White Sands, New Mexico


Last November, my Mom and I went on a two-week car trip around the Southwest. It was something we’d been saying we were going to do for forever, and it was starting to look like something we’d keep saying we were going to do forever, so I was like, “these two weeks.” And Mom was like, “Well, or maybe in the spring.” And I was like, “No. These two weeks.”

That’s how you make vacations happen. Otherwise, they don’t.  

I met Mom in Austin, where she had been visiting my aunt and uncle. We took her car – an SUV-lite type thing with lots of room for camping gear. Our first stop was White Sands National Monument in Southern New Mexico.

We didn’t get there until dusk, though – partly because we got a slow start on the day’s drive, and partly because I detoured us through a military base. I had put our destination into my phone’s GPS, and when Mom pointed out that we’d just passed a sign that said that the road we were on would dead-end in a military base in 30 miles, I brushed her concerns aside. She is of the generation that would still use a road atlas and a compass if you left her to her own devices. “Signs” are clearly obsolete.

Except that this particular one was correct and we did in fact dead-end at a military base. We had to go through a checkpoint. When the guy heard where we were trying to go, he asked us if we were quite sure we weren’t actually going to the museum on the base. He mentioned that if we were going to that museum, we could then exit on the other side, which was right across from White Sands.

So, our first Southwestern sight ended up being the White Sands Missile Range.


Once we’d dutifully toured the museum, we headed for White Sands at last. The first glimpse of it is disorienting – a vast white Sahara in the middle of nowhere, dunes as far as the eye can see, 275 square miles of gypsum sand. We arrived right in time for the sunset stroll, led by a ranger who told us all about how the dunes are formed and what kind of animals live there and how they survive. And about how the cottonwood trees can survive being buried by a dune for decades, as long as at least a little bit of the tip-tops of their branches still stick out of the top of it. Eventually, the dune will move on, and the tree will still be there.

sunset at the dunes

After the park closed, Mom and I agreed we hadn’t gotten to spend enough time there, so we headed to nearby Oliver Lee State Park, and Mom pitched my tent in the dark, while I sat on a bench and complained about how tired I was. Then, we went to sleep early, although it took me a long time to fall asleep, because the wind against my tent sounded like little animals scrabbling to get in.

The next morning when I woke up, I saw where we had camped.


We marveled at the view for awhile, then took down my tent (Mom had slept in a camp bed she has fixed up in the back of her car), and we went back to White Sands. It’s much more desert-like in the daylight. The sun on the white dunes was blinding. We walked around as much as we could stand, and then, when I was about to swoon from too much sunlight on my vampirish complexion, we drove around the rest of the park.

mom running down a dune
endless dunes

(More photos of White Sands here.)

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