A Family Trip to White Sands

A New Mexican's guide to White Sands.

We pull off of Interstate 25 at San Antonio, home of the Owl Cafe and that other place with the “best” green chile burger, Buckhorn Tavern. As much as I would love to compare the two it’s not lunch time and we still got plenty of road ahead of us so we cross the Rio Grande and head east on hwy 380. Leaving the fertile valley we climb into the dry foothills. Not much snow or rain this winter. The road rises and falls several times before we finally are in a large valley. It is here that we pass a roadside marker for the Trinity site. It’s a reminder how in the 1940s New Mexico was on the forefront on human innovation. After crossing the large valley the straight road is broken up as we pass through a few more hills. In the next valley there is a large lava flow. The paved road cuts through the flow with gentile curves left and right so we can continue our fast pace east. On the other side we arrive in Carrizozo. This place looks like it hasn’t aged a day since maybe a decade or so after the tests at Trinity.
Where did that forefront go?
It’s about time for the kid to get out and stretch her legs and we can use a stretch too. We stop at the gas station at the corner of Hwy 380 and Hwy 54, find a place in the warm sun, and watch the traffic. The big rigs roll to a stop, then they clunk into first gear and slowly gain speed as they head straight out of town. As the modern cars pass they have their windows down and we can hear them playing modern country songs. But all that can’t hide the fact that things just haven’t changed that much in decades. The country songs still call to loss and struggle and the pavement still calls people to move.
We abide the call and turn south. Through the passenger window I see that we are paralleling the lava flow. My mind slides back in time and I think about what that flow would look like when it was active; the smoldering black slowly crawling south towards an expanse of white sand dunes. A roadside sign passes my view and I am snapped back to the present. It was pointing up some dusty road, promising relics from the mining booms. Then from the back seat we hear “I need to poop!” The tires slide in the loose gravel shoulder as we come to a stop. With moments to spare I get the kids portable potty setup. I take in the view as the kid does her business and before long we are back on the road. A few hills later I see a lone trading posts. It sits there with empty parking lots hoping that one of the passers by will stop in. Beyond that is Tularosa. At first glance it looks like another intersection town. There are some boarded up buildings along the main road but behind them I see carefully maintained yards. Somehow these small towns just hang on. Even though they are small in numbers, the community is strong enough to withstand the pull of the bigger cities.
Alamogordo might have a bigger population than Carrizozo and Tularosa, but as we take the relief route around the edge of town we see much of the same. We find our hotel at the south end of town and are happy to be able to decompress. We are in town to celebrate a nephews first birthday but with a few hours to kill the next morning we make plans to head to White Sands National Monument.

With a 2 and a half year old we are up before the sun. The visitors center doesn’t open until 9 so we put some cartoons on and get some breakfast. We still make it there a few minutes early and we walk around the outside of the building with other tourists. Once they open the doors we have a quick look around and asks for a map that will lead us into the dunes. The dunes are big and moving (up to 30 feet a year!), yet there we are on a paved road. Ahh progress! After a few miles the pavement gives way to a smooth sand road bed that is compacted by road graders and the constant stream of tourists. We go in several miles and find a little shade structure to park next to. Thanks to Frozen, the kid keeps calling the white sand snow and singing “let it snow, let it snow” as she runs back and forth. These are the days that we will look back on.
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