Number 10: Snow discs are not just for snow anymore. Yes, that’s right, my snowflakes, you can sled down parts of the giant white sand dunes using one of these.
Number 9: The great big White Sand dunes are…well…white. Now this may sound like Captain Obvious calling in for a report, but what you might not realize is that the sands are white, the skies are white, everything is, well, white. And this can lead to small disasters. Allow me to explain. You see, some of the sand dunes are, in fact, 20 feet high (or so) and, standing atop a 20 foot high mountain of “white” surrounded by white skies and white winds and white, well, everything, can screw with your depth perception. Yes, there have actually been people who inadvertantly walked right off a sand dune because, well, because everything was white. This translates into a big “be careful out there” from me to you.
Number 8: You get kicked out of the park at precisely 9 pm by a ranger who drives around in a pick-up truck sporting loud speakers on top. “Good evening,” he will say to you over his built in personal PA system, “the time is now…[insert actual time here] and you are currently located [ditto] minutes from the exit gate.” He’s polite enough to tell you how far away the front door is, but not wise enough to point in which direction it might be. But, he’ll make sure you get out of the park unless you hide or get totally lost, either of which can happen pretty easily.
Number 7: Speaking of getting lost, it’s very hard to orient yourself in the dunes. Stay on the trails if you prefer easy markers and I’d recommend carrying a compass. There was once a band of photographers who got lost and got stuck in the dunes already (why does this not surprise me? By now, I know firsthand how there’s always a band of photographers up to something and that something is usually not what park rangers prefer we be doing. Well, in this case, maybe just not without a compass.)
Number 6: The full moon over the dunes is wild. The dunes sort of “glow” by the moonlight in strange odd ways. It’s very haunting and something everybody who visits the dunes should get to see (if they can avoid those pesky park rangers from number 8, that is.)
Number 5: There’s actually wildlife in the dunes. I saw a coyote there-actually heard him a howling three dunes away, and a lizard. There were also wild free roaming humans sliding down snow discs (see number 10.) In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s a wild, wild, white sandy happening party spot out there, cleverly disguised as a national monument.
Number 4: The Waffle and Pancake House in beautiful, sunny downtown Alamogordo is actually the highest rated restaurant in the area, and for good reason. The food was great there, the people friendly, the service fast. No kidding. Eat there and you’ll be a happy camper, even if you should happen to sleep at the Holiday Inn Express.
Number 3: There are strange road signs up in the sand dunes. Signs that read things like “Slow Congested Area” and “Caution Stop Ahead.” Maybe number 5 actually explains that a bit but I found the roadside signs to be quite odd, especially considering the fact that, well, there really aren’t any roads out in back by the dunes (they plow the stuff, like snow, and make paths for us to plop through, but no actual pavement by the dunes.)
Number 2: The white sand dunes are not actually sand.They are gypsum, or something you might call alabaster, calcium sulfate, or selenite. They’re also not always white, reflections from the sun and sky can make then change color and they can form naturally in oddball sorts of colors (pinkish is pretty common, or so I’m told.) Because the dunes are not actually “sand” the properties of “sand” do not apply to them (they don’t get hot in the summertime, for example.)
Number 1: And the number 1 factoid about White Sands, New Mexico is: be careful, they have tumbleweeds out there. Tumbleweeds and giant missile launch sites. Not to mention it’s not too far from Roswell, New Mexico, home to Area 51. The truth is out there, you are paranoid, they are out to get you, and the world is a very strange place so do pack lots of sunscreen. (You read it here first.) All that and, well, they make for interesting images from what I’ve seen so far.
Until next time…