Shifting Sands

Thursday, November 28, 2013 Road Junkies 0 Comments

ON THE ROAD AGAIN, Day 23
Las Cruces, NM to Alamagordo, NM
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The route from Las Cruces to White Sands National Monument took us on US-70, with mountains much closer to the road than on I-10 yesterday.  We crossed St.. Augustin Pass in the Organ Mountains at 5,719 feet before arriving at White Sands, which backs up to the San Andres Mountains.
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We paused to visit the "rocket park" at White Sands Missile Range.  The range was founded in 1945 and is operated by the U.S. Army.  Within a week after its establishment, the first atomic bomb was test detonated at its northern boundary.  The rocket park displays a collection of ballistic and explosive weaponry from World War II to the present, including a replica of the "fatman" hydrogen bomb.  Also on exhibit is a V-2 rocket, a German weapon confiscated at the end of World War II.
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Rocket Park
Arriving at the White Sands visitor center just past 11 a.m., we followed the ranger's suggestion and set off on the Dunes Drive, an 8-mile scenic route leading from the VC into the heart of the gypsum dune field.  Ordinarily gypsum is a relatively rare constituent of sand because it is rather soluble in water.  
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Gypsum dune field
This part of New Mexico tends to be quite arid, limiting available water to dissolve the gypsum.   Furthermore, since the sand fields have no outlet to the sea, any gypsum that is dissolved by rain water has no escape from the area and crystallizes into sand once again.  Larger than any other such gypsum dune field, White Sands covers more than 275 square miles of the New Mexico desert.
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The wind is an artist at White Sands.
Leaving White Sands, we continued east to the city of Alamagordo, where we checked in to the local Fairfield Inn before heading out to visit the National Solar Observatory 40 miles away, in the fittingly named Sunspot, New Mexico, in the Sacramento Mountains.  Founded in 1947, its mission, as must be obvious, is to observe and study the sun.
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After a two-hour round trip, we had learned nothing more because it was closed today.  Considering that today was Thanksgiving, we consulted the observatory's web site and listened to a recorded phone message, both of which reported that the facility was "open every day."  Apparently, that doesn't apply to holidays like Thanksgiving, when it is most definitely closed.
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Tomorrow we'll continue east and enter the expansive state of Texas.
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ROAD NOISE
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No Tropics, No Problem.  Before leaving Las Cruces this morning, we tracked down a few letterboxes including one planted near some unusual palm trees.  Part of the city public art program, these trees could even "grow" in Alaska.
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As the Driven Snow.  Our stop at the border patrol checkpoint a mile west of White Sands reminded us that we must appear fairly unthreatening.  
Guard:  "Are you all U.S. citizens?"  
Ken:  "Yes."  
Guard:  "Okay.  Have a good day."

THURSDAY, 28 NOVEMBER 2013