respective artistic perspectives. Barbara owns the unicorn concept, with is one continuing iteration of her exploration of the Space Between. I’m probably a bit more archetypal, utilizing a collection of mid-century manikin heads to make images that are both surreal and provide a sort of provocative commentary on modern man and our relationship to the environment, as well as each other. The plots tend to unfold as we go; for both of us, the creative landscape of White Sands provided the perfect backdrop for telling a story.
One of this trip’s big revelations wasn’t even environmental, but social. We love mixing with the locals, which provides insight into the native culture and access to information, not to mention flavors, that one would otherwise miss taking a more insulated approach. It’s also a mood of openness that we adopt, allowing others, who tend to have a curiosity about us, to enter.
So it was by noon, when we were done for a while with the increasing heat of the dunes, that we headed back to Alamogordo to mingle. There in Old Town we met an assorted cast of interesting characters that enriched our visit with the stories they told and their Old West style of living. There was Hank, who had found his way to Alamogordo by way of Hawaii and the Florida Keys, of all places. We chatted away in his “Clay Time” pottery shop before being advised to visit JAMing Hot Dogs for lunch. Both of us got a kick out of their signage, and Hal a BIG kick out of the green chili served alongside their Old School Sangwich (sic) – a thickly sliced hot dog patty bathed in savory condiments and pinned between two slices of bread (i.e., oversized bologna sandwich).
While sitting outside the diner, we struck up yet another conversation with locals, which led to the discovery of a coffee bar sequestered inside the Flickinger Center only a block away. (If it’s not guacamole it’s a latte when we travel like this). There we met Jeana, whose espresso making skills are matched only by her positive attitude and entrepreneurial spirit. Properly nourished, we gathered our rejuvenated perspectives and pointed them once again toward the dunes.
There is probably nothing that either one of us had experienced like the late afternoon light in White Sands. For one thing, the white gypsum sand produces a reflective quality that creates a nearly ethereal aura, turning the Tularosa Basin into a terrestrial heaven as the sun begins to descend. We took full advantage with cameras… before just letting that go. Like a breathtaking sunset, or a full moon coming up, some things are better left to simply enjoy… notwithstanding a couple requisite selfies taken against the silhouette of the San Andreas Mountains.
There was one more destination for Day 2: Rockin’ BZ Burgers, winner of the best green chili burger at the New Mexico State Fair, and we had to race back into town to get there on time. Perhaps our second biggest revelation on this trip was how many establishments would be closed when we arrived. Door shuts, window opens, as it were: by pivoting to the Hi-D-Ho Drive-in just down the block, we enjoyed one of our best meals of the six-day adventure (two thumbs up for the “Luigi Burger”).
Having gotten our fill of food and hours of fun on the dunes, we retired to the Magnuson Hotel, excited for the many more adventures ahead, whichever way the wind might take us.
INSIDE THE PARK
ACCESS: There’s only one way into the wonderland – through the front gate after passing the Visitor’s Center off Hwy 70, just 15 miles from Alamogordo. Stop there first, where you’ll get national park staff to answer questions or to enjoy the interactive displays. You’ll want to purchase plenty of water and even a sand sled at the well-stocked gift store. Click here for operating hours and seasons.
FEES: Entrance fees are $3 per adult (16 and over). Children are free. Your entrance fee is valid for one week. National Park passes are honored and allow all visitors in private vehicles in free. You can purchase an annual pass at the gate. Learn more here.
MAKE IT SPECIAL: The park offers programming to make your visit even more memorable, including a Lake Lucero Tour, Full Moon Hike, Full Moon Bike Ride and Sunrise Photography. You can also camp overnight. Read all the details here.
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