June 24, 2015


“The atomic bomb made the prospect of future war unendurable.”  J. Robert Oppenheimer

Carol writes:   Sometimes we pull into a campground and realize immediately that a week just isn’t long enough, and so it was at the Army’s White Sands Missile Range.   The campground had only 8 sites.  When we inquired and were told that there was indeed an opening for us to extend for a two-week stay, we jumped on it! 

Many years ago, whoever designed this campground certainly appreciated the incredible view of the Organ Mountains, and also knew about the importance of shade in the desert.  Look at the view outside our RV front windshield!

Only the golfers had a better vantage point…

With the rising sun behind us, the generous shade cover over our picnic table enabled us to enjoy our daily morning coffee outdoors where we could luxuriate in the “cool” of a desert morning.

We met up once again with our Las Cruces-transplanted friends Jim and Barb.  After a late afternoon Farmers Market, Jim and Barb graciously showed us a bit of Las Cruces and the town square of La Mesilla, important historically as the site of the signing of the Gadsden Purchase, the last territorial purchase for the United States in the Lower 48. 

Not surprisingly, we finished up the evening at Jim’s and Barb’s with a rousing game of Carbles.

This Carbles game was starting to get addictive…so much so that we wanted to find a way to have a board of our own!  That dilemma was solved one day while out on errands when Al noticed an ‘Arts and Crafts Shop’ on post.  Just what we needed!  With a heavy dose of help from the craft shop manager, over the next three days we created a paper game board template, selected our wood of choice—cherry, glued the necessary panels together to create a 24-inch game board, marked and drilled the marble holding spaces

Transferring marks from paper template

Making marble holding spaces with the drill press
Waiting for glue to dry

painted individual playing fields, and sprayed with three coats of polyurethane finish!

We are now proud owners of our own custom Carbles game board!

It didn’t take very many days at White Sands Missile Range before we concluded that this present-day Army post, which at one time occupied such an important place in missile and space history, was now quite deserted of residents.  On our evening bike rides outside the campground we noticed many, many unoccupied homes in the housing area.  Even those houses that had someone living in them had very few residents who were outdoors at sundown; very few children were playing in the yards.  It was like a surreal scene from “Andromeda Strain.”  There was the mostly abandoned older houses—very small stucco buildings with 50s era architecture and one-car garages,

and a larger newer section that was also largely unoccupied, although the houses looked relatively new and modern.

Consistent with the desert environment, the front yards were landscaped in stones rather than grass, with a smattering of desert plant life, some of which was quite spectacular.

We decided to stick to the paved streets and not venture into a totally natural area next to the housing.  We took serious note of the sober posted warning…

Although it had been quite a while since Al last played a round of golf, he found the sparsely used course within sight of the campground irresistible.  He got in four rounds of golf, and on one of them I decided to join him so I could drive the cart.

Now for a brief discussion of the history of White Sands Missile Range…

White Sands Missile Range will forever occupy its place in history as the site where the first atomic bomb was successfully tested on July 16, 1945.  Success of the Manhattan Project, under the technical leadership of physicist Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, assured an early end to WW II.  In addition to ground zero, tours of Trinity Site also include an outside view of the McDonald Ranch House where many of the scientists lived and much of the bomb assembly was carried out in a specially designed clean room.  Guided tours are offered only two days a year--on the first Saturday of April and October.  We will definitely put those dates on our calendar and plan accordingly next time we are in the area.

Toward the very end of WW II the much feared German V-2 rocket technology fell into Allied hands.  Most of the captured V-2 components wound up at what was then known as White Sands Proving Ground.  Not long after the end of WW II, many German scientists and engineers arrived to assist in assembling the rocket components, and the missile age was launched at White Sands.  Although the V-2 rocket system did not significantly affect the course of WW II, it did serve as a significant research platform for blasting off into the Space Age.

On post, we enjoyed a neat little missile museum with its large outdoor display of missiles.

A fully refurbished V-2 rocket had its own building.

There was this display of Patriot Missiles that figured so prominently in the Persian Gulf War,

the Nike Ajax air defense system that Al’s father worked with as a young Army man stationed at Ft. Bliss in the early 1950s,

and the direct descendent of the V-2 rocket—the incredibly simple Redstone rocket which launched the first satellite and the first human into orbit in the early days of the U.S. space program.

Due to a need for an alternate landing site, it seemed fitting that in light of the huge role that the White Sands scientists played in developing our space program, the Shuttle actually made a landing at White Sands in 1982.

By far, the most interesting historical site at White Sands that we were able to visit was Launch Complex 33, the oldest launch complex, the one at which the very first rocket and missile launches were made in 1945 in the very early days of the space program.  The block house, which protected men and equipment during a launch, is one of the oldest buildings at White Sands. 

The rockets were launched from this old historic gantry.

It was plain to see that desert vegetation had overgrown much of the surrounding acreage; this created an even spookier feeling than our bike rides through the deserted housing section.

Our peaceful two weeks at White Sands Missile Range is symbolic of one of the chief reasons we like to stay at military campgrounds, especially Army ones.  We can be assured that the rich military history of each post will be commemorated in a meaningful way, and that was surely the case at White Sands Missile Range. 

During our stay at White Sands, I truly cherished the daily plaintive bugle calls:  “reveille” early each morning, “retreat” at the close of the work day, and “taps” at 10:30 each night just as my head hit the pillow.  Some Army customs should just…live on…forever.

“My first recollection is that of a bugle call.”
 General Douglas MacArthur


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  2. It was really great meeting you all while at WSMR and we think it is one of the best places we have stayed at so far. Oh, can you tell me the website you use for To find RV parks while you travel? I do not remember what Al told me. Safe travels and God bless!

  3. Never mind the website, I came across http://www.rvparkreviews.com/ which is what I think you told me to use. Thanks! Don