At the time I started writing about spontaneous decisions and where they led us, I thought that those forays into spontaneity would be somewhat infrequent. Since a few weeks ago, I can honestly say that we have succumbed to somewhere between six to a dozen “spur of the moment” decisions… and all have led us to new adventures and some great experiences. In other words, we have moved away from the “carefully planned” and have fully embraced the “impetuously make it up as we go along”. So, with this blog, I will officially move away from spontaneity as a theme. We are huge fans, but it has become common for us, and is more the rule now than the exception. Lately, any story I might tell could fall under this heading, so this is the last for a while.
Our original plan had us traveling from Santa Fe, New Mexico to Carlsbad Caverns, much farther to the south. But while we were in Santa Fe, we happened to see a brochure for White Sands, New Mexico and it looked interesting. So, why not stop in Las Cruces along the way and check it out? Change in plan! So, off we headed, checked into a combination hotel and RV Park (no one would want to stay in the hotel, but the RV Park was okay) and we spent the night.
Early the next morning, we were on our way, despite some very ominous skies. We had been hoping for sun, but it wasn’t going to happen that day. It was a bit chilly, so we wore some warm clothing. A little research helped us understand that we were in the heart of Atom Bomb country. The first nuclear bombs used in WWII were tested in this area (about 70 miles north of where we were headed) and there are missile testing sites there as well. The National Park Service warns you that on any given day, the park might be closed due to missile testing. Lucky for us, none were scheduled for that day.
When you get to the park, you realize that White Sands, is aptly named. What else would you call it? Pristine white sand dunes stretch as far as the eye can see. So, we decided to drive to the end of the road where there was a five mile loop trail to explore. We jumped out of the car after driving for miles on what felt like firmly packed snow.
The trail started in a declivity. There were plants, signs and signs of human traffic, (people actually rent snow saucers and slide down the hills) but within a few hundred feet, we were soon surrounded by endless white dunes. There was literally nothing to see of any human impact, other than footprints and the orange pole markers to show us the trail.
Like any national park site, there are rules, so naturally there was one rule that had to be broken – the one about keeping your dog on a leash. Faced with endless dunes, we just didn’t have the heart to keep Pippin on a tether.
Pippin is at least twelve years old, (he is a pound pup and that is how long we have had him, so we aren’t sure how old he is) and over the last few years, he has slowed down quite a bit. However, life on the road over the last two months has agreed with him. He has dropped a couple of pounds, and his usual apathetic approach to walks has been replaced with what I would call obnoxious enthusiasm. He has lost his manners, and jumps all over us any time he gets to go for a walk. I think he dropped about ten years off his age once he hit the dunes. While Sandy and I covered about five miles, I think Pippin must have covered closer to ten. It is a joy to see a dog just go crazy bonkers running up and down dunes.
Having spent quite a lot of time in the snow of the Sierra Nevada mountains in California, I could never quite shake the feeling that we were playing in snow rather than sand. My brain kept telling me that we were walking across sand, but my whole self felt like it was snow. Along with the eerie quiet and almost total absence of any visible animal life – there was really something surreal about the whole place. Every once in a while, we would see someone else walking way out on the horizon. And because of the overcast skies, it was very hard to determine what direction we were traveling. Quit often the horizon line of the sand seemed to blend directly into the grey white of the skies. We started to doubt that the orange trail markers were taking us in the right direction, and it seemed that we were constantly traveling west instead of doubling back at some point to head back east toward our car. In addition, even though the sand was pretty well packed due to a recent storm, hiking on sand can be strenuous. So, after a while, we started getting tired (well, maybe Pippin wasn’t) so we began to question whether we should have tried to walk the whole loop or just turned back.
Eventually, we started to see more people, and finally we came over a rise and there was our truck. I can truly say that without the trail markers, we would never have returned to the parking lot. My sense of direction has seriously deteriorated with age, but we literally had no clue as to direction during this hike. As far as we knew, we made a very gradual right turn back in the direction of our car, but we didn’t really notice it happening.
So, maybe you are wondering how the hell a bunch of white sand got into New Mexico, right? Well, it turns out that the mountains around the park are filled with gypsum – the same stuff that you find sandwiched in drywall. When it rains, the gypsum dissolves into the rainwater and runs down into what one time was an ancient lake – a lake with no outlet for the water to go. So, as the water evaporates, the gypsum crystallizes, and then breaks down into beautiful white gypsum sand. If there is enough of it, and it happens over a long enough time, it looks like this as far as you can see.