Why is “white” the word of the day. To start off, it was snowing in Ruidoso when I left. It wasn’t bad though, only flurries. The agenda was to visit White Sands National Monument/Park and explore the rare patch of white sand dunes. Finally, these massive, cotton ball-esque, beautiful clouds unexpectedly dominated my pictures all day. I’d try to take a shot of a mountain in the distance and after reviewing the photos later on I was blown away by the performance of the clouds. For the first time in my life I feel like I know what “big sky country” means.
A painful morning greeted me in Ruidoso after my fun stint out on the town the night before. As you travel with me across the country you’ll hear me swear off of alcohol several times. That morning I did it again. I promise I’ll never drink again. My head was thumping. I decided to attack the hangover full force. Budget Lodges lobby has a juice machine and I went in there and devoured 5 cups of orange and cranberry juice, tipped back some water in the room and topped it all off with a couple of dayquils and about an hour later I was feeling good again. It was 32 degrees when I left the mountain paradise of Ruidoso. The weather was looking a bit threatening and I just wanted to get out of the high country before it let loose. My route was 70 west all day to Las Cruces. Early on it was apparent that my pace would be slow, not because of the weather though, but because of the scenery. Mountains, snow caps, evergreens, twisty roads, it all was on the plate. I ended up taking 237 pictures while traveling that day. Just south of Ruidoso is the Mescalero Apache Tribes reservation. It’s the second reservation I’ve crossed on the trip. The first was in central Florida and I remember thinking that the government gave them the most useless looking piece of land. Here in New Mexico the Apache Tribes land is stunning. I pulled over about once a mile for ten miles, I did U-turns and cut through the median to get pics. It feels good knowing that they are in control of such a scenic piece of land. Eventually I came to the border of their reservation and the next stop after another forty miles was White Sands National Monument. These sand dunes are located on an extremely flat stretch of southern New Mexico along the San Andres mountains. What makes them so unique is their brilliant light color and the fact that they don’t move with the wind. These dunes absorb moisture from the surrounding earth and are quite firm and easy to walk on. The water acts as a glue holding all of the tiny grains in place. You won’t find any standing water nearby, but a quick touch of the sand with your bare hand, and you can feel the moisture locked inside. It has to be great for making sand castles. As I rode deeper into the park, the vegetation that covers some of the first dunes you see, disappears and an unreal landscape unfolds in front of you. Those giant white clouds would occasionally part and allow sun beams to pierce through, illuminating the sand. When the sunshine reflects off of the dunes you really get a sense of why they named the park White Sands. I didn’t have sunglasses and I paid for it. Only one eye was open for most of the visit to the park. I didn’t let that stop my fun though. Being in such a foreign landscape brought out the wild West Virginian in me ( and also the kid in me). I ran around, jumped off dunes, and rode the Goose standing up everywhere. Truly a great experience. The weather began to change though and I had to make the decision to leave the park and head for Las Cruces a bit earlier than I wanted to. The next 60 miles were to increase in elevation and be very remote. White Sands missile range and base are along that stretch of 70 west. Signs are posted everywhere warning about the potential danger. One is not supposed to pull over on the shoulder, but more than once I risked it for the sake of a good picture. I was lucky, this time. One stretch of road really impressed me. It was dead straight for about 30 miles. On the horizon a snow covered mountain was waiting. This mountain could be seen easily from any great distance. I just kept riding toward it thinking that I have to be getting close by now. Yet, mile after mile, it was still on the horizon. Eventually I got there and had to stop for some pics. All full of humbleness and appreciation for the mountains size and beauty I made my way off of the high ground and into Las Cruces where I would find a really reasonable room and call it a night.