June 14, 2015


“Great men are meteors designed to burn so that the earth may be lighted.”  Napoleon Bonaparte

Carol writes:   As we left the cool mountain oasis of Ruidoso and headed downhill to our campground at Holloman Air Force Base in the Tularosa Valley,

the outside temps just kept climbing—all the way to near 100 degrees.  On the outskirts of Holloman AFB, one of the first things we noticed was that the local soil was quite favorable for the growth of pistachios and grapes, for we spotted row upon row of pistachio trees and immaculately maintained vineyards.  We made a mental note to check out both later in the week. 

We had visited White Sands National Monument 25 years ago during our yearlong trip on the road.  All either of us remembered was how much fun the kids had “sledding” down the dunes.  With a few more decades of wear on our bones, this time our visit had a slightly different focus.  We opted to take an evening ranger-led walk out onto the dunes, during which we learned about the unique plant life

and animal life on the dunes,

the geology of how the dunes were created and what makes them so special.  White Sands National Monument is the largest of only three gypsum dune fields in the world.  The sand is very fine, unbelievably white, and ever moving.

Sunset that first night was a special time on the dunes,

and the near-full moon was spectacular.  Al’s camera with up to 50x zoom made for some fun photography of the moon.

Back in Ruidoso, Al had done a quick check on the Internet and had discovered that the full moon would be occurring on the second night in our new location.  He had read that the night of the full moon has become a very special celestial event at White Sands National Monument, and this month the occasion would be celebrated on the dunes with a mariachi band concert that would start just after moonrise.  We were game! 

We arrived early and took an opportunity to enjoy a picnic supper, quickly copying the locals and figuring out how to park to get much needed shade for our picnic table.

A pre-concert photoshoot of the band at the top of a nearby dune must have produced some pretty awesome publicity shots.

Our vanity shots were a little more understated…

As concert time approached, we picked our spot on the dunes.

Shortly after moonrise over the distant Sacramento Mountains, the music began and we were treated to an authentic mariachi band concert in one of the loveliest venues I could imagine.

There was one more experience at White Sands National Monument that we wanted to attempt, and that was an early morning 5-mile hike around the Alkali Flat trail, which led through the heart of the dunes to an ancient lakebed that had occupied much of the Tularosa Basin during the last ice age. 

We had been told to take plenty of water, to start early, and to allow about 3 hours for the hike.  The temperature was ideal at the start of the hike at 7 a.m., and we felt pretty exhilarated.

It didn’t take long before the trail had left all trace of civilization behind.  Incredibly, there we were, all alone on the wildly beautiful dunes, in near-total silence thanks to the area’s restricted air space.

We spotted some animal life in addition to several dune features we had learned about on the ranger-led twilight stroll just a few nights ago—

sand sculptures…

pedestals with plant life…

tracks left behind by dune movement…

and this very cooperative and photogenic nearly white lizard.

Midway, we took a few minutes of rest for a snack and water,

but soon it was time to get moving on.

We would have loved to linger, but our safe 3-hour window was rapidly closing and the temp was rising quickly. Toward the end of the hike, within a matter of minutes, we were VERY aware of the heat; but by that time, fortunately, we had already sighted the parking lot in the distance.

We felt this hike ranked near the top of our all-time favorite hikes in terms of both beauty and uniqueness. 

These perfectly undisturbed waves of sand may serve as a seed of inspiration and become an overall quilting pattern in a future quilt project.

One of the local attractions that had caught our attention was the National Solar Observatory, situated at one of the high points in the Sacramento Mountains in a place called Sunspot, New Mexico.  Our friends Barb and Jim had never been to Sunspot and were eager to accompany us on a day trip to visit the observatory, which at 9200 feet is ideally situated far from any major source of air pollution, with plenty of sunshine and dry air.  Scientists from all over the world submit applications for slots of research time on the Dunn Solar Telescope.  Our tour guide informed us that the proposals that are deemed most worthy get the longest time slots on the days of the year with the most sunlight.  Sounds logical…

The tower which houses the Dunn Solar Telescope is 136 feet tall with an additional 228 feet below ground!  Light from the sun enters two mirrors at the top of the tower and is then guided through a vacuum tube to a primary mirror far below ground, then back up into scientific equipment for data collection on optical benches. 

We finished out our special day with our friends with a short stop in western-town touristy Cloudcroft,

then back to “Alamo” for our first taste of Caliches yummy frozen custard, and finally a rematch game of Carbles around our campsite at sunset.

For those of you who are wondering, we did make that visit to one of the pistachio farm/vineyards that we had spotted on the outskirts of town.  We were told at Heart of the Desert Vineyards that New Mexico soil and sunshine are a perfect combination for wine production.  After being offered generous free wine tasting, we were hooked on two samples—one a Pistachio Rosé (yes, a unique pistachio flavor incorporated into a rosé wine!) and a semi-sweet Malvasia Bianca (new to us, but could become a new favorite).  
For good measure, we added in a bag of locally grown pistachio nuts to our purchase.  An awesome happy hour will be coming soon…

Our inaugural week in the desert at Holloman AFB was an enjoyable one.  I got in an afternoon of pool time (one of my weaknesses), and the RV’s air conditioning worked like a champ and kept us cool and comfy.  We loved our daytime and nighttime visits to White Sands and will always remember the stunning majesty of its ever-moving landscape of white dunes.

“I wanna be runnin' when the sand runs out."  
Song by Rascal Flatts  

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