Rising from the heart of the Tularosa Basin is one of the world's great natural
wonders - the glistening white sands of New Mexico. Great wave-like dunes of
gypsum sand have engulfed 275 square miles of desert, creating the world's
largest gypsum dunefield. Approximately 12,000 years ago, the land within the
Tularosa Basin featured large lakes, streams, grasslands, and Ice Age mammals.
As the climate warmed, rain and snowmelt dissolved gypsum from the surrounding
mountains and carried it into the basin. Further warming and drying caused the
lakes to evaporate and form selenite crystals. Strong winds then broke up
crystals and transported them eastward to produce gypsum sand today.
White Sands National Park was originally designated White Sands National
Monument in 1933, and it was redesignated as a national park on December 20,
Getting there ...
We had an early morning flight (left home at 3:30AM) to El Paso with a transfer
stop in Denver where we had plenty of time to have a nice breakfast. I
booked a compact rental car in El Paso, but I got a surprise upgrade to a full
size 4x4 pickup truck.
We arrived in Alamogordo and checked in to our hotel at ~ 3PM and took a short
break before we headed to the White Sands National Park.
We took a random trail from a parking lot at roadside and
it quickly merged with Backcountry Camping Trail after the first few dunes.
We decided to walked along the marked trail so we won't get lost on the way back
although we have marked our location on GPS. We got to camp site #10 when
it started to rain and became very windy (the camp site was sheltered by the
surrounding dunes to block some wind). When the sky was cleared up at
sunset, it was also a fine location for nice photo opportunities.
The White Sands National Park closed at 8PM in Sept/Oct
(about 1 hour after sunset). We did need to rush a little bit to find our
way back to our car in the dark through the uneven dunes and we had to look up our
location from GPS on our phone from time to time.
- Alkali Flat Trail, White Sands
Since the park did not open until 7AM
(already after sunrise), we just got up and had a breakfast at our regular
time and drove to the park at ~ 8AM. It was a nice day with some
scattered cloud which added more depth to the sky and landscape.
we took the 5-mile round-trip Alkali Flat Trail into the heart of White
Sands Dunes. Although the name of the trail is "Alkali Flat,"
this trail is not flat at all. This trail takes you through the heart
of the sands, up and over steep dunes, to the edges of the Alkali Flat. The
Alkali Flat is the
dry lakebed of Lake Otero, a lake that filled the bottom of the Tularosa
Basin during the last ice age and covered 1,600 square miles.
- Dune sliding and picnic area
Sledding on the beautiful soft sand at
White Sands National Park is a popular activity and great fun for children
and adults alike. We planned to buy a sled from the park's gift shop
(and they will buy it back with a much cheaper price), but when we stopped
by the visitor center's restroom when we came in the park in the morning
(before the visitor center and gift shop were open), we found someone left
their sleds by the restroom for others. We took the advantage and had
our free sleds for the day (and we left the sleds for the next one when we
left the park).
- Interdune Boardwalk
After a lunch break back in Alamogordo, we went
back to the park and took the simple Interdune Boardwalk, an elevated
boardwalk that leads you through the fragile interdune area to a scenic view
of the dunefield and the Sacramento mountains.
- Picnic area
We did not have any big plan so we just turned into a
picnic area to find some shade. With the water accumulated from the
rain yesterday, it was actually one of the most surreal places we have ever
been. The reflection of the modern picnic tables (beautiful and also
practical) and blue sky with decorated white clouds made the scene so
amazing and unreal. We decided to just stay here to wait for sunset.
The weather changed fast again in the late afternoon.
The wind started to pick up (and the reflection was gone), and the
thick cloud moved in and
passed by quickly. By the sunset time, it was another beautiful golden hour
evening (and the
reflection was back).
At 5:30AM on July 16, 1945, one week after the
establishment of White Sands Missile Range (WSMR), the world’s first atomic
bomb (known as “Gadget”) was detonated in the north-central portion of the
missile range, approximately 60 miles north of White Sands National
Monument. For the Project Trinity test, the bomb was placed atop a
100-foot steel tower that was designated Zero, and Ground Zero was at the
foot of the tower. After the explosion, Trinity Site was encircled with more
than a mile of chain-link fencing, and was closed to both WSMR personnel and
the general public due to radioactivity until 1953 when much of the
radioactivity had subsided.
Today, the site is only open twice a year
(first Saturday in April and October) for general public to visit
(Unfortunately, the McDonald ranch house (where the plutonium core was
assembled) was closed due to the recent storm flood.).
We left Alamogordo at 7:30AM and got to the Stallion Gate Entrance at ~ 9AM (it was open at 8AM), and it
was the most popular time for visitors and there was
a long line of cars waiting at the gate
for the security. When we finally went through the gate, we had to find a
portable toilet on the roadside to have a quick relief.
I am always
fascinated by the stories of Manhattan project (the book "The Making of the
Atomic Bomb" is one of my favorites). Visiting the Trinity is a good
reflection of what human being is capable of (good or bad).
White Sands is really a magical place that you feel so surreal in the middle
of white sand dunes. In fact, you can see a unique patch of white on the
Google satellite view. Now we were ready to move on to our next
destination for this trip:
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