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Posts Tagged ‘White Sands Missile Range’

We didn’t quite find the fountain of youth today but we came close.

After giving up on exploring the mountains of western New Mexico because of snow and cold weather, we went east and a little north to White Sands National Monument. The Monument sits in a basin between two mountain ranges, both of which have a considerable amount of gypsum in their rock formations. Gypsum is the white, chalky material found in drywall and other products. Gypsum is washed out of those mountain deposits and down into the basin, which has no outlet. There is a small permanent lake at the lowest point which swells during the infrequent rains. As that water evaporates, crystals of gypsum are left and the strong winds begin eroding the soft material. As it tumbles the crystals, they become smaller and smaller until they are piled into pure white dunes that stretch for miles.

Unlike so many National Park sites, this one encourages visitors to enjoy the dunes, up close and personally. There are plenty of interpretive signs and a lovely boardwalk, but farther out into the dune complex, you are free to climb, slide down, and enjoy the dunes as the spirit moves you. There is little point in wearing shoes which will just be filled with the fine sand very quickly. So I took mine off and enjoyed the dunes. There are no masses of rotting seaweed with their attendant hordes of flies, no broken bottles or piles of dog-doo. No gravel, not even any sticks to poke at you. Just giant dunes to climb, to run down, to roll down if you wish, or to climb sedately as befits your age. Heaven help me if I ever get that sedate! A free benefit is a gentle dermabrasion, almost a pedicure if you hike around barefoot long enough.

The lights and shadows and the patterns in the undisturbed dunes, are a constant delight for a photographer. Even for someone with my rudimentary “point and shoot” skills, it is easy to take dramatic pictures there.

It was late afternoon by the time we left. We wish that there was a developed campground in the Monument but there isn’t. So we drove on up the road to Alamogordo. As we have noticed in other military areas, there is little to explain what may be going on at White Sands Missile Range, just the obvious “warning” signs in English and Spanish at frequent intervals along the exceptionally well maintained perimeter fences. Two things did catch our attention: a gate proclaimed itself to be the entrance to HELSTF and a blimp we saw off in the distance, higher than any blimp we’d seen before, just didn’t look quite right. Not surprisingly, military reservations don’t come with interpretive centers!

The wifi-from-the-other-place tried our patience beyond its breaking point at the campground but in bits and pieces we figured a few things out. HELSTF is a testing site for high energy laser stuff (no, the STF doesn’t stand for stuff but I don’t remember exactly what it is. You can look it up if you’re interested.) Apparently high energy lasers are being used in many ways by the military. As for the blimp…it is unmanned, helium-filled, blimp-shaped, tethered, and can go as high as 10,000’. How you get that high on a tether is beyond me, but anyway. Google will give you more information than you want to know about these “blimps”. I searched on “blimp” and “White Sands”. Try it.

Maybe tonight I will dream of being a little kid again. Running barefoot through the sand was great!

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