White Sands, New Mexico

Dog Canyon

We found Oliver Lee Memorial State Park as our home base for exploring the White Sands area. The park was tucked into the foothills of the Sacramento Mountains, East of the White Sands National Monument and at the entrance to ‘Dog Canyon’, an area first settled in 1885 by a Frenchmen F. J. (‘Frenchy’) Rochas who found and piped water from the canyon to his orchard and then in 1893 by Oliver Lee who kept cattle and built an irrigation system. Frenchy was shot and killed in his cabin. Oliver Lee, his only neighbor, fell under suspicion but was not charged with the crime and later went on to become a New Mexico Senator.

We explored the source of water, a spring, and a short stream before it disappeared into the ground again. Then Colin opted for a very strenuous hike 5 miles up the side of the canyon and back enjoying the views of the Tularosa Basin as the sun went down.

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White Sands

The main reason for our visit to this area was to see White Sands National Monument. This unique landscape, originally occupied by the Mescalero Apache, was finally preserved as a National Monument in 1933 by President Herbert Hoover after several attempts, one of which was to create a hunting preserve. The white sand consists of tiny crystals of gypsum which is water soluble. The combination of a dry climate with no water escaping from the Tularosa Basin results in large soft selenite crystals forming in dried up lakes which are eroded and blown by the prevailing SW wind into the dunes area. Engagement PhotoshootThe vast white dunes, surrounded by mountains result in a unique landscape. The day was mainly cloudy, so no dramatic sunset photos that the area is famous for. Colin found it very easy to get lost in the landscape once away from the road but managed a few pictures. He met a professional photographer, shooting a recently engaged couple, who also grumbled about the lack of the sunset the area usually delivers.

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White Sands Missile Range

Formerly the White Sands Proving Grounds, the Missile Range was created in 1945 to test US and German rockets (with the help of Vernher Von Braun from Germany). Seven days after the Proving Ground’s creation, the first Atomic Bomb test was carried out at the Trinity Site on the North end of the range. Von Braun was one of several German Scientists brought to the US after Germany’s surrender in May 1945. The German V2 rocket, the world’s first long-range guided ballistic missile  that had menaced Britain in the final 8 months of the war in Europe, was further developed and tested here by the US military. The Missile Range covers a vast area, 3,200 miles, in the Tularosa basin. Highways in the area are closed when a test firing is planned. Security was high in the area when we arrived to visit the museum and, after some discussion, we declined the vehicle search (there are many nooks and crannies in our van) in favor of walking in on foot to visit the museum. This was closed, giving a lie to the opening hours on their website, but we did walk around the outside exhibits representing a lot of the testing carried out there.

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US Border Patrol in New Mexico

We were surprised to be stopped several times in New Mexico by roadblocks manned by the US Border Patrol. We answered “yes” to the question “US Citizens?” and we were on our way. A van ahead of us with four darker-skinned individuals was not so lucky, all occupants asked to exit with hands in the air and a search started.

  • White Sands

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    Jerome, Cottonwood, and Sedona, Arizona

  • 2 Comments on “White Sands, New Mexico

    1. Well, Colin, you managed to get some wonderful shots of the clouds over White Sands, despite no glorious sunset. Loved the ones with the “god rays” and that one of the photographer with his couple. I’m also impressed that you hiked ten miles in one day in Dog Canyon. You must be the fittest guy over 70 in the USA right now!
      From Cheryl: White Sands was spectacular, truly looking like snow. The “god rays” were glorious, even though the color photos are gorgeous, they were more fantastic in black and white. So glad you liked them. Just to set the record straight, according to Colin, the 10 miles was back and forth, not one way. But still, an excellent hike. Colin is in great shape because of his walking/hiking. I join when I can (if it’s not too hilly or rocky) but Colin is the hero of most of the stories, that’s for sure.

    2. Ces ciels sont fantastiques. Ces photos mériteraient de faire l’objet d’un tirage artistique. Quel voyage fabuleux!
      From Cheryl: Thank you for loving our pictures, Colin works so hard at this full time hobby! We enjoyed this art so much and glad that you did too. It was a fabulous experience. Gros bissoux.

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