Texas is big, really big. Sherman, our Cruise America RV, only wants to travel in daylight so it required two days to make it across the state. Our route took us south and westward away from San Angelo on Interstate 10 through some pretty barren countryside. This made for interesting views. We were able to see vast stretches of desert punctuated by a few oil rigs, and small herds of cattle. We went for miles without seeing a human soul except for those in passing vehicles. The scenery was fascinating in so many ways.
Ultimately we turned north and west as we neared El Paso. I have never been to Mexico and was struck by the difference in the appearance of the structures on either side of the border as we drove beside the “wall”. The huge, modern buildings in El Paso were in sharp contrast to the small, well-worn homes that were etched into the hillsides of Juarez just several hundred yards away from us.
Our destination on this leg of our RV road trip was White Sands Missile Range, NM. We ventured through Las Cruces then turned east over St. Augustine Pass through the Organ Mountains. It was hard to contain my excitement at this point. Prior to this trip, I had been in every state in the lower 48 except for three and New Mexico was one of those three. I had always pictured New Mexico in my mind as being beautiful, and this first glimpse did much to reinforce that image. The view to our front was stunning. The mountains were framed by a clear blue sky with the earth tones of the sand at the bottom of our view through Sherman’s windshield. I remember saying to myself “This is why I made this trip”.
White Sands Mille Range is the largest military installation in the country, covering some 3,200 square miles. Testing missiles requires lots of land, and testing missiles happens here. We went through the gate to the base and drove straight to the campground because it was getting late in the day. We had a reservation but we were a bit apprehensive because there are only eight sites for RVs and we wanted a good one. We worried needlessly. There were only two sites occupied. We placed some towels and a few boxes on the picnic table at the end of the row. Helen (adorable wife) gave me a high five because this was definitely the best site available (and Helen is pretty picky about where she sleeps). The next task was to go pay for our stay. At $10 it was a bargain!
After a quick trip to the commissary for some dinner items, we connected Sherman to all of the utilities and settled in. The setting sun gave us a striking view to our front. My only thoughts were “Man, I’m so glad to be here!” My next thought was why were we here for only one night? I sat at the picnic table, eyes fixed on the mountains until I was driven in by the chill that fell on the desert.
The next morning we were up early and bounced out of Sherman to take some pictures of the sunrise and the morning sun on the mountains. Once again, a clear day greeted us. A skilled photographer I’m not, but a few pictures were taken that morning came out well. I was able to get Helen to pose for this picture as she headed off for the shower. I always said she looks good anytime, even early in the morning.
The showers at the campground were extremely clean with no one waiting to use them. Our Military Living readers need to know that everything about this campground is first class. It truly is a gem in the military inventory and I would recommend it highly. Hopefully, we will return someday for a longer visit.
All too soon the time came for us to leave. We pointed Sherman toward the White Sands National Monument. As we were leaving the main base of Missile Range, we spotted endless field of bright yellow flowers that extended far into the desert. We stopped to photograph this dazzling color display and walked through them for several hundred feet. Later, a friend told us they were California poppies and the rainfall had brought them out in volume this year.
The White Sands National Monument, a National Park, is located completely within the Missile Range reservation. As such, it can be closed occasionally for missile testing, but this day was not one of them. We stopped at the Park Headquarters to have our Park Passports stamped and to pick up a souvenir or two before we drove eight-mile loop through the Monument. What a sight to see.
The white sand is composed of gypsum that is washed from the surface of the surrounding mountains and becomes trapped on the floor of the desert. There is no way for the water to flow from the area, so the light gypsum sand remains and is moved around by the wind. Large dunes are thus formed. We drove by many of them on the loop road. A Park brochure informed us that this is the largest gypsum dune field in the world and the monument can be seen by astronauts from space.
We also drove by young people who were surfing and sledding down the sand dunes. It looked like a lot of fun. We stopped to watch the surfers at one of the points of interest and decided to walk out to a viewing area past several dunes. It was quite remarkable to see how far the white sand extended. It was also quite beautiful. Once we reached the end of the viewing area we met a nice couple named John and Mary from Wisconsin. They came to White Sands in a large RV that made Sherman very self-conscious. We took turns getting pictures of ourselves to preserve our visits. See our Picture Gallery next Tuesday.
We also met an energetic young student from Creighton University who had just completed a project with the border patrol in El Paso during her spring break. She had come to White Sands to enjoy a day of sand surfing with a few of her classmates. I found myself envious of both her youth and her energy. She was to graduate soon. We wished her well as she walked back to join her friends.
Sherman was waiting somewhat impatiently as we returned to the parking lot. He was anxious to move on to Albuquerque where we would finally be staying somewhere for more than one night. Perhaps the sand under his saddle was making him a bit cranky. We dusted him off and fired him up. We were sorry to leave White Sands, a place I’ll store in the memory bank for a long time. Sherman however, blew a few grains of white sand out of his radiator…and muttered something like “it’s time to be Easin’ Along”. Cranky!