White Sands

Holly and I had built up the return of the Prodigal Bus Sandy to her home environs at White Sands, New Mexico so we were eager to see the reactions of others. The US Army wouldn’t even let us on the base! Nonetheless, it’s been wonderful driving north from El Paso into Las Cruces, Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, Elephant Butte (lol), Trinity Site at White Sands Missile Range, and our excellent mini adventure at San Lorenzo Canyon.

Watching the American West unfold in front of us leaves us speechless. We have embraced the subtle shifts in plants and animals and have shaken our heads at the paucity of water, having walked with our daughters in the dusty bed of the Rio Grande.

I advocated for – and Holly was patient with – a trip to Trinity Site, the location of the first nuclear weapon test in the Jornada del Muerto desert, now part of White Sands Missile Range. The site has been closed to the public in recent years, and even when open conducts tours only twice a year. I knew the site to be largely barren, but I hoped for an impact, a moral twinge, even a fleeting image. The visit was underwhelming. While there was no end of information, the tour lacked context or any sense of what in fact had been delivered upon us when “The Gadget” imploded. Even the name Trinity was a poetic flourish by J. Robert Oppenheimer, who in fact never came to terms with what he had wrought. No poetic flourish came my way, and hopes of an epiphany left in the dust.

We have had our smaller epiphanies: the desert is spiky; dust is relentless; water and trees are captivating; wind is transforming. The pictures below fail to capture the scale or depth of what we’re beginning to experience.

Holly and me (smiling) on the cool gypsum at White Sands National Park.
The light shifted and bent right in front of us. A better photographer might have been able to capture the effect.
We always end up as grateful for the expanses of sky as we are of the landscapes.

We had first planned to stay on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land for free camping at nearby Lake Holloman, until we discovered that the US Air Force at Holloman AFB has contaminated the lake with chemicals and poop. We went on down the road for free camping at Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, also free BLM camping.

Looking west from Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks NM.
Our eastward view. We scouted the road by mountain bike to make sure Sandy would make it.
Rare desert shade on our hike toward (not up) Organ Mountains.

We left the Las Cruces and Organ Mountains area and spent two nights at Elephant Butte State park (8 bucks a night for camping on the beach) and met a lovely couple from Wisconsin who taught us two new games.

Our spot at Elephant Butte Lake, a reservoir of the Rio Grande.
The view from the reservoir’s secondary dam. Find Sandy!
Holly scaling the dam at Elephant Butte Lake.
This is the only image I will show from Trinity Site. This is what’s left of Jumbo, a steel container for the plutonium implosion of the first nuclear weapon. It encased the bomb to prevent plutonium contamination of the countryside in the event of a failed implosion and no resulting nuclear chain reaction. The test was, however, successful, and we dropped two nuclear weapons on Japanese human beings a couple of weeks later. Oppenheimer, despite his study of Hinduism, did not believe that his victims had immortal souls, and thus failed to come to terms with what he had wrought. Neither have I.
In a serene departure from Trinity Site, we landed just up the road in San Lorenzo Canyon, more free BLM camping. We hope that this is a beginning of jaw-dropping spots we find as we move west.
It was fun to see a movie shoot underway in ’our’ canyon. Keep an eye out for Star Wars Rendezvous on YouTube in the future.
The canyon had this lovely spot with a small Cottonwood grove – a rare desert treat.
I first thought this was a kiosk about nothing, until I noticed its shadow pointing to the trail. Clever!
San Lorenzo Canyon.
We met a lovely young couple, Logan and Kelly, who live on the road. This is their dog Ollie guarding their van.
These equestrians enjoyed the canyon as well. They galloped away at dusk.
With the help of other campers, we found an upper canyon with running water.
The new leaves of the Cottonwood are a shocking green in the desert. Their dead leaves are translucent on the ground.
Johnny getting some carrier time.
Here’s another pic of Sandy in San Lorenzo Canyon, just because.

After San Lorenzo Canyon, we started to head farther west and north. There is more to see than several lifetimes can afford, so we are grateful for all we experience. We will be heading to higher altitude and redder rock. We’ll see dinosaur footprints and the ruins of people who, but for us, might still be populating these lands.

4 thoughts on “White Sands

  1. Omg I love hearing and seeing your amazing adventures! Keep ‘Em coming ! And stay safe out there!

    Sent from my iPhone

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  2. I don’t comment much but I love following your adventures. Such expanse! Such beauty!
    I know we’re not on the same page spiritually, but the beauty of God’s creation blesses my soul! Also, the reminder of the evil of horrible things humans do to each other is hard to see- but important to remember.

  3. Sorry Trinty Site was not what you hopped for. I recommend visiting Los Almos. There are some very good displays there that gave you a little perspective.

    Love your pics of San Lorenzo Canyon. I will have to put it on my to visit list.

    New Mexico has the best skies.

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