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Cross-Country Road Trip Day 5: White Sands National Monument

At the top of my notes for this day, I wrote, “Road trip problems: not enough room for stolen mini toiletries.” I had brought regular size versions of shampoo and everything else we needed, but I felt compelled to take the free mini ones in each hotel room in case of some unspecified emergency. By the time I got home I had a pretty large collection.

We got started early this morning and headed for White Sands. We crossed through the lower half of New Mexico, and I was surprised by the scenery. I knew there was skiing in New Mexico, but I thought it was in the Northern half, near Albuquerque and Santa Fe. When we drove through Lincoln National Forest, the temperature dropped 20 degrees, snow and pine trees appeared, and we passed kids sledding down hills.

New Mexico

We planned to stop for lunch in Alamogordo, the biggest town close to White Sands. We tried to go to a nice restaurant, but since it was Dec. 23, the place was closed for a private holiday party. We got in the car and searched for another option on Yelp. Which is how we ended up at Eddie’s Burritos. Eddie’s is not a “nice” restaurant – it is located in strip mall, for one thing – but the burritos were huge and delicious and the staff was friendly. They had an extensive salsa bar where you could have all the guacamole you wanted. So all in all it was a good change in plans.

White Sands National Monument is the world’s largest gypsum dunefield. It looks like snow or exceptionally white sand, but it is really made up of a pure mineral, hydrous calcium sulfate, which remains behind after the water in the playa evaporates. The “sands” aren’t sand at all. It is softer and not as gritty. It looks and feels more like talcum powder or baking soda than real sand.

White Sands NM

The brightness of the dunes was blinding; even with sunglasses, I joked that my retinas were seared afterwards. It was only 50 degrees when we were there, but the bright sunlight and the dunes made it seem like it should have been hotter.

White Sands NM

It wasn’t very long after we got to White Sands that we realized what the main visitor activity was: sledding. Almost everyone who wasn’t us had round saucers and were using them to slide down the sandy hills. At first we were confused, since it seemed like that might not be good for the dunes. But the park service clearly didn’t have a problem with it. They sold and rented saucers at the gift shop.

White Sands NM

Instead of sledding, we hiked around the backcountry campsites, went to the visitor’s center where they was a busload of Chinese tourists, and then went out on the short nature trail. All in all, we stayed much longer than I had planned. It was a really interesting and unique place. But that of course made us late getting to Tucson, our stop for the night.

We stopped for dinner in Las Cruces at another Mexican restaurant, as you do in the Southwest. We started out trying to find a different place, but all the Yelp recommendations were for drive-in restaurants. We were looking for table service since we were spending quite enough time in the car, thank you very much. We ended up at Las Trancas, which turned out to be a pretty good choice. For the most part, we had really good luck with restaurants for the whole trip.

Between Las Cruces and Tucson we had our first border patrol check point. I was really surprised by this. We never crossed the border, but there were three places we were stopped by border patrol on the way to San Diego. This time they asked if we were citizens, but they didn’t search our car which we were grateful for, because it was a mess by this time.

We got to our Tucson hotel late. The clerk was from Massachusetts, but he made a joke about the New Jersey water and asked if we glowed in the dark. Uh, no. Then he said that we must get that question all the time. Wrong again, buddy.

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